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Michael Morpurgo archive yields unpublished books

By Ian Youngs
Arts reporter

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe collection includes drafts of the theatre and film adaptations of War Horse

Several unpublished books written by Michael Morpurgo before his career took off are part of an archive the author has given to a children's book museum.

The War Horse author has donated his manuscripts, notebooks and letters to Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books, in Newcastle.

They include handwritten draft versions of his most popular books including The Butterfly Lion and Private Peaceful.

The archive also has three unpublished novels, a picture book and a script.

Morpurgo's first novel was published in 1974, but it was some time before he became established as one of the UK's best-loved children's authors.

The unpublished manuscripts show an interest in dystopian stories at the start of his career. According to Seven Stories, they are:

  • The Wall (around 1975) - a novel about 18-year-old Mark whose family fled London to escape the Savages who had taken over London, and who eventually reach the West Country.
  • The Next Tomorrow (1974-76) - a novel about warring factions in a rural community that has been ravaged by plague. It follows the battles between the Musketeers, Apaches and Apprentices.
  • How Many Miles to Camelot (1974-76) - a time-slip novel about a young boy, Peter, and his sister, Katie. They travel back in time to be greeted by Sir Gawain and it charts Peter's adventures with the knights of the round table. Morpurgo has revisited Camelot in later books.
  • Sebastian and George (unknown date) - a picture book about a young boy, Sebastian, and George, the ginger beer-drinking brontosaurus he finds in the "craggy, craggy cliffs of Cornwall" and brings home to Hampshire.
  • Candlelight (1980s) - a script for a film that was intended to star Torvill and Dean.

Seven Stories archivist Kristopher McKie said: 'It's remarkable that there are unpublished works from an author like Michael Morpurgo, who has more than 130 published texts.

"Exploring them is starting to build a picture of his writing process and the many influences and deciding factors that go into his publications."

An exhibition of the Morpurgo collection will open at Seven Stories next year before going on a UK tour.

image copyrightMichael Morpurgo
image captionEarly handwritten draft of the author’s note from War Horse, which was published in 1982

The author said he admired the way Seven Stories had "worked quietly and diligently to fill an obvious gap in our culture by founding a national children's literature archive and by using it to make amazing exhibitions".

The museum, which opened in 2005, is "a most extraordinary achievement for the country and for Newcastle", he continued. "It made sense to us that it should be the home for my stuff."

The "stuff" will include material from his most recent and future books as well as drafts of the theatre and film adaptations of War Horse and typewritten poems by Ted Hughes from the pair's 1979 collaboration All Around The Year.

There will also be photos and notes relating to his time at Sandhurst army training academy in the early 1960s and a trip to India accompanying the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh as a young cadet.

Seven Stories chief executive Kate Edwards said: "This archive will be treasured, studied, showcased and enjoyed for many generations to come, giving a real and fascinating insight into the creative life of this important and well-loved author."

Related Topics

  • Literature
  • Michael Morpurgo
  • Books
  • Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Children's Literature

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