Michael Morpurgo: Finding the Right Place to Write
It took me a while to find the perfect place to write. I started out by sitting at my desk but found that I was hunching over and getting back pain. The great poet, Ted Hughes, who lived near us in Devon suggested I try to write as he did, standing up at a lectern, but when I tried that it just made my feet ache.
Then I read about how Robert Louis Stevenson, one of my favourite authors and a hero of mine, used to write sitting on his bed. I tried that and found that it worked for me, so now I sit propped up on my bed with lots of pillows behind my back and my knees up supporting my writing book. I use little orange school exercise books that I used to get from schools that I visited. There are hundreds of them now in the archive at Seven Stories in Newcastle. The beauty of working in bed is that if I need to close my eyes and nod off, I’m in the right place.
A few years ago, we built a Japanese tea-house in our garden where I go to write upstairs, sitting on a small bed with a view over the fields and the hills beyond. If I’m at home in Devon, I tend to write in the morning and then write letters and answer emails in the afternoon. I then always go for a long walk in the late afternoon with my wife along the lanes so that I can clear my head. It helps me weave my stories.
My writing happens when I start to weave together diverse happenings and places and people and memories. It may be sparked by anything: meeting someone, something someone tells me, a newspaper clipping or a snippet of radio news. There’s a new book out just now published by Walker Books called Such Stuff that’s all about where my stories come from, about the dreamtime, the story and the facts behind the stories. It’s been put together by my wife Clare, my brother Mark and me, so really a family undertaking.
I am by nature an instinctive writer. When I write I don’t think about any thing else other than the story itself. I simply lose myself in the world I have created, and the people I have invented. I am each of them as I write. I am Gawain in my re-telling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; I am Kensuke in Kensuke's Kingdom; Will, the small boy escaping into the rainforest on his elephant in Running Wild. I become my characters, and then try to allow events in the story to take their own course. I try not to play God, but to let them work out their own destiny. I try to let the story flow out of me, down my arm and on to the page.
The beauty of working in bed is that if I need to close my eyes and nod off, I’m in the right place
During all this story-weaving or dreamtime, to think of readers would be a distraction. I also know that if I were to consider the likely age of my readers I would be bound to end up patronising them. No ten-year-old is the same as another. The experience of life each reader brings to the book is different, as is their understanding of the world, of themselves, and even of vocabulary. So I don’t target my stories at all. I simply tell them to the page for myself, for the child in me, and for the grown-up child in me. I would like it very much if one or two seemed to be able to embrace adult and child reader alike, and maybe to last long enough for my grandchildren's children to enjoy them.
To learn more about what Michael has been up to, check out his new exhibition. Michael Morpurgo, A Lifetime of Stories will run at Seven Stories, at The National Centre for Children’s Books until June 2017 and will then tour nationally. A digital exhibition will be available via www.sevenstories.org.uk from Monday 5 September 2016. Michael’s digitised archive is available to view via www.sevenstories.org.uk/collection.