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Interview with Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman is a brilliant story-teller. Sometimes you are swept away in a high-spirited, action packed tale; sometimes the richness and breadth of imagination and mystery makes the reading compulsive. Either way, it's real 'torch under the bedclothes' stuff as Richard Howes and Holly Williams found out.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Did you decide to write for children or did it just work out that way?

Have I always wanted to be a writer? Well, I always wanted to tell stories, if that’s the same thing. I always did, too. Did I decide to write for children? I don’t think I write for anyone, actually. I just tell the story the way it wants to be told. If children read it, fine. If adults read it, fine. If horses want to read it, that’s OK, too.

Your books span a wide variety of genres from fantasy to mysteries to teen issues. Which do you most enjoy writing? Are your interests as a writer changing?

Yes, I write a lot of different kinds of stories - but then I read a lot of different kinds of things, too. If an idea is intriguing, I’ll follow it until I find a story, and it might lead me anywhere.

You have written books for teenagers and for younger children. Which do you prefer writing for? Which do you find easiest to write? Do you think adults can enjoy all your books, too?

This is partly answered in my first answer. The problem with saying that any book is for this or that group is that when you say that, you also seem to be saying that it’s not for any other. And I want my audience to be as large and inclusive as possible.

We have read that you teach about stories. In ‘Clockwork’ you write about how to make stories exciting. Do you always try to teach your readers something when you are writing a story?

Not deliberately, but you can’t help teaching, even if you don’t intend to. For example, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ teaches an obvious moral - but it also teaches about suspense, and how enjoyable it is. Listeners or readers learn from that sort of experience what sort of experiences they enjoy.

Sometimes you play around with the look of your books or mix cartoons in with ordinary narrative. Was this based on other things you had read? - if so what?

I play around for the same reason that everyone else does—it’s fun!

Do you think that a super power trick, like a magic wand or your subtle knife, is really fair? Isn’t it a bit of a cheat?

A magic wand (or a subtle knife) is only a cheat if it’s used without any cost. But Will pays an obvious price: he loses his fingers. There are other costs too, which he’ll find out in the final part of the story. I agree with you that just to give a character some magic device or special power for no particular reason (except to make it easier for the writer!) is cheating, and in fact it never really helps the story. Superman’s special powers would make any story as dull as ditchwater—except for Kryptonite.

Where did you get the idea for the daemons in the ‘His Dark Materials’ books? Was that idea the starting point for the whole trilogy or did it come later?

I don’t know where the daemons came from. They just turned up not long after I tried to begin the story (I couldn’t begin it properly till I had them, of course, but I didn’t know that till I did).

What writers have or still do influence you?

I read so much that it’s hard even to begin listing the influences. A great deal of poetry—that’s important. I mean classic English poetry, the stuff that rhymes and scans. The King James Bible, The Book of Common Prayer (1662 version), Hymns Ancient and Modern, John Milton, William Blake.

Thank you, Philip Pullman!

Read more interviews of leading authors by children.

YoungWriter was a magazine published from 1995 to 2003 by Kate Jones.
We here at Myst Ltd had the pleasure of producing the magazine for Kate.
Sadly, Kate passed away in 2010.