Michael Murpurgo’s successful disappointment

Rev David Clarke.
Rev David Clarke.
Share this article

Author Michael Morpurgo is among those to be awarded a knighthood in the traditional New Year Honours list.

He is worthy of the honour on the grounds of both his writing and his charity work.

With his wife, he set up the ‘Farms for City Children’ charity on the edge of Dartmoor, designed to provide an opportunity for children from deprived urban environments to work with animals. It is a charity entirely appropriate for someone who came to widespread fame when his book ‘War Horse’ was adapted both for stage and screen. It is estimated that over one million people have seen the stage version, with the wonderfully constructed ‘horses’, while the film was a blockbuster for producer Stephen Spielberg.

How Morpurgo came to writing is instructive. A drop-out from Sandhurst military college, he turned to part-time teaching. In a school with an unwritten rule that each day should end with a story, he discovered that Clive King’s book, ‘Stig of the dump’ - which he himself loved - was boring the children beyond belief. He shared his puzzlement with his wife, who suggested that he make up stories for them, just as he did for his own infant children.

He made the experiment, and realised that after ten minutes, he had the children were enthralled. The news of his story-telling gift swept through the school, and the headmistress suggested that he write it down. Some at the school had a friend who worked for the Macmillan publishing house, The story, ‘It never rained’, was sold to Macmillan, and the rest is history.

Out of failure as a teacher, came success as a writer. Another literary giant found his metier by way of disappointment. Oliver Goldsmith wanted to be a doctor, but failed his exams. In his desperation, he took to writing, and eventually produced a masterpiece in all three literary genres; a play, (‘She stops to conquer’), a novel, (‘The Vicar of Wakefield’) and a poem,(‘The deserted village’).

The world would probably not have heard of Goldsmith, or enjoyed his writings had he managed to navigate those medical examinations!

One of great preachers of the nineteen century was the gifted, and controversial, F.W. Robertson of Brighton. He came from a military family, and himself applied for a commission. But the commission was delayed, and arrived only a few days after he had decided to follow the leading of his conscience and study for the Christian ministry. Had that letter not been delayed, he afterwards said, his body might well have been fertilising the soil of India.

The old Irish proverb about God closing a door and openign a window enshrines a truth. Failure and disappointment need not be final. Rather, they might open a door, if not to a knighthood, at least to a new and fulfilling career.