Philip Pullman explains why literature is a human necessity

"Children must have stories read to them, and told to them, true stories,” said Philip Pullman today at Hay. “Sharing a bedtime story is one of the great experiences of childhood, and of parenthood.” Pullman should know. With 33 books under his belt and counting, he’s one of the nation’s most famous children’s authors and literary personalities.

When he discussed his writing with Daniel Hahn, he spoke of the magic and enjoyment that society should nurture in children. It is a love of literature that he champions over grammar as a seminal lesson in a child’s life. He talked of his conversations with then Secretary for Education, Michael Gove, in an effort to encourage this philosophy. “Nursery rhymes are the foundation of all literacy,” he said, adding that "the best way of getting a child to have a good healthy attitude to language is to fill their life with nursery rhymes"

Literature is a human necessity, according to Pullman. From quotidian gossip to fantastical fairytales, he said that we all navigate our lives through stories. Once a story is released into the world, he explained, it becomes diplomatic and subjective, adding that everyone is within their right to have an opinion about his pieces. And yet, he added, "When writing a book I am a dictator, a tyrant, a despot. There is no room for democracy in my study. Reading is a democratic process, but writing is a despotic one.”

With a career spanning more than forty years, Pullman is particular about the art and craft of writing. He discussed his superstition and a writer’s need to be visited by the muse. "If you want the muse to visit you,” he said, “she needs to know where you are. She comes to your desk. If you're not there, she goes away again.” Touching on the editorial advice he regularly gives children, he said that "Some things are easy to cut. Adverbs go very quickly. If you've got the right verbs, you don't need adverbs.” 

Pullman said that the next Book of Dust instalment – The Secret Commonwealth – will be published next year.    Let’s hope the muse continues to visit him.  

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