Recently there have been significant developments in Philip Pullman's work. Not this week's starry film premieres, as The Golden Compass launches the movie trilogy of His Dark Materials. Not the book due in April, nor the speech he gives on Milton next week at the Bodleian, nor even the announcement that he is becoming an honorary professor at Bangor University.
No, the good news is that his rocking horse is making excellent progress. He has been working on it for years; the horse is finished, and the stand is coming on splendidly. As he wrote recently, in a published diary in which writing seemed the least of his absorbing passions: "As always when I use a sharp tool on well-seasoned wood, I wonder why I spend my life doing anything else." hanged forever in 1995, with a children's book - with a preface from Milton's Paradise Lost - beginning: "Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall ..."
His editor of 25 years, David Fickling, says: "He is one of the greatest storytellers of all
time, and he's right here among us, writing now. It's like having Thomas Hardy
about to write Far From the Madding Crowd. It's just thrilling to be around."
Fickling remembers the genesis of the trilogy over a lunch of sausage and mash: "He said, 'I
think I've got something big, David,' and I thought, 'Brilliant, the bigger
the better.' But I did ask, 'Is it a good story?' He said yes, and that was
good enough for me."
A long list of books had already emerged from his Oxford garden writing shed, but Northern Lights, first of the 1,000-page His Dark Materials series, was instantly recognised as
Adults relished the darkness and complexity of the moral vision, and the richness of the imagined world - that hall where it opens is almost, but disturbingly not quite, like an Oxford
college with its high table and portraits of long-dead masters, give or take
the odd shape-shifting daemon, and pan-fried poppy ritually consumed by the
dons. Children relished a cracking adventure, where resourceful children were
the heroes, while well-meaning, stupid or malevolent adults flickered in and
out of the narrative.
It won the Guardian and Carnegie children's fiction prizes, went on to sell more than 14m copies, and was recently voted Carnegie of Carnegies. The stage version at the National
Theatre sold every seat for every show, and the first rapturous reviews
suggest the films will repeat the trick.
Not everyone loves Pullman and his work. In Britain he is attacked by both the godly and the godless, by Christian groups as anti-religious and by the Secular Society for a sanitised
film version. In America, Christian groups have threatened to picket cinemas.
Bill Donohue, the president of the US Catholic League, last night accused
Pullman of "a stealth campaign", saying he allowed the studio to
water down his "Catholic-bashing books", to ensure the second and
third films were made. He added: "An honest author would never allow a
film studio to prostitute his work."
Pullman's deceptively mild response to the attacks is that he is "just a storyteller".
Pullman has moved with his editor from Oxford University Press through other publishing houses to Random House. His agent is still his university friend, Caradoc King.
Born October 19 1946, Norwich. Childhood
spent travelling all over the world, particularly Australia
Education Weymouth College of Education;
Exeter College, Oxford
Married to Judith Speller in 1970, two sons,
James and Thomas
Career Few odd jobs, author, teacher in
Oxford schools (1973-86); part time senior lecturer, Westminster College,
Awards Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for Literature 2005; CBE (2004)