Bringing Words to Life

Learning in the Countryside

"I love anything like this which is new and fresh," said Michael Morpurgo as he arrived at the Academy. "It's lovely to be part of the beginning of a new school."

Michael is no stranger to education within a rural setting and believes it is hugely important. He explained how he started his career as a teacher, then moved to an isolated Devon village to establish the charity 'Farms for City Children'. In partnership with local farmers, he and his wife set out to educate and inspire children by offering them a real experience of life and work in the countryside.

The Extraordinary Storyteller

Even away from the written page, Michael Morpurgo is a natural storyteller. "I was on the edge of my seat the whole time", enthused Eloise. He described how War Horse had been born over a pint of beer with a Devonian war veteran called Wilf. "Wilf told me there were two unspoken rules amongst the soldiers in the trenches: never discuss the horrors of war and never discuss home. And so he talked to his horse. Over one million horses were shipped across the Channel, many from farms in Devon and Cornwall. Only 65,000 returned. Do the maths."

Story to Screen

War Horse costume designer, Joanna Johnston, then took the stage. She spoke about the challenge of creating over 3,000 military uniforms for the film. " Historical accuracy is vital - for the believability of the drama, to satisfy the regimental experts, but most importantly to honour those who were actually there," she commented.

Questions Answered

Clutching their favoruite Michael Morpurgo books, the students then posed a raft of questions.

"How do you become a writer?", asked Maddie. "Practice until you can write as naturally as you speak," was his response. "Then you will find a voice that is purely your own and you will be able to say what you really think. Saying what you think is the most important thing of all."

"Why do you often write about events through the eyes of animals?", asked Angus. "These are important events in human history" he replied. "All young people need to know about them. But the subject matter is often horrific and traumatic. Animals offer a way in...."

And what a wonderful 'way in' this afternoon proved to be: to the history of World War I, to the art of storytelling, and to the creative world of film-making. Exactly what the Fellowship programme is all about!