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Clare Morpurgo talks to Devon Life's Anna Turns

PUBLISHED: 16:37 02 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:35 20 February 2013

Where My Wellies Take Me

Where My Wellies Take Me

Clare Morpurgo recalls her favourite poems and treasured childhood rambles through the Iddesleigh countryside

Where my wellies take me...


Clare Morpurgo recalls her favourite poems and treasured childhood rambles through the Iddesleigh countryside

Words - Anna Turns
Illustrations - Olivia Lomenech Gill

In the snug room at the Duke of York pub in Iddesleigh in deepest Devon, I meet Michael and Clare Morpurgo who have published their first book together, Where My Wellies Take Me. An anthology of poems about animals and the countryside, this collection has been three years in the making and was inspired by their friendships with the late Devon-based poets sean raffety (who incidentally wrote most of his poetry in this very room) and Ted Hughes, amongst others. To me, their poetry represents this Devon landscape, says Clare, and this book was a lovely way to weave together our favourite poems with michaels story of Pippas countryside walk during the village may Day celebrations, which was based on my own childhood memories of this place. michael adds that it fits with clares character that she goes off for a walk and gets so absorbed in the natural world around her.
This was a simple story for me to write because I know the route very well, so the sense of place was a gift and I didnt need to make the character up, explains michael. This was pure clare pretty much, wandering off alone and losing track of time.Pippa is based on clare as a young girl, and Pippas Song by Robert Browning was one of the first poems she chose for her anthology. clare lived above the Duke of york pub during the Easter school holidays from the age of 7 to 12; her father knew the pub owners, Peggy and Sean Raffety, who left the London theatre scene after the war. she spent most of her time exploring the countryside, and these walks were the seedcorn that gave her the notion to set up the charity Farms for city children in Iddesleigh years later. clare always loved the companionship of horses and freely admits she has always talked to her pets, wild animals and plants too. As a girl, I spent a lot of time in the churchyard looking for lizards and slow worms, and I used to find glow worms in a field by the church called candlelight meadow. Looking at a picture of clare as a young girl, michael describes her as all cheekbones and smiles. As the oldest daughter of Allen Lane, founder of Penguin books, and wife of such a prolific childrens author, clare has always shied away from publicity. but her husband of almost 50 years is the first to point out that, the first named writer is clare, and it is her story. Poems chosen include classics thatwere part of clare and michaels heritage, as well as songs and more modern poetry. Clare describes how the book evolved: We ran it in parallel. As I picked the poems, michael wrote the story, and it fitted together like a jigsaw. The book coincides with Clare and michael both turning 70, and is, as Clare says a celebration of this village and our connection to Iddesleigh. The portraits are all real people in the village and the places certainly exist, but not necessarily in that order. Where My Wellies Take Me is the first book illustrated by artist Olivia Lomench Gill, who clare and michael serendipitously met at a tiny book fair in brittany. Olivia stayed in Iddesleigh to get to know everyone and based her drawings on the people she met. As the model for Peggy, she drew Joan Weekes who also worked in the pub alongside Peggy and knew clare as a child. clare and michael agree that her drawings are amazing: Olivia interpreted the spirit of everything so well.clare particularly loves the illustrations for brian Pattens poem A Small Dragon. Pippa peers round the shed door and the flap opens to reveal the green lizard on the wood pile. Any child will adore that, she says. And I loveOlivias picture of the bumblebee on the welly boot alongside christina rossettis poem Hurt No Living Thing. That page is magic. This book encapsulates the essence of life in Iddesleigh, and michael describes how the village has not changed much. The countryside is a hard place for a community to survive, and often places get populated by holiday homes, explains michael. because Iddesleigh is so remote, it has retained its integrity and there is still a close alliance between the pub and the village. As in many rural communities, the Iddesleigh Friendly society was established in 1836 as an early form of agricultural union for working men, and their subscriptions helped pay for their funeral expenses and for their children to have shoes. Today it is one of only two friendly societies left in Devon and every may Day, michael marches around Iddesleigh with the other 60 members while the hatherleigh silver band plays. It is an extraordinary place to live, and people here are very proud of it and very aware that it is special, he adds. Michael and Clares most treasured view of Iddesleigh is from the church steps. It is like nowhere else on earth, says Michael and Clare agrees that it is spectacular. clare hopes that her book will be a tangible way to encourage children and their families to explore the outdoors more, and this ethos ties in with her charity Farms for city children. Growing from clares own dreams and the freedom she had to experience of the Devon countryside, this book sparks that sense of wonder, whether it is finding a bumblebee on your shoe or watching a butterfly flitter past. I also hope that children will be inspired to make their own scrapbooks with little sketches and stories, says clare. Im sure that Where My Wellies Take Me will be treasured and read again and again by young readers.

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