Becky Cullen is a poet, educator, and researcher. She has taught across Nottingham in local secondary schools, at an international college, and now at Nottingham Trent University where she teaches and researches contemporary writing. She is also a poet, and her first pamphlet ‘Majid Sits in a Tree and Sings’ won the Poetry Business International Book & Pamphlet Competition 2017/18. In 2020, she takes up her role as a judge for Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature’s MyVoice Creative Writing Competition. We sat down with her this week and asked for her top writing tips, what advice she’d give to enter a competition, and what social justice means to her…

Who inspired you to write stories?

My mum. She is completely brilliant and when I was younger she always pointed interesting things out to me when we were out together – small things and big things. She taught me that things that seem unimportant can be beautiful and significant, even things you see every day.

What was your route into getting published?

I’ve really wanted to be a writer all my life, but I didn’t have the confidence or stickability when I was young. I always thought it was something other important people did, not people like me. But I went back to college in my 40s (I know, ancient, right?) and learned how to be a poet. And then of course you have to show people your poems, and send them to magazines, like you’re sending your heart out into the world. It’s scary, but I kept doing it and one day I won a competition, and then I was a prize-winning writer all of a sudden.

What does social justice mean to you?

There are so many things I want. Safety of all kinds, so we look out for each other, like we’re each other’s grandparents, or aunties, brothers, whatever. Everyone was young once, and I ache when I think of older people who are lonely – I want them to live with university students, like they do elsewhere in Europe. I want the freedom for people to travel, work, live, study and fall in love where they like, with enough food in their fridge, in a kitchen they can cook in, in a warm house they can sleep well in.

What are your top 5 useful tips to help young storytellers along the path of their creative writing?

1. Don’t cross out. Sometimes you have to keep going and get the words out – if you’re too critical from the beginning you’ll have a beautiful white page with no words.

2. Everyone has things in their life that are important. Your story and your life are worth sharing. The world is waiting to hear from you.

3. Keep a notebook and write down scraps of stuff you overhear (this is really fun on buses in particular)

4. Read as much as you can and get lost in someone else’s world for a bit!

5. Write about the things you love, sometimes. I love knees – there are lots of them in my poems! But you can write about the things you hate, too – sometimes writing about something that makes you angry is really powerful.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone entering the MyVoice competition?

I never thought I’d win a writing competition, but I did. If I can do it …. you know the rest.

Are you 10-25? Do you live in Notts? Have you got a voice that needs hearing? If the answer is a perfect score of three yeses, then click here and find out more about MyVoice.