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Michael Morpurgo
Interview Date: Wed 7 Mar 2012

Michael Morpurgo was born October 5th 1943 and was the third Children’s Laureate. He has had great success with 30 years’ worth of books under his belt, including Private Peaceful, Kensuke’s Kingdom and perhaps the most famous, War Horse. He continues to write for all ages, and encourages people of all ages to write. He is spearheading the Wicked Young Writers’ Award this year.

Your Questions Answered:

You were a judge for the Wicked Young Writers' award last year, why is this particular competition so close to your heart?
Question By: Naomi Toseland

Many years ago I had been a judge on another award for young people’s writing – The WHSmith Award which ran for about 30 years. When this award stopped because of lack of funding and the fact that teachers were so overburdened with the demands of the Curriculum and testing and didn’t have time to encourage this kind of creativity within schools, I always felt that the award had left a big gap. When the organisers of this new award – Wicked Productions – who have created the Wicked Musical, approached me to help spearhead this new award for writing, I was really pleased. What makes this award unique is the breadth of its appeal spanning a wide age-range and allowing children and young people to write on any theme and style.

How long did you spend going through entries last year? Was it ever hard going?
Question By: Naomi Toseland

There were nearly 4,000 entries but I don’t actually get to read them all as I just wouldn’t have time. There is a great team of teacher judges who do the initial sifting and then myself and William Fiennes from First Story judged the shortlist. I didn’t find it hard-going. There were some that were much better written but generally the standard was very high. We were looking for stories and poems that are written from the heart and passionately felt, where young people have written for themselves to develop their own style and voice. 

Apart from last year's winner of the Wicked Young Writer's Award, were there any stories you and the other judges read that impressed you in particular? Why?
Question By: Naomi Toseland

Some of the runners-up stories were excellent. In fact, in each category there were often two that we really couldn’t decide on. I really enjoyed reading some of the stories in the 11-13 and 14-16 categories in which the quality was much higher than the previous year. There were two that stood out apart from the winners – a story by Samantha Nead from Cheshunt called Baby Boy and I Spy by Georgina Lithgow from Herts. 

Before you were published did you enter any writing competitions? If not, in hindsight would you have reconsidered?
Question By: Naomi Toseland

I never really did enter any writing competitions when I was young though I did have the odd poem published in the school magazine. I wasn’t particularly gifted with writing at school and wasn’t much good at reading either as a young boy but I loved stories. My mother would read to me all kinds of things – the Just So stories, the Jungle Book and then later Beowulf and Treasure Island. She was an actress and really brought these adventures to life. I was completely hooked. I suppose it was partly drinking in all these stories that stayed with me all my life. When I became a young teacher, there was a moment one afternoon in class at the end of the day that I was reading a story to my Year 5 class. They were tired and not interested, and I realised that what I was reading to them just wasn’t any good. So I went home that night and wrote up something of my own and then told it in extracts over the week. The children seemed to like it and when the bell went at the end of the day, they didn’t want to leave. That gave me such a sense of excitement and I realised for the first time that perhaps I could do this.

Would you say a writer should have a certain amount of life-experience, or have vast background knowledge to write a gripping piece, or is imagination enough?
Question By: Naomi Toseland

I do think it is important to have lived an interesting life as a writer. I try to keep my eyes, ears and heart open. Once I’ve got an idea that I am really passionately about, then I research around it and dream it out in my mind, weaving it around in my head until I am familiar with the characters and their back stories and the back ground.. I don’t plan out the plot, rather let it emerge as I write. When I write I write by hand and try as far as possible to forget I’m writing it all. In other words I tell it down, through my fingers, speaking it onto the page, as if I’m telling it to one person only, my best friend. This is my way of writing but it’s by no means the only way. For many writers imagination is enough.

What would you say to young writers unsure of whether to submit their work for the Award? How would it benefit them?
Question By: Naomi Toseland
I would encourage any one who has something interesting to say or something they feel passionately about to write. Always write because you love it and not because it is something that you think you should do. Just write from the heart and get it down, without worrying too much about grammar and spelling. Try and live inside your story, hear and feel it all around you and become the characters.
You write for a number of different age ranges, which do you enjoy writing for most, if you had to pick?
Question By: Naomi Toseland
When I am writing, I’m not thinking of a particular audience or reader. I write for myself. I am by nature an instinctive writer. When I write I do not think about any thing else other than the story itself. I simply lose myself in the world I have created, and the people I have invented. I am each of them as I write. Whilst I’m writing, to think of my young readers would be a distraction, and an inhibition. I also know that if I were to consider the likely age of my readers I would be bound to end up by patronising them. No ten year-old is the same as another. The experience of life each reader brings to the book is different, as is their understanding of the world, of themselves, and even of vocabulary. So I don’t target my stories at all. I simply tell them down onto the page for me, for myself, for the child in me, and for the grown up child in me. But I would like it very much if one or two of my stories seemed to be able to embrace adult and child reader alike.
And lastly, are you working on anything at the moment, are there any ideas in the pipeline?
Question By: Naomi Toseland
I have just finished a new novel which will be published the Autumn. It’s about family secrets. It’s been good to be writing again after lots of travelling and events and the excitement of War Horse.