Creative Inspiration – Into the Mind of Author Michael Morpurgo
What makes children creative? What makes them come up with something that captivates them or others? Or as defined by neuroscientist Rex Jung, what makes children create “something both novel and useful”? Books are a great source of inspiration for kids as they take them into worlds where anything is possible, spurring their creative minds to imagine stories without restrictions, visual boundaries or the need to conform with reality. However kids rarely connect the book they hold in our hands with the person who wrote it, the human behind the creative process, the author who thought “Ah yes, I’m going to write this story so others can read it.” Which is why I love bringing my girls to author talks, connecting words on paper with master storytellers. Among the authors they’ve seen are Jon Scieszka, Todd Parr, Marissa Moss and Daniel Handler (also known as Lemony Snicket).
When I learned that former Children’s laureate and bestselling author Michael Morpurgo was going to talk at Daunt Books about a book called Where My Wellies Take Me, I booked tickets for my girls and I. If you don’t know Morpurgo, you’ll know the Steven Spielberg movie inspired by one of his books, War Horse. Or maybe like my 9-year old you’ve read The Butterfly Lion. Or Born To Run. Whichever it is, an evening with Michael Morpurgo and his wife Clare promised to be something special.
We arrived at Daunt Books after my girls’ swim class and put down our bags. I bought two copies of the book and gave them to my daughters so they could start browsing, right before Michael Morpurgo and Clare Morpurgo took to their seats. The evening started with a short introduction and then Michael started talking. My 9-year old was all ears right from the start but my 7-year old was somewhat less jazzed. You know, sitting in a chair and listening to an old guy and his wife about to read excerpts from their book. That was until Michael asked who was 7-years old in the audience. My daughter raised her hand and smiled at me. Only 3 hands were raised. “The book I’ll be reading from tonight is inspired by my wife’s childhood when she was a 7-year old little girl.” During Clare’s Easter holidays, she was invited by a friend family to stay at a pub in Devon and the little girl roamed the countryside in her wellies, exploring back roads, riding horses and counting butterflies. Now that was something my little girl could connect with. She grabbed her copy of the book and started following the passages as they were read by Clare and Michael.
Part scrapbook part nature journal part poetry anthology, Where My Wellies Take Me weaves poems into the walk of the little girl called Pippa. She crosses fields, she walks past cows, she has tea with a farmer, she rides a horse, she talks to a lizard and counts creepy crawlies. She does stuff a 7-year old might do in the countryside except 7-year-olds don’t ride horses through fields and woods anymore. They still count creepy crawlies though. At the end of the book, my girls wanted to hear more poems, more stories, but that book was now closed.
Fortunately Michael had more stories to tell about other books he wrote. What was interesting was the difference in attitude between before the book was introduced and after Michael had told us how the story came about, how he had done his research and why he had written that particular story. Before, my girls got distracted and their eyes drifted to book titles on the shelves next to us. After, they asked me if we had that book at home or if we could go get it at the library. Every book started with a personal experience or a memory spun into a bigger story. It was a fascinating insight into the creation of books.
Something else struck me that evening. Michael really knew how to address a young audience and he did so with a great dose of humor. Turns out he’s a former teacher and that’s how he invented his first story, to keep kids busy from 3 to 3.30pm at school. More than 120 books later, the technique obviously worked. To finish off, a 10-year old asked what writing tips Michael could share with the audience. I didn’t have time to write them down but The Guardian asked him the same question so I’m sharing his answers. May they inspire your children to write a story and get creative with words.
Creativity is defined as
Michael Morpurgo’s Top Writing Tips
1. Live an interesting life. Meet people. Read a lot and widely, learn from the great writers.
2. Write just a little every day.
3. Settle on an idea that you care about, that you’re really passionate about, then research around it and dream it out in your mind. I don’t plan out the plot, rather let it emerge as I write.
4. When I write I try as far as possible to forget I’m writing it at all. I tell it down onto the page, as if I’m telling it to one person only, my best friend.
5. Remember to write for yourself, not for a market and give yourself time to develop your own style, your own voice. It takes a lifetime. Enjoy it!