How We Met: Michael Foreman & Michael Morpurgo

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The Independent Online

Michael Foreman, 69, is an illustrator who has worked on more than 170 books, 20 of which he wrote himself. He has two children and lives with his wife Louise in London and Cornwall

Michael and I encountered each other twice before we became friends. The first time was a long time ago when I was delivering some work to the publisher William Collins in their old offices in St James's. Apparently I was enthusiastic about some of his wife's illustrations and he tells me I left a nice impression on him.

Many years later I saw him when I was leaving a school in Cornwall after giving a talk there. He was just arriving as I was coming out. We did a pirouette together. I called over my shoulder as I left, "Next time you're in Cornwall give me a call I'm in the book." About a year later he did. He was staying in a hotel in Penzance and I met him for dinner. It was all very nice and at the end of the meal he gave me a brown envelope in which was a story. He asked me to read it to see if I'd like to illustrate it. I read it and decided I couldn't because it was set in Venice and I'd just finished a book set in Venice, so there'd be a conflict. But I wouldn't want to turn down a great writer like him especially since my children liked his books so much so although I said no, I suggested that we do a book together about King Arthur. Michael always spent his holidays in the Isles of Scilly and there's a myth about Arthur being buried on one of the islands. We had a lot of fun going there travelling with him is the best part of what we do. We talk and dream together when we're away.

My friendship with Michael the "other one", as I call him was immediate. We've been close friends ever since that first book; in fact, more like brothers. Michael is warm, generous and has a tremendous spirit. He has a hand-on-heart warmth. That's why children like him so much.

I've been to the farm where he lives various times and tramped round with him in the mud and he and I speak on the phone regularly. It's lucky, because his handwriting is indecipherable.

I took Michael to his first football match, to see a European night game at Chelsea. I showed him a row of Chelsea pensioners in their red uniforms; they get free tickets to every game. There was one sitting on his own at the far end and Michael asked why he was there on his own and not with his mates. I explained that he likes to go where he used to be taken by his dad before the war. Michael was fascinated. But he hasn't been to another football match since. He's more of a rugby person. Maybe he'll come with me again one day.

Michael Morpurgo, 64, was the children's laureate from 2003 to 2005. He established the charity Farms for City Children with his wife Clare in 1976, with whom he lives on a farm in Devon. He has three children and six grandchildren

I first met Michael when I was unpublished. I'd just written my first little picture book in the 1970s. My wife Clare had done some pictures for the book and we had an appointment at HarperCollins to see a publisher. I'd written it out in long-hand, on writing paper, as amateurs do. I could see from the look on the publisher's face as she read it through that she thought it was alright but not great, then she looked at my wife's pictures. She said they weren't right and our hearts sank. We felt gloomy and started packing up to go, and that's when Michael walked into the room. He said hello and his eye caught on the pictures on the table. He shuffled through them and said how much he liked them. I knew who he was by reputation and then stole a glance at the publisher and thought "Ha!" We walked out of the room with our chins a little higher.

I thought I might send him a story one day because I loved his illustrations, then, by pure accident, I met him in a corridor in a school in St Ives where I was giving a talk. I told him I had an idea for a story and he said to contact him. I sent him a story about a donkey in Venice and he called me and suggested we work together on a book on King Arthur. I wrote the text and he did the pictures and we got on really well. So well that we've been friends for 20 years.

Michael is quiet and calm I don't think he even shouted when I sat beside him at a football match. He's also a bit older than me he remembers the war from when he was a boy while I don't. I envy him for that. We are of the same generation although we've come from different backgrounds and different homes. It's nice growing old together; we have a sort of comradeship.

Michael loves to travel and we have a lot of fun travelling together; we're a couple of kids we go on adventures together. But not all of the trips are fun. We went to Ypres in Belgium and went to a museum in Flanders Field. There was a letter written on the wall from the War Office to a mother whose son was shot for cowardice. I just imagined how awful it would have been for that mother at that moment. It moved me enormously. Normally Michael and I are chatty but neither of us could speak we just walked off in separate directions. It sounds bizarre, but that moment, as we walked away from each other, I felt closest to him because we were dealing with the same stuff. We share silences well maybe that's the secret. It's the test of true friendship when you don't always have to talk.

'The Mozart Question' (Walker Books, 7.99), written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Michael Foreman, is out now

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