Saturday at Noon | Jersey Opera House
Here is where the pages turn themselves. Here is where the audience stops breathing. Here is where we all, as one, forget that time is passing.
Michael Morpurgo is a man to whom you could listen forever. We all, rapt, spend an hour of sheer brilliance in the Opera House as the words tumble and dance, as the stories expand out to fill the entire auditorium, as our imaginations whirl. By now, you may have guessed that this was not exactly a bad way to spend an hour.
I’m struggling to find a way to describe this in a way that doesn’t appear mere hyperbolic fawning, as I believe it would only embarrass this modest man (cover your ears). He prefixed the talk today with a remark “it’s not about authors, it’s about stories” and, whilst he’s wrong (obviously), he can’t be right about everything. For this is an author with such a gift for storytelling it seems a sober certainty that, in generations to come, his name will sit squarely alongside those of Dahl, Rowling, Kipling, Blyton – even his beloved RLS, author of Treasure Island. I don’t know how the Festival managed to get him across the water to our own island, but someone on the committee should be feeling fairly smug right now.
Again, this all sounds like flattery. But if you were there listening to him, I know you will agree and attest to his particular skills.
One such skill is listening. Throughout his life he has listened and he has listened well. People he meets recount their lives, telling him things that feed into his narratives, accounts that became these fantastic novels. This is not always a quick process, often taking patience and understanding to wait for the speaker to speak in their own time. In the case of War Horse, for example, allowing a reticent, Devonian ex-soldier to find the right time and the right way to put his story into words. When members of the audience ask questions, Michael Morpurgo may pretend to mock and call them names, but it’s abundantly evident he has listened to them with real care and he responds with the greatest generosity of spirit.
For me, there was an intensely personal element to this hour in the Opera House. Over the last few years Michael Morpurgo’s novels have featured frequently in story-time with my children. Listening to him recount details of his life and his writing, the threads of those characters and stories we have read aloud at home came back to happy life in my memory. I’m sure the same is true for all fortunate enough to to be there today.
So, what was Michael Morpurgo like? S’ok, I s’pose. You know. For an absolutely mesmeric genius.
You can uncover your ears now, Mr Morpurgo.