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Q & A

Valerie Bloom

As told to Charlotte Goodhart, digital and social media editor

Valerie Bloom MBE is the author of several volumes of poetry for adults and children, as well as picture books, novels and stories. She has presented poetry programmes for the BBC and contributed to various radio and television programmes.

Valerie lives in Kent and performs her poetry, runs writing workshops and conducts training courses for teachers worldwide.

Together with with illustrator Kremena Dimitrova, Valerie worked on the multi-artwork installation Rhymes Through Times.

A person smiling at the camera standing in front of a hedge Photo courtesy of Ashley Bloom

Where is home for you?

It's in Kent, a little village.

What's your earliest memory of home?

I was around about four I think, and we lived with my grandmother in Jamaica – so all the memories of that time are linked to my grandmother. 

This poem is called Granny Is... and it's all about my grandmother.

Granny is
fried dumplin' an' run-dung,
coconut drops an' grater cake,
fresh ground coffee smell in the mornin'
when we wake.
Granny is
loadin' up the donkey,
basket full on market day
with fresh snapper the fisherman bring back
from the bay.
Granny is
clothes washin' in the river
scrubbin' dirt out on the stone
haulin' crayfish an' eel from the water
on her own.
Granny is
stories in the moonlight
underneath the guangu tree
and a spider web of magic
all round we.
Granny say,
'Only de best fe de gran'children,
it don’ matter what de price,
don’t want no one pointin' finger.
Granny nice.

What one thing would you bring with you if you had to move today and why?

I would bring my bible – because it is my anchor, I get so much from it in my writing, cause there's so much poetry in it, which I just love, and wisdom and everything.

What's your getting home ritual?

Before lockdown I was doing a lot of work in schools so I would be coming home and it would be: shoes off, collapse on the bed and then a caffeine-free hot drink.

Relaxing, probably watching a bit of mindless television for a bit. But if I've been out to the allotment then it's home and shoes off and into the bath to get rid of all the aches and pains.

How do you make people feel welcome in your home?

I feed them! My husband says I overfeed them. For guests I like to do a bit of Jamaican cuisine, so usually there will be rice and peas.

Before I was vegetarian there would be chicken, or creole roast lamb – now it's a lot of vegan dishes, usually we end up with my homemade vegan ice cream and vegan cakes. 

What meal makes you feel especially at home?

That would be rice and peas – we always have it on Sunday in Jamaica, or it would be red pea stew. The red peas would be kidney beans. Or it would be a one pot soup, which usually would have things like beef or stuff in it, but with just vegetables. I've worked out a way to make it taste just as nice or even better!

What smells or sounds do you associate with home?

Birdsong – I've got a lot of birds in the garden, they're always singing. When we were doing the recording for this project earlier, we had to keep stopping because there was so much birdsong – we're very secluded and surrounded with trees.

How do you connect with nature at home?

I have a conservatory full of plants, my bedroom is full of plants, my greenhouse is full of plants and my garden is full of plants and I've got two allotments, which are full of plants.

My favourite plant inside is a festoon of bougainvillea, there's two plants: one's orange and one's pink and they sort of meet in the top of the conservatory and bloom all the time, I like that because it reminds me of home.

But in the allotment it's a plant called a yacon, which I've been growing for the last three years and it's full of goodies, nutrients and stuff but it's also very lovely to eat, I like that.

Who does the housework in your home?

It's split really: I do the cooking and the cleaning and my husband does the washing and the ironing.

What book has changed the way you think about home?

Probably one called At Home by Bill Bryson – that just opened my eyes to the fact that homes are repositories of history and so, it just made me think that whatever I'm doing in my home now, later on there'll be people who might be looking into it and saying 'this is the way we lived' and all that sort of thing.

I'm much more aware now of the way I use my home and what sort of legacy I'm leaving.

What do you most appreciate about your home? 

That it's very secluded so I don't have a lot of salesmen banging on the door! I don't have cars whizzing by, in the middle of nature. Everybody who comes to the house says 'gosh this is so hard to find!'

We live at the end of an unmade road, down an avenue of trees, with horses on the other side in a field and so on. Only four houses on the road.

How has lockdown changed the way you feel about home?

It hasn't actually because I always worked from home, so it's not a great deal of difference, except for the fact that I used to go to schools quite a lot, so now I've got a lot more time at home.

Before I would go to school and if I came in I would write in my house in the bed, or wherever because I couldn't be bothered to go to the end of the garden where my office is.

But now I spend more time in my garden office because I have the time.

I'm very very aware of how fortunate I am because there are a lot of people who are feeling really claustrophobic in the lockdown because they haven't got the space. 

If you could, what one thing would you change about your home?

I would make it self-cleaning and self-tidying: I never have enough time in the day for all the things I'm doing at the moment so I could fill those hours!

Does anywhere else feel like home and why?

Jamaica obviously, because that's where I grew up and that's where I spent my formative years. And that's where some of my siblings are there. When we do have a family reunion, those who are in America and Bahamas and Canada, meet up with us and the ones in Jamaica and it's just amazing.

Quickfire round

  • Ketchup: in the fridge or the cupboard?  In the cupboard, but I don't use it that much
  • Shoes: on or off?  Off when I come into the house. I have slippers on, or sometimes barefoot
  • Shower or bath? Shower mainly, but if I'm at the allotment I come back and I soak in a bath
  • Curtains: open or closed? Open in the day, closed in the night
  • Do you make your bed? Mostly yes. One of the things that I learned when I was studying home-economics, I can't forget my tutor said 'make sure you don't make your bed as soon as you get out of it – because you've had all your body's sweat and you need to let it air before you make the bed!'