Townie has unearthed (and kindly is typing up) several interesting articles from some of the Oxford Times' older issues. With more to follow, this is the first one, from PP's very early days as a writer shortly after he published his second novel, Galatea. Read it.
He can't stop telling stories
3 November 1978
By Sally Duncan
Author Philip Pullman, whose latest book, Galatea, is published this month, cannot remember a time when he did not tell stories.
Galatea, a weird mixture of romance and fantasy, is only the second of them to reach print. But his fund of tales is seemingly endless.
“I've got at least three lined up just waiting to be taken down at the moment,” says Mr Pullman, who lives at Cothill, near Abingdon.
“I know I'll never stop writing, I'll never stop telling stories. Stories will keep on appearing as always.”
And that, it seems, is the way it always has been.
“I used to tell stories to my little brother when we slept in the same room. I tell stories to myself all day long.”
Now he has a captive audience in his seven-year-old son, and the children he teaches at Bishop Kirk School, Summertown, where he is head of English.
“I like the process of telling stories, even if it's stories I haven't made up myself. At school I do quite a lot of work with the children on the Greek myths and legends, all of which are the most wonderful stories in the world.”
He sees the writer and storyteller more as kind of performer, telling the story in the way it deserves to be told.
“Each story has its own personality, its own flavour, and it's the duty of the writer to bring that out.”
Galatea was started as an act of faith. He knew vaguely what the story was going to be about. But he had no idea how it was going to end. He just let it develop.
The result is something that defies categorisation. It is published in the Gollancz fantasy collection, but the author himself sees it as more of a romance.
“Galatea is a novel, but not a novel of the sort in which the interest is mainly about presenting society with a novelist's insight or something. It's not about real society, it's not about real people. It's a story in the same way that the Greek legends are stories, or the medieval romances.
The element of the grotesque in Galatea is certainly reminiscent of authors such as Malory. A man killed in a plane crash becomes a zombie, joining a host of other zombies…and there is an astrologer cum werewolf.
The tale is set mostly in Venezuela – a place he has never been to.
“But I liked the sound of the name Venezuela. I liked the look of it on a map. Looking at places on a map is one of my favourite occupations.”
Philip Pullman's first book, The Haunted Storm – “a sort of murder mystery” – was published soon after he left Exeter College, Oxford, where he read English.
Looking back, he feels he should not have tried to get it published, as, then aged 25, he was not really ready.
After university, he did a series of odd jobs for about five years.
“I worked for the wildlife fund, addressing envelopes. I worked in a psychiatric hospital in Cambridge, and in Moss Bross for a while. (That was good fun – one of the best jobs I've had, actually.)”
After a spell as a labourer, he took a teacher training course, and started teaching at Ivanhoe Middle School, Blackbird Leys. He has been with his present school for two years.
With a demanding full-time job, he tries to write a set amount each evening, often staying up into the small hours to finish.
“You've got to force yourself to do it. But it becomes habit forming. I don't think I could stop it now if I wanted to.”
Another story is on the way and he is also doing some work on a dictionary workbook for children. Another book for children, on ancient civilisations, is due out next year.
Last year he wrote a Christmas play for the school, and plans another for this year. But in general, he keeps his life as a writer fairly separate from his teaching. Although he admits that being a writer himself, he can well understand the problems of asking children to write.
“It's easy to say to a child, go and write a poem about a cotton mill or something like that, without really realising how difficult it is, unless you've tried yourself.
“I wouldn't like to say that you've got to be a writer to teach English – I don't think that's true. But if there is a connection, it is what I know how difficult it is.”