Billy Letford: the teacher who inspired me to become a poet

When Billy Letford received career advice from one of the country’s highest regarded literary figures, he initially brushed it off.

Impressed with his creative ability, his primary school teacher Mrs Allison sent a copy of a poem written about the Kings Cross rail disaster – written when Billy was just 11 – to esteemed poet Roger McGough, who replied with supportive feedback.

“I knew she’d sent him the letter, I actually don’t have the one he sent back,” he says.

“It didn’t really sink in at the time. From what I remember there was a lot of general advice, but at the bottom, in all caps, he’d written “KEEP WRITING.”

“It’s funny when I look back over my old report cards, they all say I should pursue a career in creative writing, but I never paid them much attention.”

It comes as no surprise then to learn that the Stirling-born writer is now regarded as one of the country’s most exciting literary prospects, accruing a raft of poetry awards and two published collections – the second of which, “Dirt,” was released last year.

However, Billy’s success didn’t happen overnight. His journey started on rooftops around his native Stirling working for the family roofing company.

It wasn’t until 2008, aged 30, when he won the prestigious New Writer’s Award from the Scottish Book Trust, that his career began to gain pace.

“Writing is mental, so while there is a satisfaction at the end of it, there’s not the same catharsis as when you come home after physical labour,” he says of his time on the roofs.

“Knowing that I could go away to a reading or a festival and have a job to come back to was so important, a lot of people don’t have that luxury.

“Of course, there’s a bit of slagging that goes along with that, any time I took a break; five minutes for a cup of tea even, there would be the “oh there he goes, off writing his poetry again,” but they were really supportive, they encouraged me to pursue it.”

Since then, Billy has gone on to win critical acclaim for his work, including a number of rave reviews for his first published collection – 2012’s “Revel.”

And it was made all the more special when he spotted a familiar face in the crowd at the launch.

“Mrs Allison was at my first book launch, I didn’t even know she was coming but when I saw her lining up to get a copy of her book signed I just threw my arms around her and said thank you,” he says.

“She opened up the literary world and for a working class kid like me, that was massive; I’m glad I was able to share it with her.”

Related articles