EVENT REVIEW: Writing The First World War with Pat Barker and Michael Morpurgo

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Friday 14th October
Durham Cathedral Nave
Review by Melis Anik


My excitement starts to build as I walk towards the cathedral. As I walk inside, I take a moment to look around before being seated, appreciating my opportunity to be here. The stage is positioned just in front of the altar and is lit as beautifully as the outside of the cathedral itself.

When Michael Morpurgo and Pat Barker are introduced, the lights dim, leaving almost everything but the stage in darkness. It’s only then – to my unfortunate dismay – that I realise no amount craning my neck will make the authors on the stage visible. Nevertheless, as the microphones echo their words around the cathedral, I’m grateful that I am here to listen.

The general discussion about their connection to the First World War soon turns to, more specifically, the books they wrote. Barker, when asked about Regeneration, quite honestly states that it “sank like a stone” and that the other books made it famous. She then goes on to read a very visceral extract from her book.

Soon after, Morpurgo mentions a telegram that he came across during his research, and why the unknown soldiers who were treated badly by the system interest him. He then proceeds to read an extract from one of his most well-known books, War Horse. The discussion moves like this throughout, from their literary work to the sad reality of war itself, and vice versa. All the while, their voices echo around us, a stark contrast to the utter silence of the audience.

Overall, the event was a poignant exploration of two widely respected authors’ work, and their reasons behind writing about the First World War. The setting was, of course, atmospheric, and the addition of some unexpected humour during the Q&A made for a welcome change to such a sombre topic. The brief Q&A also came with some invaluable writing advice from both authors – something of a gift when we consider the success both have enjoyed.