What is the Templar award?
The Templar Annual Pamphlet -amp; Collection Award is an award that gives you the opportunity to publish 20 of your poems in a pamphlet that's available for people to buy. It's well known as a poetry competition and it's a decent award to win. There were two other people granted the award, as well as myself.
What was it like when you found out you'd won the award?
It was a real bolt from the blue. I am training to be an English teacher and so was planning some lessons on a Sunday evening when I got the phone call from Alex McMillen at Templar giving me the good news. Living up to the name 'poet' let alone 'Northern Irish poet' is no mean feat, but perhaps winning a prize as prestigious as the Templar award goes some way to doing that.
Have you always been interested in poetry?
I was never really a 'bookish' kid. When I was younger I was more interested in playing football than reading. My 'A' level English teacher was the novelist David Park. He got me into poetry in my late teens and it was on David's recommendation that I began to read poetry by Louis MacNeice. When I was at university at Queen Mary's College in London I met Ahren Warnor, who is also a poet.
When did you start writing poetry?
I went on to do a masters degree in creative writing at St Andrews University in Scotland and then became involved with teaching. I was at university when I first decided to put pen to paper. I think that poetry, like the guitar, is a creative outlet and that's what attracted me to it.
When did you first realise you were good at poetry?
While I was in London I showed my work to a woman called Martina Evans, and she liked what she read. Her approval meant a lot to me because she was the first person I ever showed my poems to.
I also started to attend an evening poetry group while I was at St Andrews. It was a great experience because I met lots of like-minded people there and we were able to exchange ideas and read each other's work. You either take on board what people say at these meetings or you don't. I did and it helped me.
Is poetry still popular among the younger generations today?
Yes, I think it still appeals to them. It's something everyone likes and poets still try hard to compete with each other. I write poetry primarily because I like it. When you think about it, it's one of the easiest things to do - to get a pen and write something down on a piece of paper. It couldn't be still simpler.
Tell us about your work that won the poetry award.
The Bus from Belfast was the title of my pamphlet of 20 poems. You always want to honour the great poets who have gone (and are going) before you, like Heaney, MacNeice, Longley, Carson, Gillis, Flynn and Laird while doing your own thing, so perhaps the influence of these poets can be seen in the pamphlet.
In many ways, there's really nothing new about the ideas floating around this book: home, homesickness, love, time, the natural world and the urban. There is, however, a mention of Carryduff, which might be a first.
What advice would you give to budding young writers?
I don't think I'm in any position to be giving younger poets advice or words of wisdom, as I am still very much in need of both of these things myself. But what I would say is, simply, keep reading, keep writing and the rest will take care of itself.
What plans do you have for the future?
I'm currently on a graduate programme called Teach First, which puts graduates into challenging schools for two years so they can train on the job to be teachers. I've been teaching English in a school in Bradford and am just about to complete my first year. The Bus from Belfast will come out in November.
What other prizes have you won?
In 2009 I got a General Arts Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. In 2010 I was nominated in the Emerging category of the Yeats Poetry Prize. I'll also be heading to New York for a month in August after the Arts Council of NI awarded me a residency there.
e Favourite book:
The Catcher in the Rye, because I'm just a moany teenager at heart. Currently reading Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson.
e Favourite movie:
Two excellent films I've seen recently were Norwegian Wood and Submarine.
e Preferred music?
Anything on Radio 3 or 6 Music.
e What's your one 'never again' moment?
Never fall asleep on a London night bus.