Q&As

Over the years I have been asked many questions about my books, my approach to writing, and even about my interest in woodwork. The answer to your question may be right here, so have a browse or search my Q&As.



Questions & Answers

Q

Can you give us some insight into what daemons are? Why don't non-humans have them?

A

I was discovering more about daemons all the way through right up to the very end of THE AMBER SPYGLASS. And Iím sure there are other aspects of them that I haven't discovered yet. I donít want to say anything about them which will give away some of the plot of the final book, but I will say that the daemon is that part of you that helps you grow towards wisdom.

I donít know where the idea of them came from it just emerged as I was trying to begin the story. I suddenly realised that Lyra had a daemon, and it all grew out of that. Of course, the daemons had to represent something important in the meaning of the story, and not be merely picturesque; otherwise they'd just get in the way. So there is a big difference between the daemons of children and adults, because the story as a whole is about growing up, or innocence and experience.

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

What books did you like when you were young?

A

Well, for one thing, I liked books I wasn't supposed to read, books for adults. I didnít always understand them, but I liked the feeling that I was sharing grown-up things.

 I also loved comics. There was a comic called the Eagle, which pretty well every British boy and girl of my age used to read. There was a space pilot called Dan Dare and this great enemy the Mekon, who was green, and who had a tiny body and a huge great bald head, and who sat on a little saucer that floated in mid-air. I loved Superman and Batman comics too.

Among the ëproperí books I loved, there are some that I still read. One is Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons. Another is the funniest children's book ever written, Norman Lindsay's The Magic Pudding. And there were all the Moomin books by Tove Jansson; and another book I remember was a novel called A Hundred Million Francs, by the French author Paul Berna. It was a good story, about a bunch of children in a dingy suburb of Paris who find a lot of money which has been hidden by some thieves, and all kinds of adventures follow.

The point about that book for me was that on page 34, there was a drawing of some of the kids defying the crooks, and I fell in love with the girl in the drawing. She was a tough-looking, very French sort of character, with a leather jacket and socks rolled down to her ankles and blonde hair and black eyes, and altogether I thought she was the girl for me.

I wouldn't be at all surprised in fact, now I think about it, itís obvious to find that the girl on page 34 of A Hundred Million Francs is the girl who four decades later turned up in my own book Northern Lights, or The Golden Compass, where she was called Lyra.

One more book: Erich Kastner's marvellous Emil and the Detectives.

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

How do you feel about letting people make a film from your books?

A

If I didnít want it to happen, I could always have said no. If I've written the story well enough, then a film won't spoil it; and if the film happens to be good, so much the better.

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

His Dark Materials seems to be against organised religion. Do you believe in God?

A

I donít know whether there's a God or not. Nobody does, no matter what they say. I think itís perfectly possible to explain how the universe came about without bringing God into it, but I donít know everything, and there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away.

Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, itís because he's ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they're responsible for promoting in his name. If I were him, I'd want nothing to do with them.

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

You once said that His Dark Materials is not a fantasy, but stark realism. What did you mean by that?

A

That comment got me into trouble with the fantasy people. What I mean by it was roughly this: that the story I was trying to write was about real people, not beings that don't exist like elves or hobbits. Lyra and Will and the other characters are meant to be human beings like us, and the story is about a universal human experience, namely growing up. The fantasy parts of the story were there as a picture of aspects of human nature, not as something alien and strange. For example, readers have told me that the demons, which at first seem so utterly fantastic, soon become so familiar and essential a part of each character that they, the readers, feel as if theyíve got a demon themselves. And my point is that they have, that we all have. It's an aspect of our personality that we often overlook, but itís there. thatís what I mean by realism: I was using the fantastical elements to say something that I thought was true about us and about our lives.

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

When did you start writing?

A

When I was very young. I used to tell stories to my friends and my younger brother, and then I began to write them down. They weren't very good.

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

Were you encouraged to be creative?

A

No, I was ignored. When anyone took any notice it was to point out what a twit I was, and laugh at me. This was the best possible preparation for the life of a novelist. If you have grown-ups fussing over you and encouraging you and taking an interest, you begin to think you’re important, and furthermore that you need and deserve their attention. After a while you become incapable of working without someone else motivating you. You’re much better off supplying your own energy, and writing in spite of the fact that no-one’s interested, and even learning to put up with other people’s contempt and ridicule. What do they know, anyway?

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

What inspires you?

A

Three things. (1) Money. I do this for a living. If I don’t write well, I won’t earn enough money to pay the bills. (2) The desire to make some sort of mark on the world ñ to make my name known. To leave something behind that will last a little longer than I do. (3) The sheer pleasure of craftsmanship: the endlessly absorbing delight of making things (in my case, stories) and of gradually learning more about how they work, and how to make them better.

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

When was your first book published?

A

It was published when I was 25 years old, and I was very pleased with myself. The book was terrible rubbish, though. I’m not even going to tell you what it was called.

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

Who do you write for children or adults?

A

Myself. No-one else. If the story I write turns out to be the sort of thing that children enjoy reading, then well and good. But I don't write for children: I write books that children read. Some clever adults read them too.

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

How long does it take me to write a book?

A

It depends on how long the book is. THE FIREWORK-MAKER'S DAUGHTER took me six weeks, THE AMBER SPYGLASS three years.

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

What advice would I give to anyone who wants to write?

A

Don’t listen to any advice, that’s what I’d say. Write only what you want to write. Please yourself. YOU are the genius, they’re not. Especially don’t listen to people (such as publishers) who think that you need to write what readers say they want. Readers don’t always know what they want. I don’t know what I want to read until I go into a bookshop and look around at the books other people have written, and the books I enjoy reading most are books I would never in a million years have thought of myself. So the only thing you need to do is forget about pleasing other people, and aim to please yourself alone. That way, you’ll have a chance of writing something that other people WILL want to read, because it’ll take them by surprise. It’s also much more fun writing to please yourself.

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

How does it feel to receive a good review or an award?

A

I feel pleased to live in a world where there are such good critics.

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

And how does it feel to receive a bad review?

A

I feel sad to live in a world where there are such poor critics.

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

What qualities do you need to be a successful writer?

A

Stubbornness, for a start. Pig-headed obstinacy. The capacity to sit still in front of an empty sheet of paper for hour upon hour and feel that your time is being valuably spent. Then I’d say an interest in the shapes of things. What shape is a story? Is a short story a different shape from a novel? What shape is a joke? Once you become interested in the structure of stories, you’re well on the way.

Asked on 06 March 2009

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