I have just finished reading The Tin Princess by Philip Pullman, first published way back in 1994, and it feels like I've blundered into a clearing and rediscovered why I'm in the forest in the first place. Pullman's writing did more than anyone else's to inspire me to write fiction for children – yes, because of Northern Lights, but also because of his illustrated books for younger readers, Clockwork and The Firework-Maker's Daughter. I remember, in my mid twenties, being made to feel the magic of childhood again and wanting very much to pass on the favour.
The Tin Princess is probably a very silly book. It's the tale of a cockney street kid who becomes the queen of a tiny central European state, and finds herself caught in a storm of courtly intrigue and danger as a result. It's so cliché-ridden it stinks (they even put the word 'swashbuckling' on the cover), but how wonderful that it doesn't matter!
As I sit and worry that my own writing is frivolous, that somehow I should be 'addressing issues' or 'telling it like it is' in gritty council estate drama, thank you Philip Pullman for reminding me that I don't need to. As he says on his website:
'… I'm not in the message business; I'm in the “Once upon a time” business.
And I'm proud to say that so am I.