Friday, December 7, 2007


Philip Pullman is now probably the most well known children's author after J.K. Rowling, this Christmas one of the big BBC highlights is an adaptation of his Sally Lockhart novel Shadow in the North BBC One - Sunday 30 December at 8.55pm) and the big movie at the cinemas this festive period is The Golden Compass which is based on the first novel in his legendary His Dark Materials trilogy. Here we take a look at his life and career.

Philip Pullman was born in Norwich on 19 October 1946. The early part of his life was spent traveling all over the world, because his father and stepfather were both in the Royal Air Force. He spent part of his childhood in Australia, where he fell in love with the art of comedy and superheroes including Superman and Batman.

Having moved back to Britain at the age of 11, he grew up in North Wales. It was a time when children were allowed to roam anywhere, to play in the streets and he took full advantage of it. His English teacher, Miss Enid Jones, was a big influence on him, and he still sends her copies of his books.

After he left school he went to Exeter College, Oxford, to read English. He did a number of odd jobs for a while, and then moved back to Oxford to become a teacher. He taught at various middle schools for 12 years, and then moved to Westminster College, Oxford, to be a part-time lecturer. He taught courses on the Victorian novel and on the folk tale, and also a course examining how words and pictures fit together. He eventually left teaching in order to write full-time.

His first published novel was for adults, but he began writing for children when he was a teacher. Some of his novels were based on plays he wrote for his school pupils, such as The Ruby In The Smoke and The Shadow In The North.

Philip lives with his wife Jude in Oxford, and used to write in a shed at the bottom of his garden inhabited by a six foot long stuffed rat from his play Sherlock Holmes And The Lighthouse Horror. But when he moved he gave the shed to fellow writer Ted Dewan and now spends his time surrounded by hundreds of books in a special writing room.

Post-It notes and Blu-Tack play a big part in Philip Pullman's writing process. He sticks pictures, notes, posters, reminders, postcards, book jackets and basically anything that will stick to the wall. He uses Post-It notes when planning the shape of a story: he writes a brief sentence summarising a scene on one of them, and then puts them on a very big piece of paper which he can fill with up to 60 or more different scenes, moving them around to get the best order.

"The Sally Lockhart quartet is a series of old fashioned historical thrillers which I wrote with a genuine cliché of melodrama right at the heart of it, on purpose: the priceless jewel with a curse on it; the madman with a weapon that could destroy the world; the situation of being trapped in a cellar with the water-rising; the little illiterate servant girl from the slums of London who becomes a princess ... and I set the stories up so that each of those stock situations when they arose would do so naturally and with the most convincing realism I could manage."

Pullman's most popular work is the trilogy His Dark Materials beginning with Northern Lights (The Golden Compass) which has just been adapted and released as a feature film starring, Dakota Blue Richards, Daniel Craig, Ian McKellan and Nicole Kidman, continuing with The Subtle Knife and concluding with The Amber Spyglass. He has been awarded with the Carnegie Medal, the Guardian Children's Book Award and the Whitbread Book of the Year Award (The Amber Spyglass).