The Inventory: Philip Pullman – Interview by Hester Lacey

FT Magazine, 16th March 2012

Philip Pullman, 65, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, has won both the Carnegie medal and the Carnegie of Carnegies. He was the first children’s writer to win the Whitbread (now Costa) Book of the Year Award. He was appointed CBE in 2004.

What was your earliest ambition?

As soon as I realised books had authors I wanted to write stories.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

Ysgol Ardudwy, Gwynedd, a local secondary school. Before that, a mix of all sorts in Australia, Southern Rhodesia, Norfolk, London. We travelled by sea in those days; you saw how big the world was. Then Exeter College, Oxford. I got a third. It was the year they stopped giving fourths or I’d have got one of those. I bummed around for a year, then went into teaching.

Who is your mentor?

I don’t think I’ve had a mentor. I had a very good English teacher at school, Miss Enid Jones.

How physically fit are you?

Not at all. But I’ve always been healthy – there’s a difference.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

I answered this in The Firework-Maker’s Daughter. The girl discovers that, to be a firework-maker, she needs three things: persistence, talent and luck.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

I passed the 11 plus.

How politically committed are you?

I’ve always been of the left; I’m on the side of the poor getting a bigger share. I’ve always voted against the blighter I want to get rid of.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

Yes. I simply cannot understand people who say global warming has nothing to do with human activity. They are fantasists.

Do you have more than one home?

I have one home and also a flat in London the whole family uses.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

A very good dovetail saw. I do a lot of woodwork.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Musical instruments. I love music and both my sons are musicians. I enjoy buying instruments and learning the rudiments.

In what place are you happiest?

In my study.

What ambitions do you still have?

I always want to write a better book than last time. I’ve given up the idea of playing Prokofiev’s second piano concerto at the Proms and the ambition of playing football for England.

What drives you on?

The ambition to say certain things clearly, to tell stories in a way that makes them seem as if they’ve never been told before.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

Keeping my family alive and together while doing the job I love.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

Every book that I’ve written has been a disappointment compared with what I thought it would be.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?

“That’s not too bad.”

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

Exactly the same as I do now: come up to my study and write three pages every day.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

I think I do. It would be ghastly to be in a state of incessant pain, longing for oblivion but being kept alive.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

No.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

Like most people, seven or eight.

If you had a coat of arms, what would be on it?

A bird of the raven family with a diamond in her beak. This is the storyteller: storytellers always steal their stories, every story has been told before.

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