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Josie Whitehead

Who is she?

Josie Whitehead, 69, is a retired FE lecturer who delivered training on secretarial skills and Pitman shorthand in West Yorkshire. Since retiring, she has discovered her talent as a poet, and her collection of some 600 poems is read globally.

Quite a following. When did it start?

"I wrote my first poem when I was 11 years old - it was called "My Garden", about a plot I was given in the war. It was published in the school magazine yet nobody told me it was good. I was made to feel a failure by the 11+ system. I wish I had discovered my talent earlier, but instead I have had to wait until I am retired."

You were a poet, but didn't know it?

"I was, until I went to a Christmas party in my early 60s. Each person had to take a poem, but I wrote one instead. I kept writing, and started to sell them at church bazaars. It took off a few years ago when I went into a school to help six-year-olds read and read them one of my poems."

You wooed them?

"It was called "Mickled Me", about an imaginary friend. Afterwards, I asked them if they had an invisible playmate; of course, every hand went up."

Where does your poetry come from?

"I have two young grandchildren, and one day they were in the back of the car moaning with hunger. I replied: 'Well, if Granny were a biscuit, and Granddad were a cake; if Mummy were a lollipop and Dad a nice milkshake; if my sister was a toffee and my brother were a bun; why, when I felt quite hungry, I'd eat them every one.' The children tell me what to write about, and I go away and do it."

Their wish is your command?

"I listen to their ideas. I was with a girl at the Bradford National Media Museum, going round on a Wallace and Gromit ride, when she suggested I get a poem made into a film. The University of Bradford, which has a top animation course, was where I found four final-year students to do it."

What else have the kids got you doing?

"I have a website and five books. Teachers in West Yorkshire read my poems and chose their top 400 to be published. Many of them fit the curriculum."

What has been your highlight so far?

"I just love getting children to use a creative mind. They need to be away from everything manufactured today - that way, they can come alive with their own ideas."

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