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Sir Philip Pullman has a surprising tip for aspiring writers

Author Philip Pullman (Michael Leckie/PA)
Author Philip Pullman (Michael Leckie/PA)

Sir Philip Pullman has some surprising words of advice for budding authors – stop planning.

A TV adaptation of the bestselling author’s His Dark Materials trilogy is about to air on BBC One.

The writer, 73, told Radio Times magazine: “Whenever I hear that schoolchildren are told to plan their stories before they write them I want to burst into the classroom and shout ‘No! Story first, plan later.’

“Write into the darkness, discover what happens as your characters do, be surprised and shocked or delighted with them.

His Dark Materials is about to air on BBC One
His Dark Materials is about to air on BBC One (Alex Bailey/Marco Grob/Bad Wolf/HBO)

“When you’ve got a long and untidy story with bits leading nowhere or sticking out all over the place, then it becomes interesting to make a plan for it, and help it find the best shape.”

Sir Philip’s His Dark Materials series was published between 1995 and 2000 and introduced Lyra Silvertongue as a spirited 12-year-old and her daemon, the fictional beings in the fantasy series.

“I didn’t know that Lyra had a daemon until he turned up in that first sentence,” the author said.

“I’d written the opening of the story at least 15 times and I couldn’t make it work, because Lyra was on her own as she went into that room where she wasn’t supposed to go. She had no-one to talk to. But with her very own daemon, suddenly it worked. I could never have planned that.”

Radio Times cover
Radio Times cover (Radio Times/PA)

“That the story appeals to adults, too, is something else I didn’t plan, but I’m lucky it happened.”

His latest novel, The Secret Commonwealth, features heroine Lyra as an adult for the first time.

A TV adaptation of His Dark Materials is about to air, starring Dafne Keen, James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“One thing that a lot of people have said is that the latest CGI will make it possible for the daemons to look more real than ever. It probably will,” Sir Philip said.

But he added: “A puppet on a stick would work, if there was proper work for it to do, story work. If all the daemons do is look cute, then they’re not necessary at all.”

The full interview is in this week’s Radio Times magazine.

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