Category Archives: Michael Morpurgo

Bookwitch’s 2018 selection

It’s that time of year again. Here are some of the books I enjoyed the most, chosen with some difficulty, because the next tier consists of really excellent books. Too.

I haven’t always felt that ‘picture books’ belong here, but the two I’ve got on my list are more literature with pictures. They make you cry. I mean, they made me cry. And that’s good. They are:

Michael Morpurgo and Barroux, In the Mouth of the Wolf

Jakob Wegelius, The Legend of Sally Jones (translated by Peter Graves)

And then for the more ‘regular’ children’s novels:

Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X

Candy Gourlay, Bone Talk

Michael Grant, Purple Hearts

Matt Killeen, Orphan Monster Spy

Hilary McKay, The Skylark’s War

Sally Nicholls, A Chase in Time

Maria Parr, Astrid the Unstoppable (translated by Guy Puzey)

Celia Rees, Glass Town Wars

Ellen Renner, Storm Witch

Books like these make everything worth while. There are a couple of ‘beginners,’ some ‘mid-career’ authors – whatever I mean by that – and some established authors with decades of great writing behind them. And, only two that I knew and loved before Bookwitch became famous for her reading, meaning that this blogging business has been responsible for many introductions, without which my life would have been the poorer.

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More handsome sitting down

Those were Michael Morpurgo’s words, but we would have loved him whatever he did. He decided he was most comfortable sitting down. His [event]chair, Alex Nye, grew so comfortable that she re-titled Michael’s book which he’d come to talk about, making it In the Mouth of the Lion, until Michael mildly said ‘I thought it was the Wolf..?’

You don’t get much past Michael Morpurgo. He must be a dream to ‘chair’ because he knows quite well what he’s going to be doing and he will go ahead and do it, no matter what. Never mind that he ‘mocked’ his illustrator for his Frenchness; you could tell there was much respect between the two of them, and he told us we must buy Barroux’s In the Line of Fire.

Michael Morpurgo, Alex Nye and Barroux

He began by reading to us, sitting down and being handsome, the first two chapters from In the Mouth of the Wolf. ‘They’re quite short. Don’t worry, it won’t be too boring.’ It wasn’t. And even those early chapters were enough to make us want to cry.

While Michael read, Barroux illustrated, showing us the views from [Michael’s uncle] Francis’s bedroom windows, saying he’s not a good illustrator. He prefers a bad drawing with a lot of emotion in it. Barroux also showed us his three different cover ideas for the book, explaining that it’s the publisher’s choice; not his.

When it was time for questions, the first was about Kensuke’s Kingdom. Michael was a little startled by this, but gave a long, considered answer, and then asked for the remaining questions to be about his new book. Because what authors need is to sell books, so they can have new socks, and J K Rowling has many many cupboards full of socks.

Barroux ‘hates fairies and unicorns’ because he can’t draw them, and he’s only recently learned to do dolphins. As Michael answered a question on freedom for his characters – who, of course, are not characters, but were real people – Barroux stealthily began to draw a dolphin. When discovered in the act, he was told that the whole entente cordiale was just then in danger.

Michael pointed out to his audience that in WWII, and for centuries before that, Britain was never occupied, while Europe was. In fact, not since William the Conqueror a thousand years ago… And we know where he came from.

Barroux

Asked about his passion for books, Michael said he’s more passionate about the reading of books. You should catch fire when reading, to reach those who never read. Currently he is working on several things; translating Le Petit Prince, putting words to The Snowman, and writing a new version of Gulliver’s Travels with Michael Foreman illustrating. He’s portraying Gulliver as a recent refugee, washing up somewhere new.

By then we’d overrun by at least five minutes, but Michael said he was going to sing for Barroux. There is a film being made of Waiting for Anya, and in it there is a song Michael likes very much. He sings it in the bath.

And ignoring his suggestion that we think of him in the bath – or not – or that he pretended the theatre’s doors would have to be locked to prevent us escaping, Michael stood up, still handsome, and he sang to us, and to Barroux.

It was a beautiful ending to a beautiful event, and to our book festival.

Quite early on a Sunday, or Day 5 of the EIBF

I never book tickets for events starting at ten on a Sunday, having discovered in our first year that you can’t get there that early. So this year I decided we’d go and see Michael Morpurgo and Barroux at ten, on a Sunday, just because Alex Nye was doing the chairing. And she clearly wouldn’t get there on time either. We came up with various solutions, wondering if we’d have to hoist Alex over the gate so she’d get in, but she ended up being all right, and so were we.

My Photographer and I were so all right we even had a second breakfast, which sort of helps you keep going when you have events at meal times and such like. In fact, as I rushed in to collect tickets I found a relaxed Michael Morpurgo being done by Chris Close, before the rain. I’d wanted to meet Michael properly this time, and when he saw me he said hello, so I must have looked like a hello kind of witch. I was pleased to discover he was being looked after by Vicki, one of my long-standing publicists.

Barroux

We ran on to Michael’s event in the Main theatre, which was worth every one of those early minutes of trying to get to Edinburgh in time. He didn’t do a signing afterwards, but we watched Barroux painting his way through his part of the signing.

‘Backstage’ we found Ade Adepitan being photographed, in the rain, and I was introduced to Mrs Morpurgo, who had not been expecting a Bookwitch to be thrust on her.

Frances Hardinge

Marcus Sedgwick

Before going to the Moomin event with Philip Ardagh, we called at the children’s bookshop where I had estimated we’d find Marcus Sedgwick and Frances Hardinge signing after their event, and as a lovely bonus we got a Blue Peter Gold Badge winner, aka former children’s laureate Chris Riddell. He claimed he had only sneaked into the event, but there he was, at the signing table. A chair for a chair?

Chris Riddell and Marcus Sedgwick

It was time for us to go on to the Corner theatre for Philip Ardagh’s event on the Moomins, before returning to the same corner in the bookshop to chat with him as he signed his rather lovely looking book on his favourite creatures. It is expensive, though, which will be why it was wrapped in plastic, until my Photographer helped by getting her Swiss Army knife out and slashing the wrapping for Philip and his publicist, who was wishing she had sharper nails.

Philip Ardagh

Back to the yurt for a photocall with Ehsan Abdollahi, except he needed an umbrella and we decided it was too wet to snap. (You know, first he doesn’t get a visa, and then we treat him to cold rain. What a host country!)

I thought we could go and catch him at the Story Box where he was drawing, but it was busy, and we left him in peace. I’m glad so many children dropped in for some art with the book festival’s resident artist.

Our early start required us to miss a lot of people we had wanted to see, but who were on much later. And Judith Kerr had been unable to travel, leaving us with more afternoon than expected.

Cressida Cowell

Before leaving for Bookwitch Towers, we made a detour to Cressida Cowell’s signing. Her queue went a long way round Charlotte Square.

By some miracle, the Photographer and I hadn’t quite killed each other by the end of our day.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

In the Mouth of the Wolf

Michael Morpurgo’s latest book, In the Mouth of the Wolf, is beautiful in every way. Based on the lives of his two uncles, we learn what it was like for them in WWII, as well as their lives leading up to that dreadful time. Illustrated by Barroux, this is a gorgeous volume, and I would advise you to be equipped with tissues so you don’t ruin the book when you cry. Because there will be tears.

Michael Morpurgo and Barroux, In the Mouth of the Wolf

Francis was a pacifist who worked on a farm, while his younger brother Pieter enlisted and joined the Air Force. Instead of merely being told this as a fact, we get to know them as they grow up, and that helps our understanding of why they acted as they did. And also why Francis ended up joining the fighting after all.

Seen through his eyes as an old man, we learn much about his family and about the war. While nothing is truly surprising, we still see things in a new light, and it leaves you humbled to learn what others went through, so that we can live the way we do now.

(And I’m not going to say more about that.)

I obviously thought this book would be good. I just underestimated quite how wonderful it would turn out to be. Michael can still make me cry, and Barroux’s pictures are very special.

Intelligent?

The Resident IT Consultant was despairing over politicians, again. He said how ‘in the olden days’ – that’s when he himself was younger, not hundreds of years ago – politicians were usually intelligent people. Even if they represented the wrong party. And let’s face it, some people did.

This in turn led him to ponder what intelligent people do now. For a living, that is.

I strongly suspect that many of them write children’s books. There will be other jobs for intelligent persons, but it seems less likely that intellect is combined with the making of lots of money.

I’d like to be wrong about that.

Before, whenever I heard that an author had previously been a teacher, I used to think ‘how clever they were to be writing books now.’ Yes, terribly condescending of me. I must have felt that teachers were rarely of author calibre. And, teachers are not what they used to be, either.

My mistake will have been to assume that the teacher-to-author shift was some kind of accidental move, rather than what I now believe, which is that teachers are extremely capable people, who teach as they dream and plot books. And then at some point they leap.

The first children’s author about whom I thought this was Michael Morpurgo. And then it was David Almond. Yep.

I’d say they have proved their worth by now, and I don’t expect they will be needing to return to the classroom to make a living.

And as has become apparent, there is not much intelligent life in the Bookwitch. I might as well run for Prime Minister.

‘Fantasy readers are much better people’

I have to agree with Garth Nix there. Maybe. It’s not every day someone ushers a writer like Garth from the room, so I can have some peace and quiet, but this happened yesterday at Seven Stories in Newcastle. I was there to interview Cornelia Funke. Garth’s presence was an added bonus, and it was lovely to see him.

War Horse at Seven Stories

Newcastle wasn’t quite as complicated as it was when I was last there. The train was on time. The taxis behaved – sort of – normally. Seven Stories was just as nice, and they had several exhibitions on, including one about Michael Morpurgo, and as I waited for Cornelia, I visited all seven floors for a quick look. So did the woman with the pram, who was trying to locate her husband. I hope there was a happy ending for them.

Chris Riddell at Seven Stories

Cornelia arrived with her publicist Vicki, and along with Garth we were conveyed to a quiet room, with only one Tiger [who came to tea] in it. And then Garth was conveyed somewhere else. Cornelia and I had our chat, which I had ended up re-planning in the middle of the night when I came up with a more important question for her.

Cornelia Funke Blog Tour

Afterwards I climbed up to the seventh floor where I waited for Garth’s and Cornelia’s event to start, along with a few early fans, and I suffered only mild vertigo. In more than one direction, but I survived.

Cornelia Funke and Garth Nix at Seven Stories

I do love that room at the top, though! All those beams with fairy lights strung all over! And I reached the purple sofa first.

Garth talked about his premature idea of writing postapocalyptic dystopia, and he and Cornelia both agreed that writers write what they want to write. He works  towards the iceberg idea, where the story in the book is 10% with the other 90% existing in the writer’s mind. With fantasy you dig deeper, and it is more realistic than realism…

Cornelia Funke and Garth Nix at Seven Stories

A lot of fantasy is about boundaries; crossing them, or not crossing them. Cornelia who is now thinking six books for her Reckless series, is working on the fourth, which is exclusively Japanese fairy tales. Her plans for writing is to continue her three different series (which sounds like something her fans will approve of), taking them further.

There was some advice on what to do when meeting bears, but if it’s a grizzly I believe this will mostly mean the bears eating [you]. Garth grew up in Canberra where you are never far from the wilderness, and he had some tale about his father, who sounds as if he was the one who taught little Garth to lie so fluently.

Just as well, since he is monolingual, and quite jealous of Cornelia and her several languages. (She helpfully pointed out that speaking two languages protects you against Alzheimer’s.) In the US they believe Garth is English on account of how he speaks…

Cornelia Funke

After the Q&A session, Garth and Cornelia did a signing, and this was very much the kind of place where diehard fans had arrived carrying piles and piles of books, and much time was spent talking about whatever you talk about with your favourite author. Photos were taken, and even I had an offer of being photographed with Cornelia. But you know me; that’s not how I operate if I can help it.

Garth Nix

The first signing was followed by a second signing downstairs in the bookshop, where I carefully studied what they had for sale. A lot of good books.

Cornelia Funke

And then I went to check on my earlier booking for a taxi, joining other hopefuls on the pavement outside. Eventually I managed to persuade one driver that I probably was the Annie who had booked a taxi to the railway station.

(My apologies to any Annies left behind in Lime Street…)

Seven Stories

FOMS at YALC

I can get so worked up and nervous before certain events, that I simply cannot do anything that day, other than get dressed and such like. I have to factor this in, so that I expect a short event to take more out of my day than it ought to.

But at the same time, I try and get things into perspective. Why am I about to do what I am fretting over? What is important and what should I just leave alone?

So I was intrigued to hear about the book fan at YALC the other weekend who had a different kind of fear of missing out. She had been so dead set on being first in the signing queue for a particular author that she hadn’t gone to the event preceding the signing. She clearly suffered fear of missing signing. It’s a shame, since if you are that much of a fan, you’d obviously want to attend the actual event.

My own strategy for this kind of thing is to leave early, having arranged to sit conveniently close to the exit (I mean even more conveniently than I usually aim for…). You only need a couple of minutes, and a clear head; knowing where you are heading for, and to do it before everyone else.

I was reminded of this when coming across our signed War Horse this week. Daughter and I spied the designated table for Michael Morpurgo at the National Theatre (this was half term, and MM was present for some reason) before sitting down to watch the play, and determined to get there before most of the rest of the Olivier audience. And we did. There was no way we could have afforded to stand in that queue for an hour.

Similarly, we cased the joint in Cheltenham many years ago, to see the layout of John Barrowman’s signing after his event. We calculated five minutes, and Daughter got up to run during the Q&A session, while I was packhorse and looked after our belongings. That worked too.

You can have your author event and the signing. It’s a pity if you miss out.

(What we’d do if everyone copied us is another thing. I’d prefer it if they go to different events from me.)