Michael Morpurgo has penned a new novel inspired by his autistic grandson.
Flamingo Boy is set in the Camargue in the South of France during the Second World War and features a boy who “sees the world differently”.
“There are lots of things he doesn't – but he does know how to heal animals, how to talk to them; the flamingos especially,” said publisher HarperCollins Children’s Books. The plot follows the boy as he meets a Roma girl called Kezia, who helps her parents run their carousel and who shows him how to ride the wooden horse as the music plays. But then the German soldiers comes and “everything is threatened”.
Morpurgo, who was recently knighted for services to literature in the New Year honours list, described Flamingo Boy as a “story of love and friendship, of how people from different culture and backgrounds can come together, especially when they are under threat.”
He explained he had not thought of writing a book about autism until his grandson was born.
“I have a grandson who is autistic. I had never realised until he became part of our family what this really meant, or what it was,” he said. “I had not thought of writing a book about him, partly because the subject had been so well written about before and partly because my understanding of autism was too shallow. I simply didn’t have the confidence to get started on a story.”
He added: “But then a visit to the Camargue in the South of France, a wild and wonderful national park where pink flamingos fly, gave me the story of an autistic boy growing up in a farmhouse amongst these creatures. I decided to set the story during the Second World War when France was an occupied country. Where children and people who were different were under threat whether they were gypsies or Jews or people who did not seem to be like other people, autistic children amongst them.”
The book will be published on 8th March 2018 in hardback, e-book and audiobook after executive publisher Ann-Janine Murtagh signed a deal for world rights through Veronique Baxter at David Higham.
Murtagh said Flamingo Boy had been written by an author “at the very height of his powers”.
“The emotional intensity and energy of the writing is breath-taking,” she said. “It is a beautiful book rich in heart and strong in spirit that will appeal to readers young and old. This is a landmark novel from one of the greatest storytellers of our time and I am immensely proud to publish it on the HarperCollins list.”