8 things you might not have known about Philip Pullman

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 - 18:33

The author Philip Pullman has penned several best-selling books loved by children and adults alike. Coinciding with the release of part one his much anticipated trilogy The Book of Dust, the author will appear at Southbank Centre on Friday 20 October, as part of London Literature Festival.

In anticipation of these two seismic events we felt it pertinent to give further context for those perhaps not familiar with the author. Here are eight things you might not have known about Philip Pullman

He was a teacher before becoming a writer

After reading English at Oxford’s Exeter College the 25-year-old Pullman moved into teaching. He initially taught at a number of Oxford's various Middle Schools before going on to teach at Westminster College. Pullman retains a keen interest on the evolution of education, though accepts his own ideas on its direction may not be inline with those prevalent across the profession.

I have maintained a passionate interest in education, which leads me occasionally to make foolish and ill-considered remarks alleging that not everything is well in our schools. However, my views on education are eccentric and unimportant.
Philip Pullman

He sees himself more as a storyteller than a writer

There are authors who would perhaps baulk at the suggestion of difference between the two, but not Pullman. In this 2013 interview with Matthew Stadlen for BBC News, Pullman identified him very much of the former, qualifying his answer by stating ‘plot is a very important thing for me.’

Five Minutes With: Philip Pullman

Though he wouldn’t consider himself a children’s storyteller

Pullman may often be categorised as a writer of children’s fiction, but his appeal is much broader than that, and the author himself appreciates the way in which having an adult audience helps to avoid belittling younger readers.

If you asked what sort of audience I would like, I would say a mixed one, please. Children keep your attention on the story because you want to tell it so clearly that nobody wishes to stop listening. And the adults remind you not to patronise or underestimate the intelligence of the children.
Philip Pullman, speaking to Slate, November 2015

He has named a character in tribute to a victim of the Grenfell Tower fire

In response to the recent tragedy in West London, Pullman joined fellow writers and literary agents in staging an Authors for Grenfell Tower auction, to raise money for those affected by the fire. As part of the auction Pullman offered to name a character in the second instalment of The Book of Dust. This offer, went onto raise £32,400 of the event’s £150,000 total, after teacher James Clements suggested it be named after his pupil Nur Huda el-Wahabi who had sadly died in the fire. Hundreds of public bidders joined the collective effort to secure the character in Nur Huda’s honour, much to Pullman’s appreciation. ‘Having been a teacher myself, I know how I’d have felt if a pupil of mine had been in some similar disaster.

He is a big fan of comics

Indeed it could be argued that Pullman’s love of storytelling comes from the comics he read as a boy. Having moved to Australia in 1954 the young Pullman became fascinated with the American comics he hadn't been able to find and read in Britain. He duly lost himself in their energy and the swiftness and ease of which the story could be followed. Today Pullman remains a champion of comic books and maintains that our inherent contempt for the visual deserves overturning.

Comics are a wonderful form. You can do so much with it… children take to comics naturally and are able to talk about them with great freedom and knowledge.
Philip Pulman, speaking in The Guardian, May 2016

His former writing space is up for Shed of the Year

No, seriously. The converted shed in which Pullman wrote much of the trilogy His Dark Materials, is currently in the running, in the workshop and studio category, for the 2017 accolade. It’s a beautiful and significant space, but will it be deemed greater than a Scottish railway enthusiast’s model station? Time will tell.

His daemon would be a magpie

Daemons - if you are yet to read His Dark Materials - are fictional manifestations of a character’s inner-self, that take on animal form. And though he is quick, in this 2007 interview, to remind us that you don’t get to choose your own daemon, Pullman feels his would encapsulate the storyteller’s urge to collect and work with things that grab their attention.

He considers The Book of Dust to be not a prequel, or sequel, but an ‘equel’

Though The Book of Dust is most certainly tied to His Dark Materials through characters, and of course Lyra, Pullman has resisted the pressure to make it either a prequel, or a sequel, choosing instead to set this much anticipated trilogy in a time and space very much of it’s own.


Philip Pullman appears at Southbank Centre as part of London Literature Festival on Friday 20 October. Tickets are now on general sale.

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