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Philip Pullman's Biography

Philip Pullman was born in Norwich on October 19, 1946 to Audrey and Alfred Pullman. The early part of his childhood was spent traveling from base to base as his father, and later stepfather, were part of the Royal Air Force (RAF). At age seven, following the death of his father, Philip Pullman and his younger brother Francis moved back to Britain to live with their grandfather in Norfolk, an Anglican clergyman. Their mother moved to London to find work.

When Pullman was eight, a stepfather - another RAF pilot - entered the Pullman family and once again the family moved from base to base. For a time, they settled in Australia. In Australia, he first discovered the wonders of comic books, a force that would later influence both his writing and illustrating of future stories. He particularly loved the adventures of Batman and Superman and enthralled his younger brother with bedtime stories of the heroes or any other inspiration.

From the age of ten, the family moved again back to Britain. They relocated this time to North Wales as his stepfather resigned from the Royal Air Force to concentrate on the growing family. It was a time when children were allowed to roam anywhere, to play in the streets, to wander over the hills, and he took full advantage of such a childhood. His learning here began at a prep school in Battersea, then onto a state school in Harlech. His English teacher, a Miss Enid Jones, became a large influence in his life. To this day he continues to send her copies of his books.

In 1965, Pullman won a scholarship to Exeter College in Oxford to study English. The largely unenthusiastic schooling he received there influences his ideas today on the lacking National Curriculum requirements and the idea that these requirements crush imagination in students. He did a number of odd jobs for a while, then moving back to Oxford to become a teacher. He taught at various middle schools in Oxford for twelve years, publishing his first books during this time. Some of the plays he wrote for students to perform at this time would later become the basis for his children's books. Eventually becoming a regularly published author, Pullman was able to take on a part-time lecturer job at Westminster College, Oxford. He taught courses on the Victorian novel, folk tales, ancient Greek mythology, and examined how words and pictures influenced each other. He eventually left teaching in order to write full-time.

Pullman's first published novel was for adults, but he began writing for children when he was a teacher. He now writes not for any particular audience and explains that he writes for "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." [1] Some of his novels were based on plays he wrote for his middle school pupils, including The Ruby in the Smoke and Count Karlstein.

Together with his wife Jude and their two sons Jamie, a viola player, and the younger son Tom, Philip Pullman lived in Oxford until 2004, where he wrote in a shed at the bottom of his garden. The shed contained two comfortable chairs (one for writing in, one for sitting at the computer in), several hundred books, a six-foot-long stuffed rat which took a part in his play Sherlock Holmes and the Limehouse Horror, a saxophone, and a computer decorated with dozens of brightly colored artificial flowers attached to it by Blu-Tack.

Blu-Tack plays a big part in Philip Pullman's writing process. With it, he sticks notes, posters, reminders, postcards, book jackets, and generally anything stick-a-ble to the wall.

Another product of technology that Pullman can't do without is the Post-it-Note, the smallest yellow ones in particular. They are very useful for planning the shape of a story: he writes a brief sentence summarising a scene on a note and tacks them to a large paper on which he can rearrange the scenes to best fill in a plot ordering.

Philip Pullman believes strongly in the virtues of healthy exercise and a moderate diet - for other people. To his mind, it makes them feel virtuous and good if not happy. The most exercise he normally takes is unscrewing the top of the whiskey bottle. If he liked the taste of tobacco, he would smoke vigorously. He is fond of sport, and plays it by watching television. He is a big fan of the television soap Neighbours and believes it gives him quite enough to think about without requiring any other soaps to watch.

In March of 2004, Pullman received the title of "Commander of the Order of the British Empire" from Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Autobiography

I started telling stories as soon as I knew what stories were. I was fascinated by them — that something could happen and be connected to another thing, and that someone could put the two things together and show how the first thing caused the second thing, which then caused a third thing. I loved it. I love it still.

My early experience with stories came from the radio, which is a wonderful medium. I remember listening to gangster serials, and cowboy serials, and best of all — Superman! When I first saw a Superman comic, it changed my life. Soon afterward I discovered Batman, too, whom I loved even more. I had to argue with my parents about them, though, because they weren't "proper" reading. I suppose what persuaded them to let me carry on reading comics was the fact that I was also reading books just as greedily. I was good at spelling, so obviously the comics weren't harming me too much.

For a long time, my favorite stories were ghost stories. I used to enjoy frightening myself and my friends with the tales I read. I also liked making up stories about the tree in the woods we used to call the Hanging Tree. My friends and I would creep past it in the dark and shiver as we looked at the bare, sinister outline against the sky. I still enjoy ghost stories, even though I don't think I believe in ghosts anymore.

I was sure that I was going to write stories myself when I grew up. It's important to put it like that — not "I am a writer," but rather "I write stories." If you put the emphasis on yourself rather than your work, you're in danger of thinking that you're the most important thing. But you're not. The story is what matters, and you're only the servant, and your job is to get it out on time and in good order.

I live in Oxford now, and I do my writing in a shed at the bottom of the garden. If the young boy I used to be could have looked ahead in time and seen the man I am today, writing stories in his shed, would he have been pleased? I wonder. Would that child who loved Batman comics and ghost stories approve of the novels I earn my living with now? I hope so. I hope he's still with me. I'm writing them for him.

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