Much ado about… me
I was born a really long time ago. 5th October 1943. In St Alban’s in Hertfordshire. My mother was there too, strangely enough, but my father was away at the war, in Baghdad. I had one older brother, Pieter. We both were evacuated to Northumberland when we were little, away from the bombs. After the war it was all change at home, not that I remember much of it. My mother wanted to be with a man she had met while my father was away in the army. He was called Jack Morpurgo. So my father came home to find there was no place for him. There was a divorce. Jack Morpurgo married my mother, and so became our stepfather. We lived in London then. We went to primary school at St Matthias in the Warwick Road, then were sent off to boarding school in Sussex - the Abbey, Ashurst Wood. I was there for six years, hated being away from home, loved rugby and singing. Then I went off to a school in Canterbury, The King’s School, where I got more used to being away from home and still loved rugby and singing. We wore strange uniforms, wing collars, black jackets, boaters. And when I was older I got to wear a scarlet gown which made me feel very important.Read more…
Much ado about me
I was born a really long time ago. 5th October 1943. In St Alban’s in Hertfordshire. My mother was there too, strangely enough, but my father was away at the war, in Baghdad. I had one older brother, Pieter. We both were evacuated to Northumberland when we were little, away from the bombs. After the war it was all change at home, not that I remember much of it. My mother wanted to be with a man she had met while my father was away in the army. He was called Jack Morpurgo. So my father came home to find there was no place for him. There was a divorce. Jack Morpurgo married my mother, and so became our stepfather. We lived in London then. We went to primary school at St Matthias in the Warwick Road, then were sent off to boarding school in Sussex – the Abbey, Ashhurst Wood. I was there for six years, hated being away from home, loved rugby and singing. Then I went off to a school in Canterbury, The King’s School, where I got more used to being away from home and still loved rugby and singing. We wore strange uniforms, wing collars, black jackets, boaters. And when I was older I got to wear a scarlet gown which made me feel very important.
I went into the army, to Sandhurst, where officers are trained. Liked the uniforms and the good food and the friends I made, but hated being shouted at. Decided the army life was not for me. Met a girl called Clare who agreed with me and we got married, really young, because we loved one another. Had children really young, three of them. Went off to university at King’s College, London to start all over again. I got my degree, just, and decided to be a teacher. I had done a little bit before and liked it. So found myself in front of a class of children for the first time. Scary! But I loved reading stories to them. They seemed to like that too. We moved around a lot from school to school, which was quite unsettling for everyone, but finally ended up teaching in a little village primary school in Kent, at Wickhambreaux, where I ran out of other writers’ stories to read, so started making up some of my own.
Then Clare and I decided to start all over again, again! She was a teacher too by this time. We thought that what children needed most were wonderful and memorable experiences that would really help them find out about the world around them and find out more about themselves too. So we set up a charity called Farms for City Children, moved to Iddesleigh, bought a big house called Nethercott where the children could stay, made a partnership with a farming family we had got to know and invited our first city children down to the farm. The charity has been running now for forty years. Over 90,000 children have come to the three farms where the charity now runs, in Wales at Lower Treginnis Farm, in Gloucestershire at Wick Court, and of course where we started it all, at Nethercott in Devon.
Clare and I worked at this for over twenty-five years, before handing it over to younger, more energetic people, all wonderful people who run it now. The three farms still go on, with about 3,000 city and town children coming to stay with their teachers for a week working down on the farm. Clare and I remain involved, but not out on the farm any more.
During all this time our children were growing up, of course. We now have eight grandchildren, with a great-grandchild on the way! And during all this time I was writing away, becoming a writer, a storyteller. Here in Devon I wrote nearly all my books, 130 I think, not that numbers count, War Horse, Private Peaceful, Why the Whales Came, The Butterfly Lion, Kensuke’s Kingdom. And with all of them, I was much helped in my writing by many friends and writers, but especially by Ted Hughes, the great poet, who lived nearby and fished on the river than runs through the farm. He became a good friend, and was a great inspiration to me to keep writing when I was finding it hard. And he and his wife Carol were always a source of great support to Farms for City Children.
Well, that’s just about all the much ado of my life, summed up in nutshell. If you do want to find out more, then read Maggie Fergusson’s biography of me, called War Child to War Horse.
A busy year
I have just been deep in my retelling of The Wizard of Oz, but with a difference. I have told it from Toto's point of view, a dog's eye view - not forgetting his nose! So I had to become a dog for a while. Not a problem. I have been a horse before and a polar bear, so being a dog for wasn't a problem. Papa Toto's Tale will be illustrated by the wonderful Emma Chichester Clark, with whom I worked on Aesop's Fables, Hansel and Gretel and The Pied Piper of Hamelin and Pinnochio, and will be out in a year or so.
I have lots of events coming up, beginning with a double act with David Walliams at the Imagine Festival at the Southbank in London, then in the same festival, a q and a after the last in a long run of Danyah Miller's wonderful one woman show of I believe in Unicorns. There will be many other events up and down the country this year. Look out for them. Other plays you can see this year are: An Elephant in the Garden, another terrific one woman show with Alison Reid, which is on tour now. In May, The Chichester Festival Theatre's great production of Running Wild will come to London to the Regent's Park Open air Theatre. And Kneehigh's remarkable show of 946, The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, so successful on its first run last year, comes to The Globe in London in August. Do not miss 'em!
War Horse, the great and iconic National Theatre production, finishes soon its seven year run in London, but continues to play in China. It has played worldwide now to over 8 million people. The play returns to tour all around the UK for the second time from 2017 to 2019.
I have been working recently on a short WWF Climate Coalition film, I Wish for You, with actors Jeremy Irons and Maxine Peake. Go on line to see it, Share the Love.
There will be concerts too up and down the country, War Horse, Private Peaceful, Where my Wellies Take Me, On Angel Wings and The Best Christmas Present in the World. Come along. See and hear wonderful musicians and singers bringing the stories to a new and different life.
Other new books or new editions or paperbacks to look out for are: We are not Frogs. Illustrated by Sam Usher,published by Barrington Stoke: Kensuke's Kingdom, illustrated by Michael Foreman, published by Egmont. The Kites are Flying, illustrated by Laura Carlin, published by Walker. Pinocchio illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark, published by Harper Collins. And a whole series of The Greatest Stories, over 30 fantastic stories retold and illustrated by great writers and artists, including my version of Peter and the Wolf, beautifully illustrated by Joanna Carey, all published by Oxford University Press.
Come and see me if I come your way.
Michael and his wife Clare founded Farms for City Children in 1976 at Nethercott Farm, deep in Devon river country, and Michael has called the project his ‘greatest story’. The charity now operates three working farms: Treginnis Isaf on the Pembrokeshire coast opened twenty years ago and Wick Court in Gloucestershire opened in 1997. They aim to expand the horizons of children from towns and cities all over the country by offering them a week in the countryside living together on one of their farms. The charity has inspired many of Michael’s books, including one special visit that planted the seed that would later become War Horse.
Over the years the formula has changed very little. Simply, children are involved in everything necessary to keep the farms going. They learn hands-on where their food comes from, the importance of caring for animals and the land, and the value of working co-operatively as a team. The rewards are, unusually, non-material and self-generated: children discover an active enjoyment in life and a sense of achievement, the effects of which remain with them long after they have waved the farms goodbye.
Farms for City Children is a UK registered charity. To find out more about how you can help the children to get the most out of their experience please visit: farmsforcitychildren.org/
To sign up for the Farms for City Children mailing list, click here
Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories
Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books
Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books has introduced an exclusive exhibition drawn directly from Michael Morpurgo’s extensive archive donated to Seven Stories in 2015.
Michael Morpurgo is one of Britain's best loved story makers and this unique exhibition showcases, for the first time, the notebooks and manuscripts that became the classics we know today including War Horse, Private Peaceful, Kensuke's Kingdom and Farm Boy.
Explore the secrets behind Michael's storytelling through his original drafts, adaptations, scripts and unpublished manuscripts. With content rich in historical research, creativity and poignant prose, this exhibition showcases the processes behind some of the most loved titles in modern children's books.
The various and familiar themes in Michael’s story telling - war, the countryside and farming, the Scilly Isles and friendship - are explored throughout the exhibition using atmospheric soundscapes.
Included in the exhibition is artwork from some of the many illustrators who have contributed to Michael's books over his career which is now into its fiftieth year.
To find out more and to organise your visit, click here