Author Michael Morpurgo talks War Horse, Mozart and Shrewsbury Bookfest

PUBLISHED: 01:17 19 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:09 20 February 2013

Author Michael Morpurgo talks War Horse, Mozart and Shrewsbury Bookfest

Author Michael Morpurgo talks War Horse, Mozart and Shrewsbury Bookfest

Shrewsbury's annual Bookfest celebrates the best writers for children - from Jacqueline Wilson to Julia Donaldson to Andy Stanton. Bookfest patron and world renowned author Michael Morpurgo counts down to his special appearance this month

If you have children or grandchildren over eight, or you teach, or you pay any heed to book bestseller lists, then the name of Michael Morpurgo will already be familiar to you.


He is the respected author of more than 100 childrens books, many of them set against a background of conflict. Hes also a former Childrens Laureate and a patron of Shrewsbury Bookfest, and is the star of next months Bookfest Remembers mini festival in the town.


If the name still means nothing, then by Christmas that will all change.


The Steven Spielberg-produced adaptation of Morpurgos most famous novel to date, War Horse, opens in America on Christmas Day, and across the UK a fortnight later. The hype is already building; expectations about how well it will perform are sky high.


War Horse is the poignant First World War story of Joey, a much loved farmhorse who ends up being recruited for the war effort and sent to the killing fields of France, and the English boy turned soldier who refuses to give up hope of seeing him again.


The book was written nearly 30 years ago now, but remains a firm favourite of new generations of children and the author himself. It has already been successfully adapted for the stage and is showing in the West End and in New York, and opens in Toronto next year.


Says Michael: I adore War Horse and am thrilled it has such an incredibly big audience. If more young people are inspired to read books as a result I will be delighted.


Dip into any of Michael Morpurgos books for older children and its quickly clear that this is not a writer who believes in sugaring any pills for an impressionable audience.


Ive always been moved by the futility of war and dont believe the reality of it should be kept from children, says the author.


Born in 1943, he grew up amid bombed out neighbourhoods in central London. My playground was a bombsite; my family and every family I knew had been affected by the trauma of war.


As I grew up I realised it was not just buildings and homes that had been destroyed in the war; peoples lives were destroyed too. My mother lost her brother at the age of 21 and the shadow of the loss lingered throughout her life.


My books are not joyful from start to finish because life is not. Grief, loss and difficult times are part of everyones journey. To prcis William Blake, life is a journey through joy and woe it is wrong to concentrate solely on depicting the joys to children and futile to attempt it, given the access children have to TV, the internet and news bulletins.


My books do deal with difficult issues, but I hope I share with readers my belief that even in the midst of terrible trauma there is hope. For my own sake I like to have an uplift at the end of a story; a sign of hope for the future.


Morpurgo realised he had a gift for story telling while working as a primary school teacher. Events like Shrewsbury Bookfest give him a great opportunity to connect with his readers in an intimate setting.


I first visited Shrewsbury Bookfest about 10 years ago and had a lovely time. Organiser Caroline Thewles kept me engaged and in touch and I was very pleased to become a patron. I enjoy the people and always have a great experience.


This year he will take part in a one-off performance of The Mozart Question, a story of family secrets, the Holocaust and the music of Mozart. A talented violinist and actress will help bring the story to life while Michael narrates. Its a new and different way of telling a story and its really enjoyable; Im looking forward to it very much.


Morpurgo, now approaching 70, has rarely been more in demand. He has been on the set of War Horse in America, and met its stars. The world premiere is coming soon; filming of a second of his novels, Private Peaceful, starts next year; the stageplay War Horse is continuing to prove a runaway success around the globe.


I ask if theres any danger he could end up as the writing equivalent of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey too busy running his empire to have time to write new books.


I am very happy provided what Im doing is interesting, which it certainly is, and as long as I can go back home for three or four months at a time to concentrate on writing; I need to retreat. Amongst everything going on now I am writing short stories. I will definitely always go on cooking up stories.



12 years of bookfest



When a handful of volunteers got together in Shrewsbury back in 1999 to organise the first childrens literary festival in the UK, they never dreamed it would take off the way it did. Sarah Hart reports.



Shrewsbury Bookfest is stronger and more popular than ever, and has added events through the year to add to its annual four day May festival.


This month its staging Bookfest Remembers, a poignant programme of talks and performance related to Rembrance Day, looking back at how the lives of children and their families were affected by the horrors of the First and Second World Wars.


On November 20 patron of Shrewsbury Bookfest, Michael Morpurgo, will be joined by the actress Alison Reid and violinist Daniel Pioro for a unique music telling of The Mozart Question, his haunting tale of survival against the odds in the background of the Holocaust.


Then on November 25 the author Julie Summers presents When The Children Came Home, based on her best-selling book of the same name, recounting the stories of real wartime evacuees and what happened when they finally returned home. Both events are not only of interest to children, but adults too. Summers book has been the subject of numerous feature articles and reviews in national newspapers in recent months.


The main Bookfest takes place in early May, attracting big names from the world of childrens literature. It not only includes literary events, performances and workshops; dance has also been a key element since the early years when dancers from the Birmingham Royal Ballet led storybook related performance workshops. Last year dance supremo and choreographer Arlene Philips introduced audiences to her book Alana Dancing Star in a dance spectacular at Theatre Severn.


While Bookfest events were, at first, centred at Shrewsburys Gateway Education and Arts Centre, now they take place at venues throughout the town, catering for up to 2,000 participants with something for all age groups, from three to 14.


The pioneering Bookfest is no longer the only childrens literary book festival in the UK, but its still one of the most highly regarded. In 2009 it was awarded the prestigious recognition of a Queens Award for voluntary service - the equivalent of an MBE.


A Mini-Bookfest is often staged in the Autumn and an Authors In School event also takes place every March. This year 1,000 children at 10 Shropshire junior schools were visited by six authors, illustrators and story-tellers. The educational benefits of these events is enormous.


Caroline Thewles, one of the Bookfest founders, says she was shocked when the event became an overnight success, grabbing the imagination of thousands of children and their parents.


In 1998 a few of us ran a literary festival for the 200th anniversary of Coleridge coming to Shrewsbury. Michael Foot came with his dog Disraeli. Afterwards we said: that was fun, what shall we do now? We thought there was nothing for children so we decided to do a childrens festival.


With Andrew Bannerman, chairman of the Shrewsbury and District Arts Association, John Humphries, warden at The Gateway, and Janet Tudor the four of them put a festival together.


We were this tiny festival and we managed to get Jacqueline Wilson in the first year, muses Caroline. I put a little letter together to Jacqueline explaining that we were holding this childrens festival and could she come, not thinking we stood much of a chance. But she sent back a little postcard saying of course!


Nabbing one of the nations most popular contemporary childrens authors set the Bookfest on course for success. Some 450 children took part in ticketed events while many more participated in free events and book-signings.


I remember we had Jacqueline Wilson in a caravan in The Square and she was there for eight hours signing books, Caroline recalls. Children were queuing all the way round The Square and up and along Pride Hill. There were so many people we had to get the police out.


The committee hadnt intended to stage another Bookfest the following year.


But then the phone started ringing and it rang and rang with people saying: when are you going to do the next one? Can I be on the mailing list? says Caroline.


It grew from there and we had to get ourselves a bigger committee.


Jacqueline Wilson, now a Dame and most famous for The Story of Tracy Beaker series, came back the second year in a line up of authors and performers that included the world renowned Michael Morpurgo and the award-winning local authors Pauline Fisk, Jenny Nimmo and Andrew Fusek Peters.


Since then the festival has attracted dozens of eminent authors including The Gruffalo creator Julia Donaldson, Angelina Ballerina creator Katherine Holabird, Nick Arnold, author of the Horrible Science series, Ian Whybrow, best known for Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs, the entertainer, radio presenter and childrens author Sandi Toksvig and many many more, as well as leading illustrators, such as Nick Sharratt, who illustrates Jacqueline Wilson and Jeremy Strong books, and Korky Paul, illustrator and author of Winnie the Witch. The English National Ballet has come and Dame Jacqueline, the Bookfests illustrious president, and Michael Morpurgo have been staunch regulars.


Its all been so much fun, and what makes it all worthwhile is the knowledge that the Bookfest has inspired children to read, it has a magical effect on them, says Caroline.


In 2009 the Bookfest also launched an exciting bi-annual international childrens book award for the best new title, all decided by children.


The first award, presented last year, went to the comedian and actor David Walliams for his book The Boy in the Dress. He was unable to attend the award ceremony at Theatre Severn because of a double booking with his wedding, but he thanked the children via video footage.


Books are now pouring in for the next award in 2012. Publishers have submitted up to 60 of their best new titles. They will be read over the next few months by teams of readers in seven Shropshire junior schools and whittled down to a shortlist of six. These will then be read and voted upon by pupils from 20 junior schools. Last year 430 children took part.


The Book Award is something else that has been enormously influential encouraging children to read, explains Bookfest chairman Sophie Peach.


It gives them a purpose to their reading, a greater access to the best of the best books out there that have all been hand-picked by other children.


Writers already confirmed for next Mays Bookfest are Andy Stanton, author of the hugely popular Mr Gum series, Korky Paul and Shropshire-born Sita Brahmachari, winner of the 2011 Waterstones Childrens Book Prize.


12 years of bookfest


When a handful of volunteers got together in Shrewsbury back in 1999 to organise the first childrens literary festival in the UK, they never dreamed it would take off the way it did. Sarah Hart reports.


Shrewsbury Bookfest is stronger and more popular than ever, and has added events through the year to add to its annual four day May festival.


This month its staging Bookfest Remembers, a poignant programme of talks and performance related to Rembrance Day, looking back at how the lives of children and their families were affected by the horrors of the First and Second World Wars.


On November 20 patron of Shrewsbury Bookfest, Michael Morpurgo, will be joined by the actress Alison Reid and violinist Daniel Pioro for a unique music telling of The Mozart Question, his haunting tale of survival against the odds in the background of the Holocaust.


Then on November 25 the author Julie Summers presents When The Children Came Home, based on her best-selling book of the same name, recounting the stories of real wartime evacuees and what happened when they finally returned home. Both events are not only of interest to children, but adults too. Summers book has been the subject of numerous feature articles and reviews in national newspapers in recent months.


The main Bookfest takes place in early May, attracting big names from the world of childrens literature. It not only includes literary events, performances and workshops; dance has also been a key element since the early years when dancers from the Birmingham Royal Ballet led storybook related performance workshops. Last year dance supremo and choreographer Arlene Philips introduced audiences to her book Alana Dancing Star in a dance spectacular at Theatre Severn.


While Bookfest events were, at first, centred at Shrewsburys Gateway Education and Arts Centre, now they take place at venues throughout the town, catering for up to 2,000 participants with something for all age groups, from three to 14.


The pioneering Bookfest is no longer the only childrens literary book festival in the UK, but its still one of the most highly regarded. In 2009 it was awarded the prestigious recognition of a Queens Award for voluntary service - the equivalent of an MBE.


A Mini-Bookfest is often staged in the Autumn and an Authors In School event also takes place every March. This year 1,000 children at 10 Shropshire junior schools were visited by six authors, illustrators and story-tellers. The educational benefits of these events is enormous.


Caroline Thewles, one of the Bookfest founders, says she was shocked when the event became an overnight success, grabbing the imagination of thousands of children and their parents.


In 1998 a few of us ran a literary festival for the 200th anniversary of Coleridge coming to Shrewsbury. Michael Foot came with his dog Disraeli. Afterwards we said: that was fun, what shall we do now? We thought there was nothing for children so we decided to do a childrens festival.


With Andrew Bannerman, chairman of the Shrewsbury and District Arts Association, John Humphries, warden at The Gateway, and Janet Tudor the four of them put a festival together.


We were this tiny festival and we managed to get Jacqueline Wilson in the first year, muses Caroline. I put a little letter together to Jacqueline explaining that we were holding this childrens festival and could she come, not thinking we stood much of a chance. But she sent back a little postcard saying of course!


Nabbing one of the nations most popular contemporary childrens authors set the Bookfest on course for success. Some 450 children took part in ticketed events while many more participated in free events and book-signings.


I remember we had Jacqueline Wilson in a caravan in The Square and she was there for eight hours signing books, Caroline recalls. Children were queuing all the way round The Square and up and along Pride Hill. There were so many people we had to get the police out.


The committee hadnt intended to stage another Bookfest the following year.


But then the phone started ringing and it rang and rang with people saying: when are you going to do the next one? Can I be on the mailing list? says Caroline.


It grew from there and we had to get ourselves a bigger committee.


Jacqueline Wilson, now a Dame and most famous for The Story of Tracy Beaker series, came back the second year in a line up of authors and performers that included the world renowned Michael Morpurgo and the award-winning local authors Pauline Fisk, Jenny Nimmo and Andrew Fusek Peters.


Since then the festival has attracted dozens of eminent authors including The Gruffalo creator Julia Donaldson, Angelina Ballerina creator Katherine Holabird, Nick Arnold, author of the Horrible Science series, Ian Whybrow, best known for Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs, the entertainer, radio presenter and childrens author Sandi Toksvig and many many more, as well as leading illustrators, such as Nick Sharratt, who illustrates Jacqueline Wilson and Jeremy Strong books, and Korky Paul, illustrator and author of Winnie the Witch. The English National Ballet has come and Dame Jacqueline, the Bookfests illustrious president, and Michael Morpurgo have been staunch regulars.


Its all been so much fun, and what makes it all worthwhile is the knowledge that the Bookfest has inspired children to read, it has a magical effect on them, says Caroline.


In 2009 the Bookfest also launched an exciting bi-annual international childrens book award for the best new title, all decided by children.


The first award, presented last year, went to the comedian and actor David Walliams for his book The Boy in the Dress. He was unable to attend the award ceremony at Theatre Severn because of a double booking with his wedding, but he thanked the children via video footage.


Books are now pouring in for the next award in 2012. Publishers have submitted up to 60 of their best new titles. They will be read over the next few months by teams of readers in seven Shropshire junior schools and whittled down to a shortlist of six. These will then be read and voted upon by pupils from 20 junior schools. Last year 430 children took part.


The Book Award is something else that has been enormously influential encouraging children to read, explains Bookfest chairman Sophie Peach.


It gives them a purpose to their reading, a greater access to the best of the best books out there that have all been hand-picked by other children.


Writers already confirmed for next Mays Bookfest are Andy Stanton, author of the hugely popular Mr Gum series, Korky Paul and Shropshire-born Sita Brahmachari, winner of the 2011 Waterstones Childrens Book Prize.

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