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Interview with Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo has written over 60 books, many of which have been winners or shortlisted for prizes. He has had a lifetime of involvement with children, as a teacher, as a father and grandfather and as the founder with his wife of ‘Farms for City Children’, a charity which enables city kids to come and share his passionate love for the countryside in general and animals in particular. He also loves day-dreaming, music, mountains and writing. He was involved in setting up the Children’s Laureate. This is a celebration of all the wonderful writers and illustrators of books for children. It is a project he devised with his friend, the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes.

Pupils from St Columba’s Preparatory School Preparatory School in St. Albans interviewed Michael Morpurgo for YoungWriter.

When did you first realise that you had a talent for writing? Have you always enjoyed writing, even when you were a child? Has your style of writing changed over the years?

I had a notion I could tell a tale when the children I was teaching really seemed to want to listen to the tales I told them. An acid test. I read a book called Poetry in the Making by Ted Hughes. No better invitation to write was ever written and I accepted. I never liked writing as a child. I was thought of as good at rugby and a bit stupid. As a child I think I lived up to that expectation. My style is, I think, very much my own. I love the sound of words, the rhythm of a sentence. Although I have found my voice, it is constantly changing, developing—as it should, I believe.

How do you get your ideas? Do you make notes which you use later for stories? Do you ever have ideas that are good but don’t fit in with the story?

My ideas come from the richnesses of my lived life, from my memories, from my interests. I make notes, in order not to forget an impression or a good idea or a notion. To set it down fixes it in the memory. Many ideas don’t work, but you don’t know that until you've explored them. And sometimes the exploration can lead into a new idea, a better one, completely unexpectedly. Those are often the best ideas, I find.

How do you tackle research for your books? How does the research help you to imagine feelings as well as facts? When you write, for example, about disabled children are you using real-life experiences?

Most of my books demand a lot of research. I read extensively, travel when I need to, and if I possibly can I ask folk who know—old soldiers for War Horse, for instance. But much of my research is delving around in my own memory. I need to feel immersed in my story, to be there, to feel it deeply. So I try first to lose myself in research, then lose myself in the writing. When I find myself again then I’m inside my story. My insight into how it is to be disabled came from a girl who came to our farm six years ago. She has cerebral palsy. I watched how she coped, how others were towards her. I made her live again in my book, The Ghost of Grania O’Malley.

Why did you decide to write children’s books and not adults’ ones? You write for younger readers as well as for older ones. Do you find one easier and less or more rewarding than the other? Do you yourself read both adults’ and children’s books? Is there a particular book that has influenced the way you write?

I write stories not books,and I write stories for me—for both the child and the adult in me.The story has to please me, fascinate me, delight me My stories are about children, not for them, because I know children—they interest me, children of all ages, even adult ones. The shorter the story the more difficult I find it to write. A great picture book story is immensely difficult to do. I’m working on it. Short or long, read by small people or bigger people, they’re all rewarding to me. I read biographies and books on history—mostly for my research. I rarely read ‘children’s books’, unless I’m reviewing them.There are many writers, not books particularly, who have influenced me, I think, Robert Louis Stephenson, Paul Gallico, Ted Hughes, Ernest Hemingway.

What are the three most important tips you can give to young writers?

1. Drink in the world around you.
2. Dream your dream until it becomes so involving you can’t stop dreaming it.
3. Tell it from the heart, as you feel your story, as you see it.

Thank you very much Michael Morpurgo!

Read more interviews of leading authors by children.

YoungWriter was a magazine published from 1995 to 2003 by Kate Jones.
We here at Myst Ltd had the pleasure of producing the magazine for Kate.
Sadly, Kate passed away in 2010.