He Walks in Hottiness Like a Panther
Before I became a writer, I taught English at a secondary school and sixth form college for many years. I always loved reading with my classes, but found it curious that students who would merrily leap around the classroom reciting Shakespeare would then declare that they ‘hated poetry’. Teenagers should love poetry! It’s a snapshot of intense emotional feeling, a bit like many teens’ Instagram messages. As I write this, I can’t stop my mind from planning a lesson using lines of poetry, images and Instagram – once a teacher, always a teacher – which is probably why I included some of my favourite lines of poetry in Love Bomb.
Betty, Love Bomb’s love-struck narrator, has a best friend, Bill, who owns a copy of ‘The Greatest Love Poems of All Time’. As Betty has just fallen head over heels in love with ‘hot vampire’ Toby she decides this book will help her to become ‘an expert on love’. Bill cherry picks lines of poetry for Betty and then explains them to her. Here’s Betty and Bill getting to grips with Byron:
‘What does She walks in beauty like the night mean?’
‘Read the next line.’
‘Of cloudless climes and starry skies.’
‘That’s by Byron-’
‘And he’s saying that there are no clouds in the sky and there are a lot of stars. She’s as beautiful as a perfect starry night.’
‘Has she got freckles?’
‘You have no soul, Betty.’
Writing these scenes was a lot of fun. I had to choose quotations that were out of copyright and that fitted neatly in with the plot; I spent many indulgent hours flicking through my poetry books and searching online. When Bill shares the lines with Betty, I had to make sure he didn’t sound too much like a thirty eight-year-old English teacher and it was important that each line of poetry could have a double meaning for Betty.
One quotation from Yeats is written on Betty’s arm: ‘I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’ Could any line of poetry better sum up the deliciously terrifying experience of declaring your love for the first time? As a writer, I particularly enjoy this quotation because it also describes how it feels to share your work with others. The first time I ever showed my writing to anyone else was at the Winchester Writers’ Festival. As I waited for my first one-to-one appointment with an editor, clutching my opening chapters of Flirty Dancing, I was mentally preparing myself for a good trampling.
On the 12th March, Love Bomb will be published and once again I will be revealing ‘my dreams’ to readers. I hope they enjoy the poetry Bill chooses for Betty and that the words whispered from the past ring as true and clear for my readers as they do for me.