In Bed with Morpurgo …
Michael Morpurgo, born 5 October 1943, is an award-winning English author, poet and playwright who is known best for children’s novels such as War Horse (1982) and the Butterfly Lion (1996). A prolific author, he has written over 120 books. His work is noted for its “magical storytelling”, for recurring themes such as the triumph of an outsider or survival, for characters’ relationships with nature, and for vivid settings such as the Cornish coast or World War I. Morpurgo became the third British Children’s Laureate, from 2003 to 2005.
In the manner of his hero Robert Louis Stevenson, best-selling author Michael Morpurgo writes in bed, propped up on cushions in a little garden teahouse. Never having got to grips with computers, he uses a longhand scrawl in exercise books.
I have a little teahouse which is at the end of a gravelly path in my garden. I have a bed in there and that’s where I most like to write, with my notebook on my knees and propped up comfortably with lots of pillows. I also like writing in my local pub, The Duke of York. As long as I am comfortable, I can quite happily scribble away for hours in there. I always write longhand in little exercise books that I am very kindly given at schools I visit. I like the small pages because it looks like you have done a lot of work! And I like to write on every other line so that I have room for my own corrections. Because of my (very old!) age, I just feel it’s more intuitive for me to write longhand. Then once I have finished a book I’ll hand it over, either to my wife Clare or my daughter Ros who are the only ones who can read my appalling writing, and they will type it up for me on to the computer.
I feel satisfied if I can write 1,000 good words a day. Sometimes I’ll write 2,000 or even 3,000 but, when I do that, I quite often feel I have overwritten so 1,000 good words is more productive for me. I like to write in the mornings from about 9.30 until lunchtime and then use the afternoons for answering letters, researching and going for long walks.
Walking is very important in the dreaming up stage for me and I like to tell the story out loud. By letting air in on a story, you can reveal the holes in it.
In 2009, his writing space was featured in the Guardian’s Writers’ Rooms series.
I used to write longhand at a table in any room, anywhere so long as it was quiet. But I found that the more intensely I wrote, as the grip tightened on the pen, the smaller the writing became and the more my wrist and arm and shoulder began to ache. One evening I asked my neighbour and friend Ted Hughes how he wrote. He said he’d had some trouble and now wrote standing up at a lectern. What’s good enough for Ted Hughes, I thought … so I tried it, but my feet hurt. I was reading a biography of my great hero-writer Robert Louis Stevenson and discovered a photograph of him towards the end of his life, lying on his bed in Samoa, propped up on a pile of pillows, a writing book resting on his drawn-up knees. So that’s how you write Treasure Island, I thought. I went up to my bedroom, piled up all the pillows I could find and began to write. Everything was supported and relaxed. It was wonderful for dreaming up a tale, weaving it inside my head, wonderful for scribbling in an exercise book. (I still don’t use a word processor. I did try. I lost five chapters seven or eight years ago, probably the best chapters I ever wrote. They’re still floating around up there in the ether.) For many years, I wrote on our bed in the house. But there were complaints about ink on the sheets, dirty feet on the bed, and we felt we should try to create somewhere else, a storyteller’s house. Clare, my wife designed it – it’s based on the Anglo-Saxon chapel of St Peter-Ad-Murum at Bradwell-juxta-Mare in Essex, where I grew up, but it has a Devon thatched roof, a Japanese garden and an uninterrupted view of the countryside, looking towards Dartmoor. So there I have made my writing bed. With flowers in the window – these a gift for our 46th wedding anniversary last weekend – and with Clare sitting at the computer, trying to make sense of my scribbly script as she types it up, it has become a perfect writer’s hideaway.