Michael Morpurgo: 'Telling stories is as natural to me as breathing'
As a new adaptation of his World War Two novel Friend or Foe opens at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester, the prolific children's author talks to WhatsOnStage
Are you excited to see a new adaptation of Friend or Foe?
Yes, I am always thrilled to see my work brought to life on stage. It's wonderful to see a story transformed into another medium, speaking to the audience in a different way.
What prompted the story originally?
The story was inspired by my aunt Beth with whom I grew up, who was a head teacher in a junior school in Islington and who was responsible for the evacuation of her school from Islington to Cornwall at the beginning of the Second World War. It was she who told me of the 'auction' - almost - of the children on the stage of the village hall and of there not being enough farmers and villagers to look after all the children and how upset she was.
It's the latest in a line of your work to be adapted for the stage - did you ever write the books with performance in mind?
I don't write with performance in mind but I do I feel more and more that my writing is bound up in performance in some way. I always speak my story down onto the page to hear how it sounds. When I am writing well I'm deep inside a story, living it as I write it and also feeling it deeply. I hope my readers will be completely involved in the story just as an audience suspends disbelief in the theatre.
You recently revealed you go on stage in War Horse once a year - have you done this with any other shows?
I have been lucky to have been allowed a very small role in War Horse - occasionally appearing in the auction scene. I love doing it, but haven't been asked to do this with any other shows.
If you could play any of your characters on stage, who would it be?
I think it would be Kensuke, the old man in Kensuke's Kingdom.
You've written over 100 books; what's the secret to your prolific output?
I suppose it's about being a storyteller. Telling stories is as natural to me as breathing. I do try to keep my eyes, ears and heart open so that I am open to inspiration and then the stories and ideas will come. Then I spend a lot of time weaving the story in my head before I write anything down - it's like my dreamtime.
War is a central subject of your work; why?
I was a war baby, born in 1943. As I grew up, I soon learned how war had torn my world apart. I lived next to a bombsite, played in it because we weren't supposed to, and because it was the best adventure playground imaginable. But I soon learned that much more than buildings was destroyed by war. My parents had split up because of it. I knew my handsome young uncle Pieter, killed in 1940, in the RAF, through a photograph, through the stories I heard of him and through the grief my mother lived every day of her life. I missed him and I'd never known him. War continues to divide people, to change them forever, and I write about it both because I want people to understand the absolute futility of war, the 'pity of war' as Wilfred Owen called it. Wars are still happening today and children see the effects of war and suffering all around them, on the TV, in newspapers and through the people they know.
Would you say the world a safer place than 100 years ago?
I think if I'm honest that the world is never a safe place. It is often safer in some places than others, but whenever and wherever you look in history there seems to be conflict or threat of conflict, and there seems to be a lot of conflict at the moment.
You have a lot of young fans - did you enjoy our 'kid critic' review of I Believe in Unicorns?
A great review and well deserved for a wonderful production. Thank you to James Wooton.
What's next for you?
I have a new novel out at the end of September from Harper Collins called Listen to the Moon, set on the Isles of Scilly and about the sinking of the Lusitania.
Friend or Foe continues at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 13 September