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Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: PHILIP PULLMAN WRITER, WINNER OF THE WHITBREAD LITERARY AWARD, 2002 JANUARY 27TH, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Now suddenly children's literature is all the rage, in the weeks before Christmas Harry Potter broke box office records all over Britain and J K Rowling dominated the best seller's list. Lord of the Rings is currently packing them in and last week Philip Pullman author of a trilogy of children's books was awarded one of the world's top literary prizes the Whitbread Book of the Year, the first time that a book aimed at children has carried off this particular award, The Amber Spy Glass, part three of the trilogy. Congratulations.

PHILIP PULLMAN: Thank you very much.

DAVID FROST: You have already had an effect on British life, you've elevated the shed, the garden shed to a new place in literature?

PHILIP PULLMAN: Well I'm not the first writer to work in a shed of course, I believe Roald Dahl worked in a shed, it's a good place to work, it's away from the house, it's quiet, it's cool in the summer and warm in winter and its, it works, I've done it for 15 years and I know it works.

DAVID FROST: But you don't tidy up at all when you're in the middle of a book?

PHILIP PULLMAN: No well I have my little superstitions and that's one of them, let the cobwebs grow while I'm writing the book and I tidy it up afterwards.

DAVID FROST: And you do three pages a day, no more, no less?

PHILIP PULLMAN: That's right, when you're on a long thing like this trilogy which is about 1300 pages long it's a marathon, it's not a sprint so you have to pace yourself and I found a long time ago that three pages a day, three hand-written pages, about a thousand words is the, is the rate at which I can produce the stuff comfortably.

DAVID FROST: And I was fascinated, you always start page four before you

PHILIP PULLMAN: Well I finish the sentence at the bottom of page three and if page three ends with a sentence I write the first one on top of page four┐

DAVID FROST: Because of the old writers, writer's fear of a blank page?

PHILIP PULLMAN: Well you know one of the most interesting comments about that was made by Vincent van Gogh in one of his wonderful letters, he said why should a painter be afraid of a blank canvas, a blank canvas is afraid of the painter, if you take that attitude you've beaten it already.

DAVID FROST: That's tremendous. And then when you get through those thousand you relax by watching Neighbours is that right?

PHILIP PULLMAN: Well sometimes I break off in the middle to watch Neighbours because I haven't finished my thousand words but I, I do enjoy Neighbours, yes.

DAVID FROST: And you, today you say or you're quoted as saying in the Sunday Telegraph, I am a of the devil's party, his children's trilogy has been described as a celebration of atheism but Philip Pullman the winner of this year's Whitbread prize is unconcerned, if there is a God, he says, then he deserves to be put down and rebelled against?

PHILIP PULLMAN: Yes I said that.

DAVID FROST: And that makes you an atheist as some people say worryingly, Catholic Herald, or just an agnostic?

PHILIP PULLMAN: The question of what term to use is a difficult one, in strict terms I suppose I'm an agnostic because of course the circle of the things I do now is vastly smaller than the things I don't know about out there in the darkness somewhere maybe there is a God. But among all the things I do know in this world I see no evidence of a God whatsoever and everybody who claims to know there is a God seems to use that as an excuse for exercising power over other people and historically as we know from looking at the history in Europe alone that's involved persecution, massacre, slaughter on an industrial scale, it's a shocking prospect.

DAVID FROST: And when you actually are writing do you actually have a, a reader in mind, people say are you writing for children, but I, I don't think you feel that, do you?

PHILIP PULLMAN: I certainly feel that my audience includes children and they're a very important part of the audience. But I like to feel that there are adults and old people and young people all, you know able to read the book and enjoy the story. That's what makes interesting story-telling if you have to keep all these, sort of, different parts of audience entertained. It's more interesting for me as a writer to try and do that.

DAVID FROST: And so you intend the audience should be completely across the board?

PHILIP PULLMAN: Completely, but I think if anything comes out of this award, I'd like it to be a new consideration or a wider consideration of children as readers, two things for example I'd like to see happening. One is that if somebody's reviewing, if a critic's reviewing an adult book, a good popular biography or work of science I'd like them to be able to say this is so interesting and so well written that children would enjoy this book as well. The other thing I'd like to see is an end to this sort of glib, it's not good enough for grown-ups but it's okay for children, sort of talk, as we saw recently of a review of a book in the Times Literary Supplement by an eminent poet and critic, I won't name the book, but he said, it's full of cliches, it's derivative, it's this, it's that, but it might make its mark on the children's books, that sort of glib dismissal of children's books.

DAVID FROST: And the other thing you, you've taught, you've taught children in your, in your life and so on

PHILIP PULLMAN: Yes

DAVID FROST: Do you actually think it's a pretty urgent situation on reading and children at the moment, so many opposites, opposite things that they can go for from whether it's Nintendo or computers or DVDs or any other device, I mean it's, it's much tougher to get the reading habit into children these days isn't it?

PHILIP PULLMAN: Not if you tell them a story as J K Rowling is proof, if you start telling a good story that you know well and you're good at telling it anybody will be in involved. Look at the length of the books, the Harry Potter stories so far, it's immense, children are following every word of it with great avidity because it's a story, anybody will follow a story.

DAVID FROST: Did you always want to be a story teller?

PHILIP PULLMAN: Yes, yes I think I always was.

DAVID FROST: Well thank you very much for being with us and congratulations on the award.

PHILIP PULLMAN: Thank you very much.

DAVID FROST: We look forward to a, in fact a fourth volume coming up, yes?

PHILIP PULLMAN: It won't be a continuation of this story, it'll be perhaps more stories from the same world, but I've got another book to do first.

DAVID FROST: Oh right and you've got, there are going to be movies of this?

PHILIP PULLMAN: Well from, there's a film being talked about but of course it takes a very long time and someone else to do a lot for me.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much Philip.

PHILIP PULLMAN: Thank you.

DAVID FROST: Congratulations.

END


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