Scholastic, 1995; in USA as The Golden Compass, Knopf, 1996)
I thought it would be hard to find an audience for this story, and I’ve been astonished and delighted by the reception it’s had all over the world. I don’t want to say very much about it here, because I’d like it to speak for itself; but I can say something about the illustrations.
When the publisher, David Fickling, first suggested that Northern Lights might have little symbolic illustrations at the beginning of each chapter, I said at once ‘Can I do them?’
Northern Lights He said ‘But you’re not an illustrator.’
I said ‘Well, I could be.’
So he suggested that I do a couple of pictures to see whether they were any good or not, and I went to the local park and drew some pine twigs (which later became the picture for Chapter 17, The Witches), and I drew a polar bear’s head looking straight out (Chapter 10, The Consul and the Bear), and they seemed to be all right. So David gave me my first job as a professional illustrator.
The Subtle KnifeI did each picture in ink and black watercolour on white Bristol board. I drew them six centimetres square for reproduction at a much smaller size, and I had to learn how not to put too much detail in, because it would vanish at that size and on the fairly coarse paper the books are printed on. The simpler, stronger images work best. They all have a square frame except the last, which shows Lyra’s face looking out and up at the new world beyond the aurora; at that point in the story, all the limits vanish, so it was right to show Lyra with no frame around her. All the barriers are down.