Foyle Friday 1: Andrew Pettigrew interviews Ian McMillan

Welcome to our first Foyle Friday, a new series celebrating Foyle Young Poets as part of the competition’s 20th anniversary celebrations. We’re delighted to kick off this series with 2017 winner Andrew Pettigrew interviewing 2008 judge, poet, playwright and 22nd most powerful person in radio Ian McMillan.

Covers of two anthologies, one with lights in the background, and the second with a yellow paper aeroplane flying into a teal background
“You envied the stars their height” and “There was a word for that”: Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2008 and 2017 anthologies

What exactly inspired you to be a poet? Were there any inspiring poems you’d like to share?

I’m always interested in the journeys people take towards becoming a poet; I was inspired by my teachers, my parents and the place where I lived. A hymn we sang at junior school called Hills of the North Rejoice really inspired me with its fantastic language.

What was it like judging the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award in 2008?

Is it really ten years ago? My main memory is of the sheer joy of reading loads and loads of poems and being excited by the fact that young people were putting words together with such skill.

What’s the most important thing you consider whilst writing poetry?

I think about the sound of the poem first and foremost, about how the words might hang in the air.

Dialect is a strong feature of your poetry. What do you think is most important about using dialect in poems?

I like dialect in poems and the way it sounds but it’s quite hard to get right in print, so that’s the important thing; to get it looking right as well as sounding right so that anyone can read it aloud and get it right.

The first poem of yours that I ever read was ‘Yorkshire Pudding Rules’, and it actually inspired me to write my poem ‘Heaven in a Poke’, which was commended in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award last year. So a personal thank you for writing it! Was there anything specifically that inspired you to write this poem, or was it just out of general love for the humble Yorkshire pudding?

I’m flattered that my poem was an inspiration! I love Yorkshire puddings and I wanted to write about them but I also wanted to include aspects of my family history and cultural history in general.

Photo credit: Paul Townsend via flickr

What’s the most memorable or hilarious reaction you’ve ever received for one of your works, be it complimentary or not?

Somebody once tried to walk out of one of my gigs in anger but walked into a toilet instead and then came out of there and walked into another toilet.

You were once listed on BBC Radio as the 22nd most powerful person in radio. How did being given such a title make you feel?

It is quite an old statistic but at the time I was really excited about it – in fact I still am!

You also write plays as well as poems. Can you tell us a little about your playwriting, and do you have a preference between playwriting and writing poetry at all?

I like to write a range of things and the last couple of plays I’ve written have been rhyming ones for Radio 4; I like the restrictions of writing verse dramas because you’ve got to make the rhyme work for the plot and vice versa.

Some of your poems, including ‘Canal Life’ and ‘The Water Doesn’t Move, The Past Does’, were written in partnership with the Canal & River Trust. Were you always so passionate about canals? Were there any challenges of being commissioned to write the poems?

I like being asked to write poems on any subject because it stretches you and makes you think hard about your craft; I’m not that passionate about canals to be honest but I was very keen to write poems about them because it helped me to learn about them.

Finally, what advice would you give to young poets like myself, hoping to be future poets, yearning to be the next Wordsworth or Burns, or just trying to be… you know… more poetical?

I would say read as many different kinds of poems as you can, and take any opportunity that’s presented to you to read your poems aloud in public – search out open mic nights and the kinds of places where poets are made welcome.

Andrew Pettigrew is a sixteen-year-old writer and poet who currently lives in Hamilton, Scotland with his family and two dogs. Losing his sight and hearing before the age of 11, Andrew has won the Pushkin Prizes, the Seeing Ear Creative Writing Award, and the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, as well as having presented his poetry on the Janice Forsyth Radio Show on BBC Scotland, the Scottish Parliament and the StAnza Poetry Festival.


Ian McMillan in a red shirt leans over a table
Photo credit: Des Wilie

Ian McMillan was born in 1956 in the village near Barnsley where he still lives. He worked for years with The Circus of Poets performance poetry group and Versewagon, the World’s first mobile writing workshop. Now Ian is a solo performer and writer: he’s worked in schools, theatres, arts centres, fields and front rooms. He’s been poet in residence at Barnsley Football Club, Northern Spirit Trains and Humberside Police. He’s written comedy for radio and plays for the stage, and he’s worked extensively for Radios 1, 2, 3, 4 and Five Live as well as for Yorkshire Television and BBC2’s Newsnight Review. Ian currently presents The Verb, Radio 3’s Cabaret of The Word and writes weekly columns for The Yorkshire Post and The Barnsley Chronicle. Ian judged the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award in 2008.

Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 20th anniversary logo: black and white text on a square background

The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is an opportunity for any young poet aged 11-17 to accelerate their writing career. Since it was founded in 1998 the Award has kick-started the career of some of today’s most exciting new voices. This year the Award celebrates its 20th anniversary, with lots of exciting activity throughout 2018.

Each year 100 winners (85 Commendations and 15 Overall Winners) are selected by a team of high profile judges, this year Caroline Bird (herself a former winner) and Daljit Nagra. There are loads of exciting prizes up for grabs, including publication, mentoring, poetry books and long-term support from The Poetry Society. Teachers can also access free teaching resources. Find out more and enter by 31 July 2018 at

Don’t miss the other features in our Foyle Friday series…

Published June, 2018

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