On Saturday 1st August Michael Morpurgo came to Chichester Festival Theatre and Katy of Chichester Copywriter got the chance to hear a beloved childhood author talk about his books in her hometown. Katy was first bewitched by Morpurgo’s words when listening to Why the Whales Came during school story time aged nine-years-old. She loved the stormy weather and wildlife as well as the mystical Birdman, which combined to create an exciting story set on the Isles of Scilly.
It’s funny that this school story time favourite encouraged Katy’s love for reading and desire to become a professional writer because, while talking on the Chichester stage his father had walked years before, the 72-year-old children’s author revealed that telling stories to his English class at Great Ballard School in West Sussex inspired him to pick up the pen.
Michael Morpurgo has now written over 100 titles including picture books, fiction for older children, educational books and biographies. Although he doesn’t have a favourite and cites all of his books as “his babies” Butterfly Lion, War Horse and Private Peaceful are among those he enjoys most. Morpurgo told the Chichester audience that writing hundreds of books is not the mark of a brilliant writer. He emphasised the importance of quality over quantity when it comes to good stories and used JK Rowling’s success as an example. True enough, the Harry Potter author has only written 12 books and I don’t think anyone’s disputing her success!
While all of his books are based on fact and experience and some are set during significant historical events, Morpurgo maintains that drama isn’t necessary for a great read. He shared that one of his favourite reads was a book, set in Bognor Regis, where absolutely nothing happens and that making the ordinary extraordinary is what makes a writer shine.
In his talk, Morpurgo also demonstrated how gifted authors can turn reality on its head with an anecdote about the painting of Joey described in the opening pages of War Horse. It turns out that the painting described in the book was fictional but, because fans kept turning up to see the famous painting at a Devon village hall, Morpurgo commissioned an artist that worked on the film to paint a suitable piece to hang there and satisfy curiosities. So, fiction has become fact!
As well as writing a book that inspired Chichester Copywriter to pursue a career of words Michael Morpurgo had many words of wisdom for writers in Chichester and beyond. What’s more, he read from Running Wild, the book behind Chichester Festival Youth Theatre’s latest promenade production that’s taking place among the trees and sculptures at Goodwood’s Cass Sculpture Foundation from 2nd to 16th August.
Katy was lucky enough to see Running Wild in Goodwood on its world premiere day and the West Sussex weather was perfect! After a bus ride from Chichester College, which built that holiday excitement, the audience were lead through Cass Sculpture Foundation’s grounds and past striking artwork to the location of the play’s first stage. The sombre start set the tone for a production with a serious environmental and political message and beautiful story as its heart. This was supported by atmospheric ethnic melodies and jungle beats (as well as percussion from the occasional native creature) that echoed through the woodland, guiding the audience to the next outdoor stage at the end of each arresting scene.
While the young actors had tremendous energy, particularly the boy playing the emotionally-charged role of Will, the winning aspect of the performance was the life-like animal puppets. Realistic in both size and movement, the puppets were the wonderful work of two former War Horse puppeteers. Though lovely Oona the elephant, the orangutan family and the tiger were operated by members of the Youth Theatre, as one audience member said, “after a while, you forgot the puppeteer was there.” You did, their subtle movements and sounds were so mesmerising and their eyes were so soulful that they drew you into the action and made you feel like you had been transported to the Indonesian jungle.
The sculptures made interesting and, in some scenes, convenient, props but the location for this promenade performance came into its own during the final scene. After traipsing through the jungle away from a tsunami, a pack of hunters and a forest fire, the audience enjoyed a happy ending facing actors and puppets silhouetted by fairy lights with a backdrop of the Sussex Downs. This brought everyone back to earth before the bus ride home and Chichester Copywriter clapped so hard her hands hurt!
To book tickets to see Running Wild visit the Chichester Festival Theatre website.