Michael Morpugo talks about Kaspar
Award-winning author Michael Morpurgo was writer-in-residence at the Savoy Hotel during 2007. His book, Kaspar: Prince of Cats, was inspired by his stay. Beautifully illustrated by Michael Foreman, this is a fantastic story for 7 to 11-year-olds.
Set in 1912, the story begins at the Savoy Hotel in London where bell-boy Johnny Trott carries in Kaspar, a cat belonging to one of the guests. However, soon events are set in motion that take Johnny and Kaspar on an adventure around the world!
What was it like being writer-in-residence at the Savoy? And living in the luxury of a 5 star hotel?!
Fine – so long as you don’t get used to it. The place was full of fascinating people whose lives were full of stories, particularly those who worked there. They became like an extended family to us as we got to know them.
What kind of responsibilities does a writer-in-residence at the Savoy have?
To create literary events, in my case one a month, bringing authors and actors to the hotel to read and perform. In my case, we had a tea party for 60 children with Judith Kerr (The Tiger who came to Tea), a concert of readings and music with Jenny Agutter and a charity evening where friends came to read from their favourite book, amongst them Michael Foreman and Terry Jones, Juliet Stevenson and Joanna Lumley.
Kaspar is such a beautifully written story about the disaster of the Titanic, and the courage of people. What inspired you to write about the Titanic?
Walking into the Dining Room of the Savoy one morning I was struck by the similarity of its decor to the Dining Saloon on The Titanic – they were created almost at the same time.
What is the real legend behind Kaspar, the cat of the Savoy Hotel?
Kaspar is the lucky mascot of The Savoy. It seems that at the beginning of the 20th century 13 men had lunch together at The Savoy, and as the meeting broke up someone said that it was unlucky to have 13 people round a table. One fellow scoffed at this and said it was a lot of superstitious nonsense. Six weeks later that same fellow was shot dead in the streets of Johannesburg. The managers of the Savoy Hotel decided they would never allow a meeting of 13 people again. They commissioned the sculpture of a lucky black cat, called it Kaspar, and now whenever there is a meeting of 13 people they put out a fourteenth chair with Kaspar sitting there. So today there are always 14 sitting round the table, not 13.
Describe a typical day in the life of a writer-in-residence at the Savoy.
No day was typical. Breakfast was always served in the restaurant looking out over the Thames. Then I might write in the morning, on my bed which was the size of Ireland, go for a walk in the afternoon over the South Bank and then go to a concert or a play in the evening. It was a hard life!