Fleur Macdonald

The art of fiction: Michael Morpurgo

The art of fiction: Michael Morpurgo
Text settings

The rallying call to save libraries – about as unifying a topic as the monarchy at the moment – was taken up by Michael Morpurgo in his slot at cultural juggernaut, the Hay Festival, last week when he called the closures a form of child abuse and tantamount to inciting more riots. 

During the Hay interview, timed to promote his memoirs and accompanying short story collection, the former children's laureate, in typically self-deprecating style, did not attribute his success to talent so much as to the joy his mother took in reading aloud to him. The reader rather than author is at the heart of Michael Morpurgo's art of fiction, which explains his enduring place on children's bookshelves. In fact, straight out of Sandhurst, he started practising on his primary school pupils:

'I began orally, I mean I began telling children in my class, when I was teaching, I would tell them stories and telling is different from writing but the one thing leads to the other and the more practiced you become at it, you find your voice.'

He now reads his new work to the children who take part in the charity he set up with his wife, Farms for Inner City Children. It's this process of writing that informs his views on encouraging children to read:

'I want to try if I can to bring the literature back into literacy … Literacy is getting narrower and narrower and narrower because it's target-led and so when people read stories in schools they read them because very often people want to ask them questions about them rather than simply to listen to the story and to love the story first.'

Morpurgo is an unashamedly old-fashioned writer who appeals to both inner city children and the queen. One of the more enduring sights of the Jubilee was Joey, the puppet horse, galloping across the roof of the National Theatre and the Queen sailing past, her rictus grin melting into unabashed delight.  

Tapping into nostalgia for the halycon days of unbroken Britain, Morpurgo affirms the importance of love and loyalty whether you're young, old, animal, vegetable or mineral. He writes about the need to respect nature and the environment. He champions the weak and vulnerable. Forget Citizenship lessons, that's how to teach progressive patriotism.