Tag Archives: Michael Morpurgo

On talking to readers, not at them

Regular travellers down Thunder Road will have noticed I’ve turned off and meandered along Michael Morpurgo Lane lately. (If there isn’t a mossy lane somewhere in the UK with this name, there should be.) I was just about to indicate and head back onto the highway when I had cause to flick through an old notebook while preparing for a media interview about Five Parts Dead.

And there, among my crypto-calligraphy, was a page of notes on the talk Mr Morpurgo did at the State Library in September 2007. After decoding, I can share some of what he had to say:

On targeting a specific age group when writing:
“What dictates the tone of the story is the story itself.”

On writing for children, not at children:
“If you are writing something for children because you think they could learn from it or that they would like it, you are probably patronising them.

“You don’t have the children in mind when you are writing , you have the story in mind.”

On protecting children from topics such as death and grief – don’t do it:
“Children have always had to deal with pain … At some stage they are going to have to deal with the loss of a grandparent.”

On character arcs:
“I like the idea of redemption … but not if I have to work too hard to get it in there.”

On where to find stories:
“I had a teacher who used to say, ‘Use your imagination, Michael’. What she should have said was, ‘Use your eyes and use your ears’, because that’s where your imagination begins.”

I particularly like that last quote because it’s essentially what I tell students when conducting writing workshops.

Mr Morpurgo also spoke of how he uses poems, songs, nursery rhymes and folk tales to flesh out and give structure to his books, stating that ancient tales still speak to us all as human beings:
“We survive, as long as our stories survive.”

Amen to that.

A miracle from Mr Morpurgo

Here’s an article in the Guardian by UK author Michael Morpurgo that gave me goosebumps. I’d recommend it to anyone working with children, particularly if you’re despairing over whether you’re making any headway. Miracles happen.

As a beginner-author, it’s also instructive to hear Mr Morpurgo tell of sitting at the feet of two established writers and being the ‘minnow’ of their group. He’s no minnow any more, having penned umpteen books and served as Britain’s Children’s Laureate from 2003-2005.

My god-daughter loves his books. I’m reasonably confident I know my son’s literary tastes, given I read to him almost every night. I’ll admit I didn’t think Mr Morpurgo’s stories would engage the Little Dragon (apart from Beowulf). I’m pleased to say I was wrong. The Little Dragon picked up a copy of Kaspar Prince of Cats and devoured it, rating it one of the best books he has read.

Mr Morpurgo visited Victoria a couple of years back and spoke at the State Library. He sat on stage in his cardigan and told stories with such humility and warmth it was impossible not to like him. I think he became a grandfather to everyone in the room that night – including a family who had travelled from Brisbane, from memory, in order to hear him a second time.

The HarperCollins staff hosting Mr Morpurgo introduced me to him and mentioned my first book, Game as Ned to him. He immediately asked them if a copy could be found for him so he could read it. I have no idea whether he was ever given my book and, if he was, whether he had time to read it.

I’ll always appreciate his gesture though. It made me feel like an equal for a moment or two, rather than a wannabe.

The world needs more people like Michael Morpurgo.