Michael Morpurgo: 'There is a constant clamour for our attention now that is damaging us'


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The Independent Culture

I feel like all the buses in my life came at once The War Horse show, the film, my new book [A Medal for Leroy]. The play has become a living thing. It goes on every night, five casts, all over the world. In fact, someone told me that, at any hour of the day or night, a War Horse production is going on somewhere. It's extraordinary what those puppeteers do [with the horse].

'War Horse' seems to have struck a chord with people's own tales I recently received a letter from a German woman who'd just seen the play in New York. She sent me a beautiful photo of her grandfather, a soldier aged just 14, standing by this vast horse. And what chimed with me is that we have photos of British soldiers, standing that exact same way, posing with their chins lifted, looking proudly into the camera.

Farms for City Children is my best story [Morpurgo founded the charity with his wife in 1974, to provide an experience of farm life for inner-city children.] It's at three farms now, and though I don't milk the cows or move the sheep any more, it helps me realise what is real. Thomas Hardy called it the old association – it's about where we come from and it's important that I can come back to it.

We belong in a universe of silence We need room to be alone, to think without clutter – but there is a constant clamour for our attention that is damaging us. There's excitement to it, yes, but for me, all the showbusiness I've experienced can be deracinating. There's just as much excitement looking out over the fields where I live and seeing the mist rising in the valley.

Speed is part of the problem of modern living – the speed of an email or a text. When I wrote letters there seemed to be time to do it, like going for a walk. You're not in a hurry to finish going for a walk – and a letter was like going for a walk with words. But the pressure to answer emails immediately means we've almost got to the stage where we can't leave it all behind.

I live more easily in someone else's skin than in my own I get such satisfaction creating characters, as when I write, I become them. But when I put down the pen and find my boring old self again, that's not so easy.

I have an idea for a novel about a wartime carrier pigeon There was a couple in the news recently, in Kent, who discovered the skeleton of a carrier pigeon while cleaning out their old chimney. Attached to its leg was a little capsule containing a coded message and the thinking now is that the pigeon was used by the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War to get a message in Occupied France back to England. But they can't decode it, which is the best way to start a novel. I mention it to keep other writers away from it – it's my story now!

Michael Morpurgo, 69, is a children's author, poet and playwright. 'Parkinson: Masterclass with Michael Morpurgo' is on Tuesday at 9pm on Sky Arts One