Q&A with Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo

Award-winning children's author Michael Morpurgo answered your questions about life, literature and learning in December 2008

Books and inspiration | Tips on children's reading | About the author | Useful links


 Books and inspiration

Q. Weblette: My eight-year-old daughter adores your books. She would love to know why animals play such an important part of so many of your books. 

A. Michael Morpurgo:  I live on a farm, so of course I've got animals all around me.  But what interests me most about animals is how we relate to them and how we relate to us.   The more I am with them the more I feel connected to them.  

Q. Snigger: Would you do the same as Charlie in Private Peaceful?

A. Michael Morpurgo: Who knows? I suppose part of the reason I wrote the story was because I do wonder how I would have coped if I'd had to fight in that war, or
any war.

Q. HelenMumsnet (from MNHQ): My son loves your books, even though lots of them make him cry. He wants to know why so many children's authors don't write about sad things. And why you do.

A. Michael Morpurgo: I don't now about other children's authors, but I write about what I care about, what I love, what makes me angry, what makes me sad. I don't think of my reader when I'm writing. I know sadness is a universal human experience, whether we are young or old, so I see no point in avoiding it.

Q. Fennel : My seven-year-old daughter wants to write something: "Hello Michael, my name is Esme, I liked the book Adolphus Tips because I have a kitten just like Adolphus Tips named Clara. She's very cheeky. We went to see Slapton Sands in the autumn. Where did Adolphus Tips live before he lived with the family or was he born in the family? Do you have any more stories about cats. Clara has a brother called Orlando. He's even cheekier! From Esme."

A. Michael Morpurgo: Glad you went to Slapton.  Yes, Adolphus Tips was born in the family on the farm I expect. I've written many books about cats. Here are a few: The Nine Lives of Montezuma, Kaspar Prince of Cats, The Butterfly Lion, Tom's Sausage Lion, Mossop's Last Chance.

Q. Fennel: And my eight-year -old daughter wants to say something too. "I like the book Adolphus Tips because the book is interesting because it has lots of interesting things in it. And we have been to the place where it's set in Slapton Sands. I read The Wreck of the Sambar, too. I liked it because it was all about a child who wanted to ride the gig. We are going to go to the Isles of Scilly one day. From Xanthe."

A. Michael Morpurgo: Hope you enjoy the Isles of Scilly when you go. Try reading Why the Whales Came because it is all about Scilly too.

Q. overthemill: How do you make your books seem so real? I like it, it makes it so realistic. You're the best writer ever!

A. Michael Morpurgo: Thanks for that! I think maybe the secret is that while I am writing them, I can see and hear and feel all the story going on around me. I try to live inside it and become the characters. 

Q. herbietea: What was your inspiration for Private Peaceful?

A. Michael Morpurgo:  I came across a letter dated 1916 to a mother informing her that her young son had been 'shot at dawn' for cowardice in WW1. It got me thinking about how she must have felt, and then about the life and times of a young soldier.

Q. DisasterArea: I want to know why the albatros in Alone on a Wide Wide Sea has to die? Thought it a bit unnecessary and brutal and it made me cry (as did Adolphus Tips and Kensuke's Kingdom, among others).

A. Michael Morpurgo: Both brutality and sadness are part of of human experience whether we like it or not.  I don't write stories to make people feel happy.   I write to make me think, and I hope to make others think too. I think reading can help us work things out for ourselves.

Q. tillyblue: Hello Michael. Daughter, 12 years, would like to know "Why do write about World War 2 so much? Also do you take your inspiration from true stories/facts?" 

A. Michael Morpurgo: I was born in 1943, so all my growing up was done with the evidence of the effects of war all around me. You never forget your first impressions of the world around you as a child and I am sure they marked me deeply. Sadly, war does seem to be almost endemic to the human condition, so it has continued to interest and upset me all my life. Almost all my stories have some reality as their inspiration, either my own experience or someone else's, or historical fact.

Q. Tillyblue: My favourite is Why the Whales Came. It was beautifully written and came highly recommended by my daughter. Wishing you a Happy Christmas.

A. Michael Morpurgo: And a Happy Christmas to you too.  Try to see the play too if you can, done by The Birmingham Stage Company and very well too.  It's Birmingham at present and then touring the country.  See my website.

Q. LadyGlencoraPalliser: My 11-year-old daughter loves elephants and wants to know why, although you have written about so many different animals, you have never written a book about an elephant?

A. Michael Morpurgo: Now there's a thing. All my life I've wanted to write a book about an elephant, and now I'm just finishing one.  It's called Running Wild, and with a bit of luck it will be out in Sept/Oct 09. Published by Harper Collins.

Q. WillburyNibbleQC: DS1 (12) says: "Could you please tell me what inspired you to end The Butterfly Lion the way you did - was it one of those large chalk drawings that you get on hillsides eg: The White Horse? I enjoyed the book - it was a great read."

A. Michael Morpurgo: Yes, the book was inspired by the white horse you can see from the train as you come into Westbury in Wiltshire. Glad you liked the book. I do too.

Q. Doobydoo: Ds1 would like to know if Bertie Andrews is real?

A. Michael Morpurgo: No Bertie Andrews is not real, but the school he went to was. It was the school I ran away from when I was seven.  

Q. vet50: My son (10) loves your books but is finding The Sleeping Sword makes him 'too sad'. Perhaps he is over-sensitive or too young, but it does seem to contain a lot of upsetting material in one book. How can I help him (and me) to see the light side please?

A. Michael Morpurgo: The book like many of mine is upsetting to begin with, and it says much for you and your son that you respond in this way to it. However it;' worth persevering with, because out of the sadness does come joy, in the end. Maybe without sadness we never really know what joy is? 

Q. Lemontart:  Hello. I have a quick question from my seven year old (off school ill and dictating this to me). She is a big fan of Adolphus Tips and finished reading it with her dad last weekend. She wants to know: "Is the cat on the cover really how you imagine Tips to look? Do you ever wish you could illustrate your own books so they look exactly how you see them in your head?"

A. Michael Morpurgo: No, the photo on the front is not how I imagined Adolphus to be, but I like her eyes! I'd love to be an illustrator as well, but I'm hopeless at drawing, always have been.

Q. Celia2: Were you happy with the way that they staged the War Horse? My family saw it and we thought it was super but there were some good bits missing.

A. Michael Morpurgo: I think it's completely wonderful. By far the best adaptation either on screen or stage for one of my books. Yes it's different from the book but it has to be, simply because a play is a different creature. I think the puppets are out-of-this-world wonderful. I do miss certain things of course from the book, both the French and German stories in particular, and the auction at the end. But I'm not complaining!

Q. janinlondon: Hello, My name is Isobel and I am nine. Nearly everyone in my class is reading one of your books, and we all love them. Our teacher Mrs Lock is your biggest fan! Could you tell us which one of your books makes you the most proud, and why? We think you are a fantastic author, but we all have different favourites. Thank you for writing such great books for us.

A. Michael Morpurgo: Say hello to Mrs Lock, and to all your class. So pleased you've enjoyed the books. I loved writing them too. None of my books make me proud - children and grandchildren make me proud - it's a different sort of feeling with a book. It just makes me feel very happy when I find that other people have loved a book as much as I have. So which one makes me happiest? At the moment War Horse, perhaps because there is a fantastic play of it on at the National Theatre in London. It's going to go on until September 09 now, so see if you can persuade Mrs Lock to do a school trip to see it. You will be truly amazed. Promise.

Q. bonty: What exactly is your connection with the Isles of Scilly, and were you annoyed that they changed the title of your book for the film When/Why the Whales Came? Just curious as I was born on Scilly and attended the film premiere in St Ives many years ago.

A. Michael Morpurgo: Thanks, I was there too! We go to Scilly every summer and have done for 30 years or so, my wife for 60 years off and on. So we feel we know and love the place, certainly I know of nowhere where there are more hidden stories. I keep finding them like buried treasure!

Q. mimizan: Hi Michael, we are all fans of your books in our family. My nine-year-old son says that Alone on a Wide Wide Sea is his favourite because he likes the way you describe things. He would like to know where you got the ideas for that book from.

A. Michael Morpurgo: Look in the back of the book and you will see a bit about the historical origins of the story and my inspirations for it. Other inspirations were the poem of the Ancient Mariner and a friend of mine who sailed around the world from Australia on a 31 foot yacht, updating his website every day as he went.

Q. Fauve:  My 10-year-old loved Adolphus Tips, Born to Run, War Horse, Kaspar, Prince of Cats, Private Peaceful, The Butterfly Lion and Mr Nobody's Eyes. The pupils at her small primary school produce a little student magazine. If she sent you some questions, perhaps via your publisher, would you consider answering them so that she could put them in the school magazine? It would only be a short 'interview' - normally ten questions - but it would make Year 6 very happy! PS She says she adores your work. We're aiming to see War Horse at the National Theatre in January!

A. Michael Morpurgo: Enjoy War Horse which you will!  Yes I'd be pleased to answer your daughters questions. Look at my website for the address to send them to.

Q. MrsWeasleyStrokesSantasSack: Hi Michael, my Son would like to know if Kensuke's Kingdom is based on a true story? Is the letter from Michiya Ogawa at the end of the book a real letter or one you made up?

A. Michael Morpurgo: What is true is that there was a Japanese soldier who stayed behind on an island in the Pacific after WW2. He was there for 40 years! All on his own! Yes, people fall off boats, yes orangutans are hunted for their babies, yes little turtles have to make a run for the sea when they hatch out. But the rest I made up.

Q. MrsWeasleyStrokesSantasSack: I would like to add that the teacher read The Marble Crusher to our class of year 3 children (age seven and eight) last summer and they enjoyed it so much it started a new facsination for playing marbles.

A. Michael Morpurgo: Hope the marble craze is still going. Get them to read a book of mine called Conker (Egmont Books) to get them playing conkers too. 

Q. The Butterflyeffect: Your books have been widely enjoyed in our family. They are a tonic to the gimmicky serialised things children can get hooked on. I think it's fantastic that they appeal to both genders and to such a wide age range. Anyway, my daughter is eight, and she would like to ask you: how did you become a successful author, how much work do you do from having an idea for a book to its publication, and how important is editing?

A. Michael Morpurgo:  I became an author because I was a teacher and loved telling stories.   It was the only way I could get every child in my class to really listen.  If you want to find out more about why and how I do it, then read Singing for Mrs Pettigrew.

Q. overthemill: How do you manage to write so many great books that completely appeal to children of all ages (and adults too). I am always so pleased when one of mine pick up a book by you and enjoy the conversations they provoke. The eldest (15) wants to know why she can't study 'private peaceful' at GCSE instead of Lord of the Flies! Do you feel your books wil stand the test of time like some of the classics?

A. Michael Morpurgo: I hope and believe that some of the best of mine might be around for a while. But who knows?   As for appealing to all ages, I think the trick may be is to try not to appeal too hard to any age. Maybe that's the way to appeal to everyone.

Q. herbietea: I just want to say thank you for the many enjoyable hours ofreading that you have given both my boys, especially the youngest. How old were you when you wrote your first book?

A. Michael Morpurgo: I was 30 when my first book came out.

Q. herbietea: What was your favourite story as a child?

A. Michael Morpurgo: I read comics a lot when I was very little but the first proper book I really loved was Treasure Island.   I still think it is one of the great books. 


Children's reading

Q. tortoiseshellWasMusicaYearsAgo: Hi Michael - my son is seven and really enjoys your books. At the moment he would like to be an author when he grows up and really loves writing. What advice would you give him?

A. Michael Morpurgo: Read a lot and live a really interesting life. Do stuff, go places, meet people, and maybe write a couple of lines each about the best or worst, or funniest or saddest thing that happened each day. Read Singing for Mrs Pettigrew (Walker Books) and you'll see what makes me write.

Q. EffiePerine: What would be your top tip for getting children (esp boys) to enjoy reading?

A. Michael Morpurgo: A lot of boys, although not all, like non-fiction. So fiction which is linked to reality, and that is quite hard hitting, and that moves quite fast is likely to engage.  I suggest Cool, Billy the Kid and The Butterfly Lion.

Q. EffiePerine: And what do you think of the current literacy strategy in schools?

A. Michael Morpurgo: Up the creek! Cart before horse! The first few years ought to be spent entirely engaging and enthusing young children with stories any way you can. Only after that should they be confronted with the practicalities of literacy as such. The real thing is create readers and writers, this is not done by either force feeding and testing.

Q. Niecie: Also, how important do you think it is for parents and children to share books (like having a bedtime story) or do you think that once a child can read properly they should be left to their own devices to enjoy them at their own pace (slightly control freaky mother here who would love to have a say in what my boys read but wonder if I am not doing them a disservice)?

A. Michael Morpurgo: Difficult this. Actually I think there's room for both. They must find their own wave length, but it's part of our job as writers and parents and teachers to help that process. However, I think everyone loves being read to, whatever age, providing the reader really loves the story and it sounds like it.

Q. harman: I hate reading, my mum said that i mite like one of your books. wich shoud i get for christmas. thank you. A (age 8).

A. Michael Morpurgo: I hated reading when I was your age, and I hated writing too. Then I got lucky. I found a book which I liked and then another and another. Try Cool, Billy the Kid, The Butterfly Lion and Farm Boy. If none of these work try another author but keep trying, but because you'll find it's just great when you do find a book. Promise.

Q. roisin: Michael, we are huge fans in this house. My eldest son wrote to you when he was very young and was delighted to receive a handwritten reply. I run two reading clubs in secondary school, which are popular and successful. But I also do literacy intervention with those who are still struggling, and I ache for those children who have already been turned off reading and writing by our current education system. I have tried various initiatives without much success to try to encourage them to love reading in the way I do, and my boys do. Do you have any magic solutions? As parents and/or professionals, what do you think we could be doing to bring about changes in (primary) education?

A. Michael Morpurgo: All I can say is something you know already, which is that we mustn't fake it. The best we can do is to pass on what we love, to convince and convert with our own enthusiasm. When I'm telling a story or reading it or writing it I really mean it and the reader knows it. Not foolproof but I hope it helps.

Q. spookycharlotte121: Hello, just wanted to say hi! I'm sure you came to my school (Redland High School in Bristol) when I was really little and everyone was really excited. I was very young though so I might have it wrong. I loved The Butterfly Lion as a child! I read it to my little boy although he is still a bit young to appreciate it. I would like to know out of all of your books, which is your favourite? Well done and keep up the good work!

A. Michael Morpurgo: I did come to Redlands, I remember it very well. Glad you do too! My favourite book? Difficult, because there have been so many and they have been very different. At the moment I love War Horse a lot, but maybe that's because of the fantastic play on at the moment in London. Try to see it if you can.


About the author

Q. DisasterArea: DD2 wants to know how old you are.

A. Michael Morpurgo: I'm 65, which is seriously old!

Q. DisasterArea: DD1 wants to know what inspires you to keep writing.

A. Michael Morpurgo: 'Cos I want the next book to be better than the one before. 

Q. Niecie: Hi Michael, I just wanted to ask what did you enjoy about being the Children's Laureate and did you achieve any goals you had when you were awarded the post?

A. Michael Morpurgo: I loved being Children's Laureate because it gave me the opportunity to do what I like doing best but to a wider audience. I got to tell stories to children and parents all over the world,  from the Isle of Jura in Scotland to Moscow to Soweto in South Africa. I'm glad it's over though 'cos now I can get back to writing my stories.

Q. uptomyeyes:  Michael, DS1 (11) is a huge fan of yours and Dear Olly was the first book that he read independently. His question is: how difficult was it to get your books published? Best wishes for a Merry Christmas

A. Michael Morpurgo: Happy Christmas to you too. I was lucky.  I happen to write some short stories that a publisher was looking for at that moment. But that happened quite late I suppose. I was 30. So not to worry, not to hurry.   That's the key. You just write what you want to write as well as you can, and when you feel you've done something really good in a few years time, then send it off. Don't worry if they say no at first, just keep trying.

Q. HAPPYHEL: Hi Michael,I have pretty much finished writing a children's book, with illustrations, but I'm not sure where to go now? I would be so grateful if you could tell me what my next steps should be, ie who should I contact about trying to get it published? Do I need an agent? I've already got plans for a whole series! Thanks so much.

A. Michael Morpurgo: You need an agent who will put you on the right kind of publisher. Try a smaller agency I should which you can find in the Writers and Artists Year Book. Good luck! 

Q. Katw3kitts:  What is your favourite book out of the ones you have written ?

A. Michael Morpurgo: Probably The Butterfly Lion or War Horse or Private Peaceful or Farm Boy or Kensuke's Kingdom or...

Q. Katw3kitts: Who is your favourite author and do you have a favourite book?

A. Michael Morpurgo: Favourite author Robert Louis Stevenson. Favourite book Treasure Island.

Q. Katw3kitts: Have you written your Christmas list and is what would you like Father Christmas to bring you this year?

A. Michael Morpurgo: Peace and reconciliation, a whole stocking full!

Q. Katw3kitts: Are you having turkey on christmas day ?

A. Michael Morpurgo: No, goose.

Q. Katw3kitts: Has writing made you rich and do you drive a sports car? (james 7)

A. Michael Morpurgo:  I've got enough money for another pair of socks so please don't worry about me. I'd love to drive a sports car but I'm a bit old, and you need lots of hair to blow around in the breeze and I'm a bit lacking in that department.

Q. lisalisa: I also haven't got a question but just wanted to thank you for being the trigger to start a reluctant nine year old reading. My son had meningitis as a baby and subsequently struggled with reading and writing. Used to being near the bottom of the class he had already written reading off as something only the clever kids did and too much hard work to be worthwhile ( (it was hard work to read for him). He was persuaded to read one of your books about six months ago and really enjoyed it. Full of excitement I rushed out to our local bookshop and after having sought advice from the assistant there bought an armful - yes, literally, of your books for seven years up ( I wanted to start him easily). Cue six months later he's read about a quarter of all the books you've written ( yes - really) and reads easily a book or two every week and has his nose permenantly stuck in a book. He loves to share them with me so I am familiar with many of your characters and ideas. I want to thank you for being such an exciting and inspiring children's author and for giving my son the gift of reading. He is now making terrific progress at school all thanks to his new found love of reading!

A. Michael Morpurgo: Thank you for your kind, kind words. To hear a story like that gives a fellow fresh inspiration to go on. Give your son my best and to you both a very a happy Christmas.

Q. ahundredtimes: We came to see you at the Bath Children's literary festival this year, and you were splendid - it should be said. One of my children had his hand up, he wanted to ask you this: 'I think the ending of Born to Run was too sad. It was very sad. WHY couldn't he go back to the boy? You made me cry, and I'm quite cross about it actually.' I told him you answered the question when someone else asked you something, and you said 'I think I do sad very well'. He thinks this NOT good enough, sorry. He is being quite high maintenance about the whole thing, but I told him I would post the question here. PS I don't want to go on too much about how brilliant you are, but the way you answered all the questions about 'where do you get your ideas from?' was wonderful, the sitting on the train and seeing the white horse, and the talking to people in the pub etc. It was v. inspiring and clever and really opened up how stories are made in a proper way. Properly inspired all three of mine and I want you to know I really appreciate it. [Charlie Higson said to similar questions 'from a shop' also considered 'Not Good Enough' by high maintenance son.]

A. Michael Morpurgo: Perhaps my answer at the Bath event was a bit flippant. The truth is, of course, that sadness is upsetting, and so is disappointment when things don't work out as you would have liked them to but the truth is that's part of life and living as I see it. Fiction should reflect that, and should not wrap things up in a pink ribbon simply because it is for the young.  Young and old, we all have to come to terms with the world as it is, not how we'd like it to be. 

Q. Nettie: Both my sons are reluctant writers, even though they love reading, have fab vocabularies and imaginations. So I would love to know if you enjoy writing as a child. Both boys (6 and 11) love your books, I've just finished reading Kasper to them. I think your books should come with a box tissues

A. Michael Morpurgo: Part of learning to be a writer comes through an enjoyment of reading. Neither can be rushed.   To find the confidence to write is never easy for a child or for a grown up like me.  I did not enjoy reading or writing as a small child. I came to it as a teacher much later, when I discovered the power of great story to enthrall and engage, in a way that nothing else could.

Q. fortyplus: We're off to see War Horse at the National Theatre just after Christmas - taking the hankies! It's great to be able to introduce disturbing concepts into  children'sliterature.  I have two boys, 15 and 13. So, no questions, just a HUGE well done and thank you.

A. Michael Morpurgo:  I'm not wishing you'll enjoy because I know you will. Have a great time, and give the goose a special clap from me!  

Q. Swedes: I heard you interviewed (on R4) during the Bath literary festival and it was a real treat. I have two children from a previous marriage and two children with my partner. I think we are mostly a very happy family, but I am acutely aware of the pitfalls for step and blended families and your life story made me cry (with all four children in the car). Family breakdown is now very common in our society, but we have yet to get to grips with continuing to cooperate as parents to our children after a relationship ends (often it is the opposite of cooperative). I have written a parents' charter that would operate like a pre-nuptial agreement. May I please send it to you for your observations? It is two sides of A4.

A. Michael Morpurgo:  Please do send it, I'd be pleased to read it. Life ain't simple, that's for sure. Look at my website for the address to send it to.

Q. FestiveGardenia: Just a message, no question, from DS1 who is 10: Dear Michael Morpurgo, I have read Twist of Gold and I really enjoyed it. My granny gave me the Wreck of the Zanzibar and Kensuke's Kingdom. Merry Christmas.

A. Michael Morpurgo:  And a Happy Christmas to you too!

Last updated: 9 months ago