Michael Morpurgo: My life in travel

'Things happen in foreign places, and stories open up'

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The Independent Travel

I first went to France in 1948.

I would have been about four or five and I was enchanted by it because it was the first foreign place I'd ever been to where the food was different and everything smelt different and looked different. It was war-damaged; there were lots of holes in the road. And there were great steam trains coming into the towns alongside the docks. It was a very atmospheric place.

I stayed in a little place called Sables d'Orles Pins, which is not far from a little village called Erquy in Brittany. My family went there again and again; we became quite familiar with the place and with the little paths down to the golden beach that seemed to go on forever. There were lovely walks through the pines. I remember having my first chocolate éclair. That was important in my life. Can you imagine having a chocolate éclair, particularly just after the war when there was nothing like that in English shops? That was rather wonderful.

Alpbach in the Austrian Alps was discovered by the English.

They started skiing there in the 1930s. We have just visited. It's a tiny village, which is so beautiful. A rather wonderful thing happened after the war in Alpbach; they built a peace conference centre in the village, which was rather life affirming, I thought. We walked the hills a bit and it snowed for us, which was lovely, but we don't ski anymore.

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Peace of mind: a farm in Alpbach, Tyrol (Austrian Tourist Board)

Travel has influenced my writing.

It's provided me with the background for so many stories. My most interesting souvenir from a holiday is a story. I could tell you hundreds. It's when things happen in foreign places, with different histories and different cultures, that stories seem to open up.

The best stories happen off-piste.

Don't just stay on the tourist trails. If you travel by bus, or by train, you get a chance to talk to the people. France for me is the only country, sadly, where I can really do that. The only other language I speak is French so it's a very rich source for me.

I once wrote a story on a ship going from Venice to Patras in Greece.

Normally I write wherever it's quiet. Home is where I like to write best because I have a little place where I can sit on a bed and it's away from the phone, away from the email, and I can scribble away there. But I'm alright writing on a train, or on a plane, or in a hotel room. I was on the boat for nearly two days and I had a nice place to sit in the cabin. It just has to be quiet with things not interrupting the flow. When I do write, I write very fast. I think I wrote most of that story in a couple of days. Strange because usually I don't do sea-sickness very well.

My wife and I met in Corfu.

It was before it was popular, we're talking about 1962. I went there with my family and met up with my wife by accident. I'd say that changed my life more than anything because I'm still married to the same person 52 years later. We went back a few years ago for our 40th wedding anniversary. We went with our grandchildren and stayed in a villa. We had a really lovely time, full of memories. That was really good.

Seeing 'Warhorse' in Berlin was surreal.

We saw it at the Theatre Des Westens, where the Kaiser and Hilter once sat. The night I was there was quite extraordinary. It was packed with people – and they were enthusiastic. When it began, it was very strange. There's this line that goes "the Kaiser has marched into Belgium". There was a deepening of the silence: people knew they were going on a journey which was going to be uncomfortable, in a different way that it's uncomfortable to us. The response was very positive. I think it's important to understand that the atmosphere there would be different to seeing it in London.

946, a theatre adaptation by Michael Morpurgo and Emma Rice from The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, will be at The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall from 25 July to 23 August (kneehigh.co.uk)

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