31 August 2001

Waiting in eye of F&Mstorm

A hard-hitting drama about foot-and-mouth based on a book by top childrens author Michael Morpurgo will be shown on TV next week.

The half-hour adaptation, which charts the experiences of a West Country farmers daughter during the epidemic, will air on Fri Sep 7 at 5pm on BBC1.

Out of the Ashes tells the story of 14-year-old Becky Morley. For her, the waiting as the disease gets nearer is the most agonising experience of her life; her experiences will remain with her for the rest of her life.

"This was a book I had to write," says the award-winning author, who lives in one of the worst-hit counties, Devon, and runs the Farms For City Children charity.

Michael says he wanted to explore a childs eye view of the world during the epidemic. "In what," he says, "was as close to a war situation as weve had in 50 years."

As Becky says at one point: "I watched my ewes and their lambs like a shepherd trying to keep a wolf away from my flock. Except that this wolf is silent and invisible and I cant frighten him off."

Though fictional, the tale is based on true events. "This story is not a story at all," says Michael. "It all happened. Its not a book of invention."

The result is a moving account with which anyone who lived – or is still living – the foot-and-mouth nightmare will empathise. "I didnt want to gild the lily; I didnt want to sweeten the pill," says Michael. "I wrote it as I saw it, as it happened."

Though harrowing at times, the story has a more optimistic ending. By the time Michael was nearing finishing proof-reading it (he wrote it in an intensive 10-day burst), there were signs of the crisis retreating. "There was light at the end of the tunnel."

As he says now and as the title suggests: "We are coming out of the ashes."

*Out of the Ashes, published by Macmillan. £7.99. The NFUs Supporting Farmers in Crisis fund will receive 50p from the sale of each book.