Interview, research, review, write, publish
Philip Pullman is one of the country’s most successful and well-known authors. He is the author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, the Adventures of John Blake comic strip and his latest novel The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.
How old were you when you started your career?
It depends what you mean by career. I told my first story at the age of about 8, but my first book was published when I was 24. It wasn’t a very good book, and it took me several more years before I wrote what I thought was a good one, and that wasn’t published till I was 38. So you have a choice! I suppose really you begin your career afresh every day when you sit down to write.
When you were young what did you want to be?
Well, I wanted to write books, but I also wanted to be a river policeman. We lived near the River Thames, and I envied the river police their fast little boats and what seemed to be the exciting life of racing up and down the river catching smugglers and thieves. So I wouldn’t have minded a few years of doing that. I never did, of course.
What inspired you to be what you are today?
I don’t actually think in terms of being so much as doing. I’d much rather say I write than I’m a writer. What inspired me was simply the pleasure I had in reading books. I wanted to be involved in the making of books, the writing of them, the telling of stories. It was just fun that was always my inspiration.
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
I’ve had several moments when I felt proud. My first fan letter; the first letter from a publisher saying “We like your book and we’d like to publish it;” winning prizes, of which the Carnegie Medal was probably the one I was most proud of – or was it the Whitbread Book of the Year, the first time a children’s book had ever won that? But the best moments are always when I’m sitting at my desk, struggling with a problem in the story I’m writing, and the answer comes clear and obvious at last. I’m proud of what I’m doing then.
In your opinion, who is the most inspiring person that you have met?
I admire musicians very much, and the ones I admire most and find most inspiring, and have met, are perhaps not very well known to many young readers. The pianist Julius Drake, the singer Ian Bostridge, the conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the violinist Priya Mitchell … Musicians have to practise so hard and so continually, and what they do brings us such joy and pleasure. I can’t think of anyone more inspiring than them.
Who did you see as a role model when you were young?
I didn’t think in terms of role models. I knew what I wanted to do , and I thought about that rather than about imitating someone else.
What has been the scariest moment in your career?
That’s a difficult question. I don’t think I’ve ever felt scared about writing. Nervous sometimes, perhaps, but not for long. Generally I’ve always felt fairly confident.
If you weren’t what you are today what would you be?
As I said above, I don’t think about being but about doing. So if I didn’t do what I do today, in other words write stories, I think I’d do something with my hands – work with wood, perhaps. I love wood and I love tools. Perhaps I’d make furniture.
What do you do in your spare time?
Make furniture! Or other things out of wood. The last thing I made was a large rocking horse. In fact I’m a member of the Guild of Rocking Horse Makers.
Have you got any unusual talents?
I don’t think so. I play the ukulele, but a lot of people do that nowadays.
Have you ever had any pets?
Yes, we’ve had three dogs, the last of whom died last year. He was a pug called Hoagy. We also had several cats some years ago. My favourite was called Minou, but the one that lived longest was called Mouldy.
What is your favourite music?
Piano sonatas by the Russian composer Nikolai Medtner. Actually I like pretty well all kinds of music.
What has been your most embarrassing moment?
I’ve forgotten. I thrust it at once into the dark cellar of my unconscious mind, and there it has festered ever since.
What do you think will be the best thing about 2012?
Well, the best thing would be some sunshine, if we ever get any.