Recently I was fortunate enough to find myself in a position to interview Michael Morpurgo, OBE, FKC, AKC and former Children’s Poet Laureate, at the book launch for Morpurgo’s latest book, Where My Wellies Take Me…, written collaboratively by himself and his wife, Clare Morpurgo. It is a glorious book combining illustration and storytelling as one. The event is a showcase of both author and artist.
The artist in question, Olivia LomenechGill is at the centre of the event, along with the Morpurgos, who were inspired to write the book together with the intention of re-living their childhood days in Devon.
The event itself is impressive, held in a tiny art gallery in the centre of London. It is filled with friends, family and admirers of both illustrator and author. Olivia Gill’s artwork is displayed simply around the gallery, she is an artist storyteller and her work obeys no other masters, but her own stylistic inclinations
Morpurgo himself is dressed comfortably eccentric, in a red shirt, red corduroy trousers and red Dr Martens. I found an opportunity to speak to Morpurgo himself and I began by asking his opinion on the upcoming film adaptation of Private Peaceful. I wondered if he was happy with the adaptation, “I am very pleased with it, I thought it was tense and very moving. It is also very faithful to the text and faithful to the spirit so I was very pleased with it”.
War Horse and Private Peaceful have both become successful plays in their own right. War Horse made its debut in 2007 dazzling audiences with ground-breaking puppetry and went on to rightly receive the Olivier Award, Evening Standard Award and the London Critics’ Circle Award.
I wondered why his novels seemed designed for the stage, “I don’t think they are; it’s just that very clever people have adapted them and made it seem as if it were designed for stage. I think you need a really strong adaptation to make it seem seamless and as if it was meant for that. And both War Horse and Private Peaceful have achieved it”.
There are many a budding author at the University of Essex and I wondered if Morpurgo had any advice for them; “Yes, don’t be afraid, don’t think you’re going to get rich quick. Do it because you mean it. Keep your eyes open; keep your heart open because that’s where you’ll get your information. Drink the world that way and tell your stories with your own voice. Don’t try to imitate anybody else because you’ll do it fine. It’s a lot about confidence, doing it once and then doing it again; it’s like riding a bicycle. Fall off once or twice and it doesn’t matter” he finishes, speaking with clarity and confidence.
Enquiring into his own personal favourite book, “It’s a book called The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono, who is an extraordinary writer. It’s about an old man, a peasant man who goes up and plants acorns all over the hills and turns arid hills in to the forest” he replies.
I wondered which of his own novels was his favourite, “Probably Farm Boy which is the sequel to War Horse, because I know every inch of the landscape. It was based upon the lane I live in Devon, I know the trees, I know who planted the trees, I know the hedgerows, I know the where they grow blackberries best in the autumn time. I know it intimately and the book is set there, so it’s my favourite.”
I shake his hand as he is whisked off back in to the minute art gallery. Michael Morpurgo is a wonderful novelist, an intriguing person, down to earth, kind and inspiring. One of life’s good guys.
Where My Wellies Take Me… is available to buy now.
Words by Naomi Jeffreys
Follow Naomy Jeffreys on Twitter @Nami649