Children’s Book Award: a Guest Post by Michael Morpurgo

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My inspiration for Listen to the Moon.

 

This story probably would never have come about if it wasn’t for my wife Clare. Let me explain. When she was little she had chicken pox and like they did in those days, she was put in another room in the house to recuperate. She was bored one day and started looking in an old chest in the corner of the room where she found something quite extraordinary hidden away amongst the forgotten socks. It was a kind of medal. On one side, there was the ship going down, on the other a skeleton selling tickets to the line of passengers.  It was made to commemorate the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. The images on the medal were frightening and she put it back in the chest and forgot about it.

 

When we were married and inherited this chest from her father, we found the medal again many years later. Ever since those two images stayed with me.  I learned later that the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U Boat, 12 miles off Kinsale, in the south of Ireland, that she went down in just18 minutes, with the loss of over a thousand passengers, amongst them over a hundred Americans, and at a time when the USA was neutral in the war.

 

It was at the time the greatest single wartime civilian disaster in history. Finding out more, I discovered the great controversy, and the propaganda surrounding it, on both sides, indeed how the controversy still simmers on to this day, over a hundred years later.  I discovered too that three hours or so after the sinking, the grand piano from the dining saloon of this luxurious liner, was found floating on the ocean, in some reports, with a child still clinging on.

 

The image of the medal, of that piano on the ocean, and the child barely alive, a child I knew who must have witnessed the most terrible sights, led me into the dreamtime of my story, to a U boat that surfaces near her, and rescues her, then to St Helen’s on the Isles of Scilly, where in the dark of night, she is put ashore, where a Pest house stands gaunt and empty, home on a deserted island for my child, a wild child now, and so traumatised by the events of that terrible tragedy that she no longer knows who she is, nor has any memory of a previous life, until she is discovered and adopted into a fisherman,s family, and cared for. My story is of her slow recovery, her rediscovering of herself. It is a story of love and loss, of family and community fractured by war, of the power of hope, and above all of the will of the human spirit to survive.

Here are a few photos taken on the Scilly Isles showing some of the places that are the setting for the story.

1. This is the channel between the islands of Tresco and Bryher where the boats are moored. This would be where Jim Wheatcroft’s boat was kept in my story.

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© Gareth Tibbs

2. Stones on Popplestones beach. One of the beaches on the Island of Bryher, the home of Alfie Wheatcroft. In the background, you can see the Island of Samson.

Scilly 2

© Gareth Tibbs

3. A photo of a horse on Bryher much like the horse ‘ Peg’ in my story.

Scilly3

© Gareth Tibbs

4. The landing beach on St Helens, where Lucy is put ashore by the German submarine after being found floating on the top of the grand piano from the Lusitania. In the background you can see the ‘Pest House’ where she is found.

Scilly4

© Gareth Tibbs

 

Listen to the Moon is shortlisted for the 2016 Children’s Book Award in the Books for Older Readers category. It is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

You can find out more about the award here and you can vote for your favourite books here.

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