Michael's latest book based on farm that's close to home

Torbay Weekly

Sir Michael Morpurgo has just written a new book called The Birthday Duck which takes its storyline and inspiration from life in Devon.

It is also raising money for a charity in the county, a charity set up by Sir Michael and his wife, Lady Clare.

On my BBC Radio Devon show I found out a little more about how The Birthday Duck was born.

"Forty-five years ago, my wife set up this incredible charity, Farms for City Children at Nethercott House near Iddesleigh.

"Since then, we have added two more farms and thus 100,000 inner city children have spent a week down on the farm, a totally new world to them but for a week it is their world, it belongs to them.

"So, the child in this book comes down from London to stay and at one point goes to the market in Hatherleigh.

"He spots a duck which is going to be bought by a farmer who says he’s going to eat it!

"Horrified, he buys the duck himself but what do you do with the duck now? How do you get it back to London?

"I am not going to spoil it for you but needless to say we based the story around Nethercott."

Nethercott sounds idyllic

"We’ve all been locked in at the moment but it’s wonderful for the children to get out into a farming atmosphere.

"Just imagine climbing out of a coach here in mid-Devon and seeing from here to Dartmoor, not a house in between.

"Just imagine the sense of liberty and enjoyment.

"I do believe that children are highly resilient, and I do believe they’re going to climb out of the sadness and the difficulties that they have been living in.

"A chance to come to the countryside is going to fill their heads with the most incredible memories.

"A teacher said that you can learn more in a week at Nethercott than you can in a year in a school classroom. And, yes, of course they are learning - learning about how they can help each other, their responsibilities, the world around them, their self-worth, all of this is highly useful which is why they come back again and again."

Is it tough at the moment for the charity?

"I never imagined it was going to be this long, the lockdown.

"I hope that they may well come back at some point this summer.

"The schools are queueing up to come but meanwhile we need to survive, we need to raise the money like every charity and indeed every business. But we are keeping on going, we’ve got here so far."

The pressures on farming and conservation are immense, a difficult balance?

"I speak to the farmers who live near me and I know the problems that are placed upon them.

"I also lived through foot and mouth, I saw the misery, but they kept going.

"Times have changed, we now know not to drain the fields, to plant more trees to look after this good Earth. But the next generation know all about this stuff.

"I believe the next 50 years will be 50 years of recovery.

"It was Sir David Attenborough who said that the most important thing is that the children grow up knowing that they have to care for the environment.

"I think the future is going to be very bright as long as we can get through the next few years."

Thank you for creating an immense amount embarrassment for me when I went to watch Warhorse on stage ended up sobbing at the end... until my wife nudged me and said it’s a puppet!

"Tell your wife from me, it wasn’t a puppet, it was Joey!"

The book is out now but what is next?

"It’s a short novel about a flying fish. It’s called When Fishes Flew and did you know the sing when they die!"

I left it there as that was another story...