We caught up with Festival Patron Michael Morpurgo on family arts, theatre, and his new book…
What creative activities were you involved in as a child?
I liked plays and acting, particularly if I was directing as well. I had a poem published in the school magazine when I was 11 but that was about it in terms of creativity when I was a child.
You have three children: Sebastian, Horatio and Rosalind. How did you encourage them to be creative when they were small? Did any of them do or make anything particularly memorable?
All of them have become who they wanted to be creatively. We read to them when they were young and encouraged their drawing, painting and acting, then left it to them to plough their own furrow.
Do you think creativity runs in families, or can it be taught?
I think it can seem to run in families but absolutely not always. There are many instances, such as Mozart who grew up with music in his mother’s milk. No, I don’t think creativity can be taught but it can be encouraged. Giving them confidence is perhaps the most important ingredient. Encouraging a child to have a go and being appreciative of that Is the most important thing. It’s much easier to turn a child off being creative by being dismissive or uninterested.
Why is it important for children to be creative?
All of us have it in us to be creative in one way or another and unless people fulfill themselves they can live disappointed lives.
You are a former Children’s Laureate and were a teacher for ten years. What do you enjoy about working with children?
Because I rediscover each time I work with them or talk to them, the power of stories to encourage and to move children, and I like passing on what I care about.
You founded the charity Farms for City Children to give children from inner-city areas the opportunity to experience the countryside. Do you think enough is being done to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds access to the arts and culture?
In one sense yes – in that it’s opening their eyes, ears and hearts to something new and that developing an awareness of the world about you and your relationship to it is key to a young child growing up in the fullest sense of the word.
Your story War Horse has been a huge success in its various different incarnations. Why do you think it has captured so many people’s imaginations?
I hope because it’s a good story, but expect that it’s mostly because I have been very lucky with the people who have been involved with War Horse, particularly the National Theatre who developed it and made it their own, and from the play came the Spielberg movie. For him to have made a movie was a great stroke of good fortune. It’s also been a radio play and a concert, so Joey trots on.
A lot of your stories involve animals. Why do you think children are so fascinated by them?
I am really interested in the relationship between animals and children. Animals are sentient, intelligent, perceptive. We owe them a duty of care as we do for children. I think they often bring out the best in us because they listen without passing judgement and accept us for who we are without prejudice. My fascination with animals also came partly from my life. With the charity Farms For City Children, children from the inner cities come and live and work on farms for a week. Watching these children and the animals they were caring for and living amongst, I was inspired to write many of my stories.
What are the most important things to bear in mind when writing for families?
It’s not really that I write for the children. I write for myself.
What advice do you have for parents who want to encourage their children to be creative?
To tell them stories, read to them, take them to the theatre, to art galleries and museums. To encourage them with the best of the creative arts and encourage them to feel they can do it themselves.
Can families see your work as part of this year's Get Creaitve Family Arts Festival?
Yes, they can. A full tour of my story I Believe in Unicorns is part of the Festival this year, performed by Wizard Presents, and i'll be making some appearances too. See the full list of events on familyartsfestival.com.
Michael Morpurgo is Patron of the Family Arts Festival (9 October to 1 November) and his new book An Eagle in the Snow is published on 8 October.