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

You have run into criticism from certain religious groups who regard you as subversive, with the Catholic Herald describing your work as worthy of the bonfire. Do such emotional responses concern or upset you or does it please you to generate strong reactions?

A

I’m delighted to have brought such excitement into what must be very dull lives.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q


Northern Lights was re-titled The Golden Compass for the American market. Why did this change come about? Do you have a title in mind when you start a story?

A

Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. The editor who made that change was also responsible for changing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which made sense, into Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which didn’t. At the time, I didn’t have enough clout to resist.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

You were a fan of comic books from childhood and your own stories are filled with striking imagery. Do you see your subject matter very visually as you write?

A

Yes. I like to make various things clear: where a scene is taking place, what time of day it is, where the light’s coming from, what the weather’s like, who’s present ñ that sort of thing. Not all of them all the time, but some of them most of the time. It helps the reader to see what you would like them to see.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

Your work has been performed on radio, television and the stage and the film rights to His Dark Materials have been sold. Is it difficult to give up your work to someone elseπs interpretation?

A

No. The democracy of reading (see above) means that as soon as a book is published you lose control of how it’s interpreted anyhow, and so you should. To tell someone else how to read your book is to fall into the temptation of fundamentalism. When it comes to performance and film and so on, what you should do, it seems to me, is make sure the people you sell it to know what they’re doing, and then leave them alone. You are better employed writing new books than arguing with people about how to interpret your existing ones.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

Have you had any involvement in casting characters? Do you have preconceived notions of what they should be like?

A

I do have ideas, and when it’s useful I make suggestions. But professional theatre or film people know far more actors and have far more knowledge than I have.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

Are there any authors, either working now or in the past, whom you would recommend aspiring writers to read? You have talked in the past of the importance of reading other people so who has particularly influenced you? Should new writers be looking at the work of established authors to establish a set of rules or guidelines?

A

Not for rules and guidelines, but for helping to maintain a vision. It was a great help to me in writing HDM to return to Milton and Blake periodically.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

Can aspiring writers learn much from creative writing courses or how-to books?

A

Goodness knows. I don’t think they would have helped me much. The most useful quality you can have as a writer (given a basic amount of talent) is stubbornness, pig-headedness, call it what you will ñ the insistence against all the evidence that you will produce something worth reading. I’m not sure you can teach that.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

With publishers aware of the astronomical sales now possible, is this good news for emerging writers or does it generate pressures from publishers to clone a new Lyra and Will or Harry Potter?

A

Yes, publishers always want to publish what was a hit last year. Great publishers (like David Fickling) have the courage and vision to back things that might be successful in the future, but about which no-one can be sure.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q


Have you consciously set out to create female heroines like Lyra and Sally Lockhart? Have you found any difficulties as a male writer in creating young female characters?

A

No. I write almost always in the third person, and I don’t think the narrator is male or female anyway. They’re both, and young and old, and wise and silly, and sceptical and credulous, and innocent and experienced, all at once. Narrators are not even human they’re sprites. So there are no limits, no areas, or characters, or sexes, or times, where these sprites can’t go. And they fix on what interests them. I wouldn’t dream of deliberately choosing this or that sort of person, for political or social or commercial reasons, to write a book about. If the narrator isn’t interested, the book won’t come alive.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

Have you created any minor characters that you would like to explore in more depth in other stories?

A

Yes, many times, and it’s only lack of time that prevents me.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

For somebody looking to get their stories for children published, is there any single piece of advice you would offer them?

A

It’s implicit in the answer above: write exactly what only you can write. Don’t make commercial calculations. Be crazy about it. Insist on the primacy of your own vision. And please, don’t ask me to read your manuscript.

Asked on 05 March 2009

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