Photo: © George Reszeter and the Oxford Times
About the Author
“Stories are the most important thing in the world. Without stories, we wouldn’t be human beings at all.”—Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman is the acclaimed author of the His Dark Materials trilogy: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. His other books for children and young adults include Count Karlstein and a trilogy of Victorian thrillers featuring Sally Lockhart. The Golden Compass, the first of Pullman’s His Dark Materials triology, won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Fiction Prize.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I started telling stories as soon as I knew what stories were. I was fascinated by them: that something could happen and be connected to another thing, and that someone could put the two things together and show how the first thing caused the second thing, which then caused a third thing. I loved it. I love it still.
I grew up at a time when TV wasn’t as important as it is now. In fact, part of my childhood was spent in Australia at a time when that country didn’t even have TV so a lot of my early experiences with stories came from the radio, which is a wonderful medium. I remember listening to gangster serials, and cowboy serials, and best of all: “Faster than a speeding bullet—more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s SUPERMAN!”
Superman on the radio was exciting enough, but when I first saw a Superman comic, it changed my life. Soon afterward I discovered Batman, too, whom I loved even more. I had to argue with my parents about them, though, because they weren’t “proper” reading. I suppose what persuaded them to let me carry on reading comics was the fact that I was also reading books just as greedily, and that I was good at spelling; so obviously the comics weren’t harming me too much.
My favorite stories for a long time were ghost stories. I used to enjoy frightening myself and my friends with the tales I read, and making up stories about a tree in the woods we used to call the Hanging Tree, creeping past it in the dark and shivering as we looked at the bare, sinister outline against the sky. I still enjoy ghost stories, even though I don’t think I believe in ghosts anymore.
I was sure that I was going to write stories myself when I grew up. It’s important to put it like that: not “I am a writer,” but rather “I write stories.” If you put the emphasis on yourself rather than your work, you’re in danger of thinking that you’re the most important thing. But you’re not. The story is what matters, and you’re only the servant, and your job is to get it out on time and in good order.
The most valuable thing I’ve learned about writing is to keep going, even when it’s not coming easily. You sometimes hear people talk about something called “writer’s block.” Did you ever hear a plumber talk about plumber’s block? Do doctors get doctor’s block? Of course they don’t. They work even when they don’t want to. There are times when writing is very hard, too, when you can’t think what to put next, and when staring at the empty page is miserable toil. Tough. Your job is to sit there and make things up, so do it.
As well as keeping going, there are many other things I’ve learned about this craft, and some of them came to me when I was teaching. What I enjoyed most in that difficult and valuable profession was telling stories, telling folk tales and ghost stories and Greek myths, over and over, until I knew them as well as I knew my own life.
And in doing so, I learned some of the laws of a story. Not rules – rules can be changed. “Smoking Permitted Here” can become “No Smoking” overnight, if people decide smoking is a bad thing. But laws such as the law of gravity can’t be changed: Gravity is there whether we approve of it or not. And so are the laws of a story. A story that is unresolved will not satisfy—that’s a law. If a scene does not advance the story, it will get in the way—that’s another law. You must know exactly where your story begins—that’s a third. And so on.
One strange thing about stories is that you sometimes know how long they’re going to be, even before you’ve begun thinking about them. With His Dark Materials, the trilogy of which the first part is The Golden Compass, I knew from the very start—even before I had a main character in mind, and long before I knew what might happen to her—that this story would be 1,200 pages long. That was the size of it. I knew, too, that I was going to enter a world I hadn’t known before: a world of fantasy. Previously, all of my books had been realistic. When I began writing it, I discovered a kind of freedom and excitement I’d never quite felt before. And that is one of the joys of writing: You constantly encounter new experiences.
I live in Oxford now, and I do my writing in a shed at the bottom of the garden. If the young boy I used to be could have looked ahead in time and seen the man I am today, writing stories in his shed, would he have been pleased? I wonder. Would that child who loved Batman comics and ghost stories approve of the novels I earn my living with now? I hope so. I hope he’s still with me. I’m writing them for him.
THE GOLDEN COMPASS
—Winner of the Carnegie Medal
—An American Booksellers Book of the Year (ABBY) Award Winner
“As always, Pullman is a master at combining impeccable characterizations and seamless plotting, maintaining a crackling pace to create scene upon scene of almost unbearable tension. This glittering gem will leave readers of all ages eagerly awaiting the next installment of Lyra’s adventures.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly
THE SUBTLE KNIFE
—An ALA Best Books for Young Adults
“More than fulfilling the promise of The Golden Compass, this second volume starts off at a heart-thumping pace and never slows down. . . . The grandly exuberant storytelling is sure to enthrall.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly
“The intricacy of the plot is staggering. . . . There is no doubt that the work is stunningly ambitious, original, and fascinating.”—Starred, The Horn Book Magazine
“The character development as well as the relentless pace . . . make this a resoundingly successful sequel. . . . It will leave readers desperate for the next installment.”—Starred, Booklist
THE AMBER SPYGLASS
—A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
“Pullman has created the last great fantasy masterpiece of the twentieth century.”—The Cincinnati Enquirer
“Absorbing. . . . Like Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling, [Pullman] invents a world filled with strange divinations and wordplays.”—Newsweek
“A literary masterpiece . . . [that] caps the most magnificent fantasy series since The Lord of the Rings and puts Harry Potter to shame. . . . A page-turning story that builds to a powerful finish.”—Oregonian
“Impossible to put down, so firmly and relentlessly does Pullman draw you into his tale. . . . [A] gripping saga pitting the magnetic young Lyra Belacqua and her friend Will Parry against the forces of both Heaven and Hell.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
I WAS A RAT!
“Phillip Pullman’s tale is fast and clever.”—The New York Times Book Review
“In this deliciously gothic thriller there are enough demon huntsmen, evil guardians, and brooding castles to please even the most desensitized reader.”—Starred, School Library Journal
“A welcome diversion . . . [that is] dashing, sparkling, and wildly over the top.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly