Philip Pullman – Meet the Author – ‘Big questions are important’ – 5thJuly 2012, Geoffrey Manton
Words by Laura Griffiths and photographs by Kevin Danson
Philip Pullman, one of this generation’s most treasured authors, visits Manchester Children’s Book Festival where he talks about his inspiration, beliefs and most importantly, the importance of storytelling.
The room fills quickly and it’s a real testament to Pullman’s work to see just how diverse his fan base has become. Children, teens and adults alike, eagerly await amongst the rows decorated with copies of his best-loved works, ready to unleash their questions. The writer, who says he; ‘would like an audience as big as possible’, has certainly got his wish this evening.
There’s a very honest presence about the author, whose most notable work is the ever-successful children’s fantasy piece Northern Lights. He sits casually in front of the lecture theatre crowd in a modest Q&A manner with fellow children’s author, Sherry Ashworth, who directs the evening.
It becomes clear from the first few questions about children’s literature as a genre, just how strongly Pullman feels about speaking to his younger audience. This is evident in his answers. He is not afraid to be honest in front of the young crowd and voices his beliefs on religion, a widely discussed aspect of his work, with great candidacy, dismissing the stereotype that children’s authors are selective about what they choose to speak about.
There is a unanimous gasp of excitement when Sherry moves on to the topic of the book everybody wants to hear about, Northern Lights. The fantasy novel, which focuses on the journey of two children, Lyra and Will, won Pullman much critical acclaim upon publication—and it is not difficult to see why the audience shares such admiration for the book. When asked about Lyra, Pullman assures us that the character is not an unusual girl. He feels there are ‘Lyra’s everywhere in our world’, but the one thing that does make her stand out, is her ability to love, a universal trait that speaks to the entire audience.
Countless hands shoot up, as it is the audience’s turn to ask the questions. The listeners are keen to learn of Pullman’s writing processes, his answers to the ‘big questions’ and of course, when is the next book to the series coming out? The room lights-up when the prospect of a His Dark Materials sequel is raised. He assures us that he never follows the fashions of fiction and simply writes what he wants to write. He says, ‘I am the boss. I kill people, I bring them back to life, I do exactly what I want and I like it’.
An exciting announcement about the possibility of one of his old comic strips hitting the big screen sends the crowd buzzing. Pullman is keen to use ‘as few pixels as possible’, to avoid the feeling surrounding his last cinematic translation, which he does not shy away from sharing his disappointment in. James Bond portraying one of your characters has got to be a good thing though!
For Pullman, writing and reading go hand in hand. He prefers to write his novels quietly in his garden shed and doesn’t stop until he believes they are good enough, reminding us that what he chooses to pen down is ‘none of the reader’s business’, during the writing stages. Reading is a personal experience, it is about the reader’s imagination and he praises this idea that language can be interchangeable. Pullman, whose interest in reading came from reading Noddy books and The Moomins, sees words and illustrations of equal importance and says his beloved comic books are to thank for his appreciation of the two.
The legacy that Pullman has created through his writing shows the sheer power of literature to transcend boundaries and speak to everyone. There’s a message to be heard tonight about reading and writing: There is no right and wrong when reading. How you read a book is how it was intended to be read, there is no fixed agenda, just good tales of a world where truth can exist and ‘everyone is welcome’.
Laura Griffiths is a recent MMU English graduate with several writing outlets, working towards a career in music journalism. Check out her blog here, and follow her on twitter @leanaura