INTERVIEW: Fran Taffs talks to author Michael Morpurgo about Farm Boy
PENDING time travelling the world and staying in fancy hotel rooms may be enough for some, but for Michael Morpurgo, his home life in the village of Iddesleigh still holds an irresistible pull.
He has risen to international fame through the phenomenal triumph of his book War Horse. But Michael says the success was never expected and, with the book's sequel Farm Boy achieving similar acclaim, he believes War Horse just happened to be seen by the right eyes at the right time.
Michael says one of the joys of War Horse's success is to have the image of Devon portrayed around the world.
"I love it to bits," he says. "I know it is a muddy paradise, but for me it is an extraordinary place.
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"You sit down in your little place in Iddesleigh and you write a story.
"Sometimes it works well, and sometimes you catch readers' hearts and imaginations."
Michael says War Horse, which was first published in 1982, did not do terribly well to begin with, but his publishers kept it in print and it began to sell a reasonable amount of about one or two thousand copies a year.
Then, unexpectedly, Michael was contacted by Nick Stafford from the New London Theatre who wanted to adapt the novel for a stage production, using puppets.
"Really out the blue this amazing thing happened." he says. "He (Nick) rang me up and said he was looking for a story with an animal at its heart.
"I thought, puppets? This is a story about the First World War. But it was extraordinary. It was very beautiful. I thought then, possibly, this could be done."
It took about two years to adapt War Horse for the stage, something Michael says was a huge investment in terms of time, money and effort.
Effort that was undoubtedly worth it – the stage production of War Horse celebrated its fifth anniversary on October 25 and the play was turned into a film, directed by none other than Steven Spielberg.
"It is absurd. You don't hope for these things to happen," says Michael. "If you hope for them you often end up disappointed. I just tell my stories and if you get lucky, you get lucky."
Michael believes the success of the book is largely down to both the nature of the story and because readers can relate it to wars going on in the world today.
"It is touching," he says. "The story is so rooted, and it has integrity. And also because of the subject matter. It is wonderful.
"It is not really my words. It is the story of that war and that place. When people read this they know this is not simply entertainment, they know we are actually going through the pain and the difficulties of war. It is opening our eyes and our hearts."
Michael says he had never planned to write a sequel to War Horse, but after being contacted by an illustrator friend, Farm Boy soon came to life on the page.
"This came from my wonderful friend Michael Foreman. He wanted to illustrate a story about the changeover between horses and tractors after the First World War and he did not know anyone better to write that story than me. I knew a little bit about it and suddenly Michael was presenting me with it on a plate.
"It is my favourite book of anything I have ever written."
Farm Boy has since been adapted for stage and will be performed at Ilfracombe's Landmark Theatre on Monday.
Michael describes the stage production of this book as being a stark contrast to its predecessor, War Horse.
"It is a wonderful contrast. It is a two man show, one old and one young. I found it enchanting. The last time I saw it was in New York."
Michael is currently promoting his latest books, A Medal For Leroy and Where My Wellies Take Me, a story based on his wife's tales of life on holiday in North Devon as a child.
Michael says he hopes to return to his much-loved home in Iddesleigh next week.
"It is what I long for," he said. "Hotel rooms are fine, but they are not home."
Farm Boy performed by New Perspectives Theatre Company is at the Landmark Theatre, Ilfracombe on Monday, November 12, 1.30pm and 7pm. Matinee tickets: £10 (adult), £7 (young person). Evening tickets: £12 (adult), £7 (young person).
Box office: 01271 324242.