Interview with Michael Morpurgo
You’ve written many, many best-selling books. Which is your favourite – and why?
All my books are special to me – they are all my babies if you like. Often it’s the latest one that I’ve written that is my favourite. I’d been dreaming it for so long, living and breathing its story so that when it finally arrives as a newly published book, smelling wonderful and fresh out of the box, there is nothing like it. However, if I was to mention some favourites, War Horse would be up there and the sequel to War Horse – Farm Boy. War Horse is my wife’s favourite too and that means a lot.
The Butterfly Lion is one of the most reviewed titles on our website – and everyone loves it. Why do you think this story is still so popular?
That’s really good to hear that The Butterfly Lion is so popular and lovely of you to say so. I’m not sure what makes this story so popular even after all these years, though perhaps it’s something to do with its themes – the span of generations, and the different stories interwoven, of love, friendship, war and adventures. And it certainly must have something to do with the white lion – they are such beautiful, rare creatures.
When you were growing up, which books and authors inspired you?
There were many of course but some that really stand out are Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. I loved this picture book and think it might be the first book I ever read for myself. It helped that the hero and I shared the same name. Wonderfully illustrated, it had the most satisfactorily of all endings. Then there was The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde. This was the first story that ever made me cry. What was strange was that I wanted to read it over and over again. It still has the power to make me cry. I loved Rudyard Kipling and particularly The Elephant’s Child and The Jungle Book. My mother used to read me The Elephant’s Child often because I asked for it again and again. I loved the sheer fun of it, the music and the rhythm of the words. It was subversive too. It’s still my favourite story. And not forgetting Treasure Island. This book was a huge inspiration and was really the first real book that I read for myself. Jim Hawkins was the first character that I identified with totally. I lived this book as I read it.
Which book do you wish you’d written?
There’s a book called The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono.. It is a book for children from 8 to 80. It’s the tale of one man’s dedication to planting trees and how it has a profound effect on a region of South-east France. I love the humanity of this story and how one man’s efforts can change the future for so many. It’s a real message of hope, and I wish I’d written it.
Animals are major characters in many of your books. Why is this?
I think it has something to do with the fact that I live on a farm in Devon. We have all kinds of animals there. We also have lots of children who come to the farm with their schools with the work of the charity Farms for City Children that my wife Clare and I set up. I have lived and grown up with animals all around me, and with watching how people respond to animals and how animals respond to them in return. I am fascinated by this relationship and how profound it can be. I think for many children, an animal helps them go to places they would otherwise not venture into. With a dog as companion, a child can empathise more readily, I feel, and so for a writer it does allow me to engage with subjects that would otherwise be too difficult or traumatic for younger readers.
Steven Spielberg has bought the film rights to War Horse. Will you be involved in the film?
I’m not actually closely involved in the filming, but right at the beginning I met with the producer Kathleen Kennedy and Stephen Spielberg and talked over the whole project. They have sent me scripts from time to time for my comments, and I have visited the set on location so that I can keep in touch with how the production is going. I am conscious of the fact that I am a book writer, not a film-maker. What we have in common is that we are both storytellers, but he is the one that knows best how to do it on screen. In a sense, I have handed over my story to him to interpret as he wishes and have done that because I have great faith in his genius as a film-maker.
Lots of our members would love to be writers. What advice do you have for them?
Always write because you love it and not because it is something that you think you should do. Try to write about something or somebody you know about – something that you feel deeply and passionately about. Never force it. Probably the most important thing is to try to live an interesting life. Keep your eyes, ears and heart open. Talk to people and visit interesting places, and don’t forget to ask questions. To be a writer you need to drink in the world around you so it’s always there in your head. Finally, try and live inside your story, hear and feel it all around you and become the characters.
Finally, what are you working on now?
I am working on a retelling – a version of Pinocchio which will be published by Harper Collins next year.