IDDESLEIGH’S most famous resident is celebrating being knighted in the New Year’s Honours list.
Prolific children’s author Michael Morpurgo, who put the village on the map with War Horse, said the news had come as quite a surprise.
He already has an OBE in recognition of his writing career, and holds an MBE together with his wife Clare for setting up Farms for City Children, their charity in Iddesleigh, where they have lived for more than 40 years.
‘I thought that was it really, nothing else would happen, so I didn’t expect anything else,’ said Michael. ‘Then it must have been about two months ago I had a letter which was in a very unprepossessing envel-ope. It looked like something that might be a tax demand, the kind of thing you don’t open. Luckily, though, we did open it.
‘I’m pleased for all sorts of reasons,’ he added. ‘First of all, for Farms for City Children, because the problem with running any charity is that you’ve got to keep people interested and something like this gives you a little bit more prestige. It lifted the spirits of everyone concerned with the charity.
‘Then with War Horse and the writing, the knighthood really is for everyone, the publishers, the National Theatre and everyone involved in the making of the stories in whatever form. I suggested that Joey [the horse in War Horse] should be knighted, and the cast of War Horse have sent me congratulations, with a YouTube video of them knighting Joey on the stage in Oxford.
‘It lifts everyone’s spirits.
‘The thing about knights is that no one really cares about letters after your name, but knights are in stories, the Knights of the Round Table, everyone knows what being a knight means.’
Michael also thanked his wife Clare, who reads and comments on every one of his manuscripts before they ever see the publishers.
He paid tribute too to the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, who lived at North Tawton and first encouraged him to write stories for children. The very first influence on his writing career, he added, was his mother ‘who first gave me a love of writing by reading to me in bed at night’.
He is also inspired, he says, by the children he writes for. He was Children’s Laureate for three years, a role in which he travelled the country meeting children at hundreds of schools.
Michael, 74, has written more than 100 books, many of them bestsellers. However, War Horse was not a runaway success when it was first published in 1982.
Much later, though, the story of a Devon farm boy and his beloved horse caught up in the First World War, was picked up by the National Theatre. It has now been seen by eight-million people in the West End, on Broadway and in theatres around the world. It was also turned into a film by Steven Spielberg, partly filmed on Dartmoor.
‘I got lucky and I think luck plays a big part in the life of a writer,’ said Michael. ‘There are writers who write far better books and never have success. You do have to get lucky and I got very very lucky with War Horse. It took a while, but it is better to have success when you’re older, I think, because I know what it means and can appreciate it more.’
A father of three and grandfather of six, Michael said his family were delighted with the news. ‘It has made everyone very happy, Clare is very happy, and I think Lady Clare sounds perfect. I’m not sure about Sir Michael but perhaps I’ll change my name to Sir Lancelot!’
The news was also welcomed back home in Iddesleigh at The Duke of York, where Michael first got the inspiration for War Horse more than 30 years ago, listening to the tales of First World War veteran Wilfred Ellis as they sat in front of the fire.
John Pittam, the landlord of the Duke of York Inn in Iddesleigh, said: ‘We are all very pleased and proud that Michael has been knighted. He’s done wonders for the community here.
‘It is fantastic news and we are all delighted.’