Category Archives: Philip Pullman

Sweet sixteen

A year ago Bookwitch ruminated on what sells and what she reads and why.

Today I’m – because we are the same, Bookwitch and I – thinking about the effect Bookwitching has had not just on me but on the young and innocent, like Daughter. We have both put sixteen behind us – but only just. Obviously. Today it’s Bookwitch’s turn to hum ‘She was only sixteen…’

As you may have gathered, Daughter has recently moved and has some vintage shelves to arrange with books. And, it seems, a polar bear. Also two bookmarks, one of which I was intrigued to find personally dedicated and signed by Michelle Magorian.

This is the effect I mean. Somehow a lot of young literature has happened to Offspring. The vintage shelves I mentioned seem to contain mostly books by people I ‘know’ and who Daughter has met through being dragged on bring-your-child-to-work days.

There are an inordinate number of Cathy Hopkins books, and that’s as it should be. Likewise Caroline Lawrence and Liz Kessler and Jacqueline Wilson. Although the latter has had to be pruned down to more manageable numbers of books.

I won’t list them all, but basically, the story of Bookwitch can be seen on these shelves. There won’t be so many new ones, as the e-reader has taken over. This is just as well, because however lovely the vintageness from the local auction-hunter, a flat has only so much space.

Apologies for the tile samples. There is a kitchen splashback to deal with. And I would like it to be known that that book by Vaseem Khan has been ‘borrowed’ from a kind parent.


The Imagination Chamber

We were getting some dips and stuff in Sainsburys some time ago, Daughter and I. I rarely go, but we were alone for the evening and wanted something nice. We exited through the aisle where you can now buy books. Which is nice. Overheard a man with small daughter ask her if she wanted a nice book. That too is very nice. That he’d ask and that she’d get something along with the potatoes and fish fingers. I just prayed silently ‘not one by DW, please!’.

Have no idea what she got. But we got ourselves a Philip Pullman. That was nice, but somehow a little unexpected, along with the dips and stuff.

It was The Imagination Chamber, about which we knew nothing. I took it to be the short book they publish while impatiently waiting for the last Book of Dust. Just to let us have some crumbs. (Seems it might not have been, as I have since found out about another short Pullman to come soon.)

I could tell it was going to be possible to read it in about fifteen minutes. To tell the truth, I wasn’t hopeful. But, you know, it was rather lovely. I found myself in the His Dark Materials world again, reading – very short – snippets about many of the characters we already know. I don’t think they were borrowed from the books. And they probably weren’t ‘deleted scenes’. Too good for that.

So yes, I enjoyed The Imagination Chamber. It was like poetry with friends. And the physical book is beautiful, especially in these days of carelessly churned out book covers. Thick paper and red edges. It’s a volume you want to hug and stroke a bit.

So what were they doing sticking an almighty price sticker on the back, which is ugly, it is not even straight, and I daren’t try to remove it because the first tentative pull didn’t yield in a promising manner.

But yes, all the rest is lovely.

Last night’s dream

People’s dreams are rarely worth hearing about, second hand and jumbled as they often are. So last night I immediately came to the conclusion that you wouldn’t hear mine. Yet, here we are.

In fact, I don’t know where I was, except it was bookish, and I’d temporarily left one room to go somewhere else, when I spied Philip Pullman sitting where he had been sitting last time I saw him as well. Decided to go in and speak to him. Then decided not to, because what could I say, except maybe to hurry up with the last Book of Dust? Then decided I would walk up to him anyway and I was sure something would come to me during those ten seconds.

And when I got to his seat, he was no longer there.

(So far, so fascinating?)

Then I woke up ‘properly’ and started the day with some small screen time, aka looking at emails on my phone. There was one [forwarded] from the Society of Authors, telling me Philip had just resigned as its president.

So that’s clearly what the dream meant. He was there, and then he wasn’t. And it would have been rude for me to have chased him about Dust.

It was probably a wise decision to resign, all things considered. But wrong all the same. He shouldn’t have to. Philip wasn’t running the Society; he was ‘merely’ its figurehead. But it seems – like the Queen – that he’s not meant to have own opinions. Or at least, not to voice them.

I would like to think that his resignation will feel like freedom from being the face of writing and books. Even a presidential role must take its toll. He’s now looking forward to being allowed opinions again.

That set me thinking, because I was especially disturbed by the hounding of their president by a large group of society members, back when it all ‘went wrong’ last year. And although I ‘know’ quite a few of them, there is only one face I see when I think back to this ‘we’ll show him he’s wrong and force him out’ mentality. Sort of the ‘poster person’ for the attack on someone who believed he was entitled to say what he said (and entitled to be wrong, too).

The writers who fought to get rid of Philip, were obviously entitled to say what they thought (even if it was a bit too much playground baying for blood for my liking). But then, why wasn’t he? Those who went on the attack were doing it for the good reputation of their society. It seems that such behaviour could be excused on those grounds.

But I know that my ‘poster person’ has ruined my opinion of them for a very long time to come. And I’d have liked for the society to distance itself from this campaign, too, just as it was forced to step away from Philip after his tweets.

Laurie Frost

This is a post I didn’t want to be writing.

Laurie Frost died on Christmas Eve morning. For those of you who have been here for the last fourteen years, you will know that Laurie wrote a rather good, not to mention thorough, book on absolutely everything to do with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials in The Definitive Guide.

Her book started a cross-Atlantic friendship which unfortunately never led to an actual meeting between us. But I decided some time ago that this was fine, and that one can have good relationships online. And I did get to ‘bully’ Laurie into flying to New York from her then home in Alabama to meet Philip Pullman. She was hesitant, even though she had written this great book, and even though she and Philip had corresponded, but I said if she could carve out the time and had the funds, she must go.

I’m glad she did, and I believe she was too.

For us it began when she sent her book to [my then teenage] Son for a review, and I also read and reviewed it and then wrote to her, and just happened to suggest that Son and I could travel to Oxford to find her photos of the places where Lyra and Will spend time. Laurie then incorporated them into the reprint of her book.

We then moved on to more normal topics for discussion, such as our [similarly aged] children, and life, and stuff. A very busy and active woman, Laurie was the kind of friend who’d embroider a witch for Christmas. And who in turn ‘appreciated’ a flower made from an airline sickbag, or barfbag as she called it.

Today would have been Laurie’s birthday. She’d been ill for quite a few years, so I’m grateful that she lived rather longer than I suspect she thought she would, when she first told me of her illness.

The world needs enthusiasts like Laurie; someone who would dive deep into something that interested her. And she was someone who stood up for her family, defending them whenever necessary. I’m thinking of them today.

Getting it wrong

Far too many years ago, in my sailor days, I got muddled up between two of the chefs on board the ferry I worked on for the summer. I mentioned something to one of them, believing he was a peer, if somewhat older. Turned out he was my boss. (I had thought it was the other one, much older and kinder.)

Anyway, I was told off soundly by one of my [definite] peers, because I’d been telling tales. Except to my mind I hadn’t. I’d grumbled about the behaviour of another peer, the way you do ‘between friends.’ But instead of letting on that I’d had no idea who the boss was, because that would have made me look stupid, I simply let her tell me off without a word in my defence.

Setting my stupidity aside, you’d have thought the boss would have introduced himself as such when I started.

But, there it was.

I thought of this when I discovered the upset seemingly caused by Philip Pullman to a lot of people, in and out of the literary world. He appears to have been more mature than I was at 19, and has explained the mistake he made and he has apologised. But people like being upset these days, so his head, or at least his resignation from the Society of Authors, is something others feel justified in demanding.

Some of these I know, others I don’t. And I’m disappointed. Much more than I was with the chef and my peers at sea.

I don’t know whether Philip is considering leaving Twitter. I know I am. But he is meeting the accusations head on, gamely admitting to his shortcomings in general. Luckily he appears to be the only person in the world to have these. His accusers are perfect.

Earlier this evening we watched an episode of The Good Fight. Excellent stuff and well written. But what struck me when thinking about today’s episode was that unlike other such shows, where the characters can see off the bad things and look forward to better times, the plot is taking them, and us, into worse times. And I don’t know what we can do about it.

Because I don’t believe it’s Christine Baranski’s fault.

Travelling to Narnia

My first memory from meeting Katherine Langrish seventeen years ago, is that at the age of nine she wrote her own instalment of the Narnia books, because to her mind there weren’t enough of them. I was glad, because I used to feel like that about some of my childhood books, but I never got past page two. That was in 2004 and she was in our neck of the woods to talk about her first children’s book, Troll Fell, a Norwegian style fairytale. In fact, the days of Katherine are all Before Bookwitch, since the third book in the Troll trilogy was published on February 5th 2007, one day BB, making Katherine a very early author acquaintance of mine.

Anyway, back to Narnia. While I believe she might have shown us her childhood book then, I have now seen pages two and three up close, being used for the endpapers of her brand new book From Spare Oom to War Drobe, Travels in Narnia With My Nine Year-Old Self (isn’t that a glorious title?). This is a book I’ve been looking forward to so much, despite it being about books I have not read and firmly believe I wouldn’t like, just because, well because I am convinced this is a really great book (with a quote from Neil Gaiman on the front cover), and because we say that you should write about what you know best. And I believe Katherine has arrived in Narnia, where she belongs.

It’s a gorgeous-looking volume, and one I’m very tempted to read, if only to learn more about Narnia. Half the population can’t be wrong, and in her online launch this evening Katherine mentioned Philip Pullman and his dislike of the C S Lewis stories, not totally disagreeing with him. The way I understand it is that it’s a pretty academic look at Narnia and its creator. It’s got footnotes. And the support of many literary names.

One of them, Amanda Craig, talked to Katherine about her book, as one big fan to another. It was quite enlightening and I really enjoyed their chat. I like people who like things that much. It’s good to look at stuff in-depth and to have sensible comments to make. I understand Amanda encouraged Katherine to write this book, after having read her blog Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, which is mostly about fairytales, and which has left me in awe of all Katherine’s knowledge.

This could have been a great launch in real life, but as it was, online made for a different great event, with many of Katherine’s peers peering out from behind their respective Zoom cameras. And the sun shone on her, forcing her to keep shifting her position.

A piccalilli pair of days

Sometimes I just need to go back in time.

My 2015 piccalilli trip to London, as I think of it, was full of serendipities. It began when Liz Kessler wrote to ask if I could make it to her London book launch. And I felt I could; having determined that something special was all I required to invest in train tickets. I’d obviously need to stay two nights, before and after, to make sure I was there for the main event.

And then I started looking to see what else might be on.

The Society of Authors had an event on the evening I arrived in London. It was ‘only’ Philip Pullman and Penelope Lively chatting to Daniel Hahn at Waterstones Piccadilly, but I was happy enough with that. 😉

Son bought me a ticket for the event, which I wasn’t supposed to use. So I bought another. When Anne Rooney realised she wanted to go but was too late to buy a ticket, wasn’t it handy that I just happened to have a Society of Authors member ticket? Yes it was. And her predictive texting gave me the piccalilli.

It was Celia Rees who had told me about the event, so she was around too. And then there was the sighting of Judith Kerr one row in front of mine. That wasn’t a half bad evening.

For the next morning I’d agreed to have coffee with Marnie Riches, who just happened to be in town, before leaving again. From there I almost had to run to get to my next meeting, having booked an interview with Anthony McGowan, seeing as I had so much time on my hands! Somewhere there must have been a brief opportunity to eat my lunch sandwich. I’ve forgotten. Although I can tell you that the Hampstead pub we met in could use a longer setting for the light in the Ladies. Good thing I have arms to wave.

Tony was also going to Liz’s launch, which is where we went next. And basically everyone was at the launch.

For my second morning I had arranged to do brunch with Candy Gourlay before hopping on a northbound train.

It’s amazing how many authors can be fitted into slightly less than 48 hours. I keep living in hope, but there has yet to be a repeat of this.

And it’s not even my past

But anyway, it’s too late. The book has sold out, and I only got mine on Monday.

Throughout lockdown, Ian Archie Beck has entertained his followers on Twitter with art. And it’s not any old art. His paintings and drawings from – mostly – around where he lives; the local streets, the back of his house, his vase, possibly even his flowers. Absolutely gorgeous!

So I thought, this could be a series of postcards to buy, maybe. Or a book. I’ll look out for it.

So, just before Easter he admitted that yes, there would be a book soon. And he’d be selling it direct and I could order one. Thank god I had the good sense to order it there and then. Because it’s already too late, as I said.

I don’t know all that much about Ian. I’ve read one of his children’s books. We’ve gone to the same parties. And with this book he has proved that art is like writing books (only harder, I imagine); it gets a lot better when you deal with what you know best.

As lockdown began, Ian’s dog Grace apparently pulled him in the opposite direction from where their usual walks would go. Ian discovered new areas of his part of Isleworth. He went home and painted what he’d seen, and what he’d been inspired to notice.

And it’s this pictorial lockdown diary he has treated us to, first on Twitter, and then as a book. All right, and also as postcards. And you can buy the original art. Or you could. It sounds like it’s mostly gone already, like the book. Which is just as well, because I couldn’t afford those prices, and my available wall area is not all that available. And the painting I loved the most wasn’t even on the price list of the art for sale…

So that’s fine.

I will sit and dream over the paintings in the book, and maybe frame one or two of the postcards, because as Daughter wryly pointed out, I might have room for those.

The paintings. Well, streets and houses and still lifes, and it all brings me back to my childhood. Which is strange, because that’s not where my childhood happened. But it’s my archetypal English town, the kind I used to dream of when younger.

And I’m clearly not alone, since Philip Pullman expressed very similar feelings on Twitter. As did most everyone else. And I think we can only keep our fingers crossed that there might be a second edition of The Light in Suburbia, and more postcards, and maybe more paintings, and why not a second book?

You know, we can’t have enough of this kind of wonderfulness.


I might have said yesterday that I think Philip Pullman should spend his time writing the last instalment of the Book of Dust, and not fritter his time away on the short books set in the world of HDM.

Any book is obviously always welcome, and years ago I was quite excited by the other two short books, both the red one, and especially the blue one. And now here we are with a green one. Even shorter, particularly if you take into account the illustrations.

I liked it well enough. It provides a brief chapter on Lyra in her mid teens. Or so I believe. The age, I mean. She returns to Trollesund. She asks some questions, and gets a few answers. But that’s about it. The sneakiness of daemons is made more obvious; how both humans and their daemons have to contrive to do things without the other noticing.

It’s just I’m beginning to despair of book three. It’s not going to be next year, is it? I’m thinking 2022 at the very least. There had better not be a yellow shortie while we wait.

‘I’m discovering things about daemons all the time’

We could see the writing on the wall. Literally. Blackwell’s Thursday event with Philip Pullman took us to his study, where words appeared to be hovering above his head. It was a quote in Spanish, which he claimed to have mostly forgotten about. Something along the lines of you should find out about everything, and then keep the best.

Philip was speaking to Sian Cain, although at one point a bearded man also appeared, waving, as though this would make him go away. Zoom is nearly always interesting.

There was much talk about splitting from your daemon and how it feels. There was quite a bit of mention of the third Book of Dust, ‘which hasn’t happened yet’. Well, it should. Just saying, in case other fans haven’t already. Philip is not a short story person. So maybe stop writing these little extras? Write more on Dust?

He loves Mrs Coulter, who has no inhibitions. But it seems he loves Lee Scoresby the most. I like an author who can have favourites! And Lee was a wise choice. We love Lee.

Philip does not travel for research. It’s far too uncomfortable. The Bodleian does just fine. He points out he is old, and ill. (Which is when Daughter shouted ‘finish your book!’) He also claims to like the BBC version of His Dark Materials, which caused more shouting at our end. But he’d not wanted to write the script; there is too much time wasted on talking when you are involved with filming.

There were questions. The Lord of the Rings would ‘impress an Edwardian schoolboy’. And Narnia lacked Christian charity. He loves Michael Sheen as narrator of his books. (Well, who doesn’t?)

The good news is Philip wants to return to writing about Sally Lockhart. Although, that’s what he said in 2005 as well…

Now that we’ve seen his study, we know what it’s like, and we will urge Philip on to finish the writing. First Dust. Then maybe Sally.