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William Letford

The poet's talent for creative writing was spotted early on by a primary teacher, but it took him years to channel it

The poet's talent for creative writing was spotted early on by a primary teacher, but it took him years to channel it

Miss Allison had asked us to write a poem for homework and I woke up the morning it was due in and I still hadn't written it. I went down to the living room before either my mother or father was up and the King's Cross disaster - when there was a fire in the King's Cross underground - had happened, so I wrote a poem about that.

Miss Allison liked the poem so much she sent it to the poet Roger McGough. He sent a letter back saying he'd enjoyed the poem and at the bottom he wrote the words "Keep writing". I didn't keep writing. I just left it at that until many years later, but that stuck in my mind.

Miss Allison was my P6-7 teacher. She was a young teacher but at the time I didn't have any idea of her age. At that age everyone seems old.

Because I've been doing some interviews with the book coming out, I've mentioned her a few times recently and she's really been on my mind. I had started to think that I should get in touch to thank her. It's not often people take that time for you and put that amount of extra effort in to push you forward.

On another occasion she got my mother and father in to tell them I should think about a career in creative writing - or some form of writing. And at the bottom of one of my report cards she once wrote: "Billy should definitely take up a career in creative writing."

I remember one story I wrote in her class was about an injured gladiator being taken out of the ring and back into the bowels of the stadium. There was a man in the room speaking to him and his initials spelt GOD.

I do remember saying to my dad and mum I wanted to be a writer and they got me this typewriter. I remember sitting down in the kitchen with the door shut but I just hit the keys. I didn't know what to write. When I told them I wanted to be a writer more recently, they were behind me but they had the idea that I'd be getting loads of money writing crime novels, so I had to say that wasn't what I'd be doing. They're just looking for me to make a secure living, I suppose.

At the book launch in Stirling, Miss Allison turned up out of the blue. So the reason I'm saying she must have been young when she taught me is because she still looks so young now. I gave her a big hug and said: "Thanks very much." I think she was a bit taken aback. She seemed a bit stunned and lost for words when I showed so much emotion.

My primary school was really small, just four classes so only four teachers. She had the opportunity, because it was so small, to talk to the kids. Individual lessons don't stick out but just her taking the time with me.

I enjoyed primary and I approached all the things we did in class with gusto - I was enthusiastic - but I went a bit wayward after that. High school is a difficult time for some people. There are lots of things going on in your body and you start getting interested in girls for the first time.

I left school without any Highers or anything like that - I remember I got a 5 for the creative writing part of my Standard grade prelim. I was 23 before I decided I wanted to be a writer and started working towards it.

Poet William Letford launched his first poetry collection, Bevel, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. In it, he makes poems from the rhythms of speech and the stuff of daily life: work and love, seasons and cities, and his writing is filled with the wonder and comedy of the mundane. He was talking to Emma Seith.


Born: Stirling, 1977

Education: Holy Trinity Primary and Wallace High, both Stirling; M.Litt in Creative Writing, University of Glasgow

Career: Roofer and poet.

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