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24 September 2014

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Philip Pullman answers your questions
Philip Pullman signing books at Cheltenham Festival of Literature
Philip Pullman signs a book for a young fan

What happens next to Lyra and Will? That's what Philip Pullman fans REALLY want to know. The author's not saying - but he did answer plenty more readers' questions when he visited Cheltenham.

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Fact File

+ Philip Pullman is the author of the celebrated His Dark Materials trilogy: Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

+ He was born in Norwich and spent his early years travelling all over the world with his father, who was in the RAF, and his mother and brother.

+ Philip planned to be a writer from the age of six and, when the family moved to Wales when he was 11, he developed a real passion for stories, encouraged by a school teacher to read more and write them down.

+ Philip studied English at Oxford and began his first novel the day he left and although he says "it was terrible" he didn't give up.

+ He worked in a variety of jobs to enable him to write and eventually went into teaching. He developed his writing style further by writing school plays and dealing with the challenge of making them accessible to both the children and parents.

+ Philip has written many books for children: Clockwork; I was a Rat! (which was dramatised for BBC television); and The Firework-Maker's Daughter, which won the Smarties Gold Award in 1996 and the Sally Lockhart award.

+ The His Dark Materials trilogy has become a huge success with children and adults, and on in January 2002, Philip won the prestigious Whitbread Prize for the third book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass - the first time that a children's book had won either the Booker or the Whitbread.

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You'd have thought it was a pop concert as a host of excited teens stampeded through Cheltenham Town Hall in hot pursuit of their hero.

This was fan worship Pullman-style! Hundreds of Philip Pullman fans queued up to meet him when the award-winning author visited Cheltenham Festival of Literature.

Luckily BBC Gloucestershire avoided the scrum and got an exclusive chance to ask him the questions that fans from as far away as the US and Canada told us YOU wanted the answers to.

I only thought about 80 people would read them at most. I never dreamed they would become so popular.quote
Philip Pullman on the His Dark Materials trilogy

So read on to find out more about the amazing imagination of Philip Pullman and what inspires the award-winning author of the celebrated His Dark Materials trilogy.

Question: How long did it take you to write the His Dark Materials trilogy, with all the philosophical and religious problems that Lyra and her friends run in to?
Morgan Lee Elwell, 14, Richmond, Virginia

Philip Pullman: Seven years from beginning to end. But I didn't plan it all out in advance - otherwise I would have spent seven years following a plan and would have gone mad. You have to have the freedom to let the story go off in unexpected directions. But I did a lot of re-writing to sort it out afterwards. That's the way I work.

Q: What age group did you write them for? I read them when I was seven or eight, and I loved them! But my friend, who read The Golden Compass a few weeks before her tenth birthday, didn't understand it. I couldn't understand how she could read the ending, and not have to read the second and third books!
Margaret Lindeman (Your Number 1 Fan), 10, Kingston, New York

PP: I wrote them for the age I was at the time I started the story - which was a rather tired 43-year-old!

Q: Did you expect the books to be such a success? I have heard that many people write their books, expecting only a few to be sold, and they turn out to be a huge thing.
Joss Love, 12, Cheltenham

PP: No, I only thought about 80 people would read them at most. I never dreamed they would become as popular as they have.

Philip Pullman fans
Young fans eager to meet their hero

Q: Were Lyra or Will based on someone from your own life?
Chloe Simmonds, 11, Greet

PP: Not on particular individuals, but when I was a teacher I taught a lot of young people of Will and Lyra's age. I wanted to show that ordinary children, without magical gifts, are capable of achieving extraordinary things.

Q: Why did you choose Oxford as the setting?
Peter Lane, 15, Lechlade

PP: Because I'm lazy! I have lived in Oxford and know it well so it saves on research. And Oxford is also a fascinating place in lots of different ways, with its academic life, the business world and its artistic traditions.

Q: Where did you get your inspiration for the His Dark Materials series from?
Carrieanne French, 12, West Lothian

Philip Pullman fan
Philip Pullman wrote a message to Marie in Chinese!

PP: From everything I've ever read! I have always loved stories and I enjoy poetry too.

Q: Which of your minor characters deserves his or her own novel?
Tom Croft, 13, Reading

PP: Oh, that's a very good question. There are quite a few but the explorer Lee Scoresby and the bear Iorek Byrnison are old companions by the time we meet them. It would be interesting to know more about what happened to them earlier in their lives.

(Tom was the winner of our competition for tickets to see Philip Pullman at Cheltenham).

Q: Do you believe people (from our world) can learn to see their inner dæmons like Mary Malone did?
Stephanie, 16, Marlboro, New Jersey

PP: There are many places in the world where it is believed people have a spirit animal, so yes, I think they probably can.

Q: What kind of animal is your daemon?
(Audience member, Cheltenham LitFest)

PP: I have discovered it is probably a bird, one of the crow family that steals bright things like a jackdaw or a rook or a raven, because that is what writers do. Whether it's a diamond like Shakespeare or a bit of tinfoil like EastEnders or Neighbours, we pick up or steal bits of shiny stuff, ideas, something that sets fire to our mind and we take it back to our nest and do something with it.

Q: You are the latest in a tradition of Oxford writers for children like Tolkien and CS Lewis. What do you think of their books?
Emily Davies, 16, Lower Swell

I wanted to show that ordinary children, without magical gifts, are capable of achieving extraordinary things. quote
Philip Pullman

PP: I don't like them. What I mean is that Tolkien in particular creates a fantasy world that is very different from our own and I am more interested in a world that is closer to our reality. And CS Lewis hated the physical world and thought there was a better place somewhere else, like Heaven or Narnia. I don't believe that. We are physical beings and I think this world is the precious place, and we need to look after it.

Q: When Pantalaimon and Kirjava eventually die along with Lyra and Will, will their atoms ever be able to meet with each other now that the windows between the worlds have been closed?
Kevin Ferenchak, 15, Lake Forest, Illinois

PP: I would like to think so. We'll see, won't we?

Q: When you were growing up, who did you admire most, and why?
Audience member, Cheltenham LitFest

PP: People who did things I wanted to do. And I always wanted to tell stories.

Q: Are your books available on audio for people who can't read or can't see?
Carlton Ryan, 11, Swindon

PP: Yes, and they are very good because I every word in the books is in there - and it's me reading them!

Q: Is there anything you would like to have changed about His Dark Materials?
Kay Bergman, Montreal

PP: There's always something that a writer thinks afterward they could have done better, more emphasis on this, a better way of saying that. But no, nothing major.

Q: Will you be going to see the production at the National Theatre in December?
Katherine McDonald, 15, Chelmsford

PP: What do you think? Of course I will!

Q: What do you think of the casting for the National Theatre show?
Julia Carter, 15, Tewkesbury

Lyra's Oxford
Philip Pullman's new book is a guide to Lyra's world

PP: I think it's fantastic. Lyra will be played by Anna Maxwell Martin, and when I saw her at the readthrough I was utterly convinced that she was Lyra - she looks like the Lyra I had in my head and she is very clever in a streetwise way like Lyra. And Dominic Cooper, who plays Will, is brilliant. Timothy Dalton, who lots of people will remember as James Bond, is Lord Asriel and Patricia Hodge, who is one of my favourite actresses, will play Mrs Coulter. Niamh Cusack is the witch Serafina Pekkala. I am sure they will bear out all the hopes I have of it (the production) and I hope yours aswell.

Q: Why did you choose the aurora borealis to play a significant role in your HDM trilogy?
Joseph Kearins, 14, Northampton

PP: Because it is such a spectacular phenomomen that strikes wonder into anyone who sees it.

He tells a story that COULD be real - it is his way of describing it that makes it real. Even when he takes old ideas he puts a fresh spin on them. It's a brilliant fantasy but utterly believable because the emotions in different situations are so realistic.quote
Philip Pullman fan Jo Ganford, 16,

Q: What is your new book about?
Ben Hurley, Oxford

PP: So many people have written to ask me what happens next and will Lyra see Will again that I wanted to do a kind of stepping stone from the trilogy to the next novel The Book of Dust, which Philip is still working on) which is set four years on. I wanted to know what Lyra was doing in the meantime. It is set in Oxford - hers, not ours - and is about Lyra coming to understand something about the city she lives in. It is a bit of a mystery that refers backward and forwards. You have to work out which references are which.

Q: What advice would you give to young writers like myself?
Alison Thorpe, 14, Cirencester

PP: Write about what YOU want to. Nobody ever said before Harry Potter came along, oh, we must have a book about Harry Potter. You know what you will be able to tell a good story about. So don't let anybody tell you what you should write about. You know best!

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