Desert Island Books

Children's author Michael Morpurgo is interviewed about his favourite books. Followed by screening of When The Whales Came.
Oxford Playhouse, Sat June 9th 2007

June 11, 2007
The auditorium was almost full to capacity for this informal talk with Michael Morpurgo. When the children’s author became Children’s Laureate in 2003 he was a well-established, but not necessarily famous, writer. His reputation has increased in recent years, and the growing number of readers attracted to his books have a whole back catalogue of great titles to devour.

The audience, a mixture of parents and children, was given the chance to find out which books the award-winning author would take with him to a desert island. The first thing, he said, would be a notebook and pen so that he could keep writing. The session included readings from his chosen books, some given by Michael himself, and another by David Fickling, whose job it was to present the event and interview Michael about his choices. Among the books Michael would take was Treasure Island, a book of poems co-edited by Ted Hughes (whom Michael had known personally), Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and the Just So stories. The extracts were read with great energy, and both men were adept at engaging an audience. This short event (which preceded a screening of the film adaptation of his book Why the Whales Came) was a chance to see what Michael Morpurgo is like, and what some of his strongest interests are.

We were given an insight into the author’s childhood, from his preference for comics and rugby over books, to his discovery of Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and the books his mother read to him. Since his childhood he has continued to be fascinated by stories, and says that one of the reasons he constantly revisits the Scilly Islands in his fiction is that the place is “full of stories”. He also spoke about the affinity a child can have with animals, and why so many of his stories feature animals, from War Horse (which he considers his first good book) to tales like The Butterfly Lion and Adolphus Tips.

There are two high-profile stage adaptations of his books which can be seen this year. The adaptation of his First World War novel Private Peaceful, which has already enjoyed a West End run, is currently touring and will be at the Oxford Playhouse in October. War Horse is going to be the big show for Christmas at the National Theatre in London and promises to be spectacular.

One of the purposes of the event was to publicise The Story Museum, a new initiative to celebrate stories and encourage the telling and appreciation of them. Michael Morpurgo spoke passionately about the importance of stories in understanding other people and the world we live in. A book, he said, is nothing until it is awoken by a reader. There is no doubt that his books will continue to be woken, and read, by many more readers in the future.
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