Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Back to the Source

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.


  1. Hurray for once upon a timers!

  2. My writing is frivolous too. I sometimes feel like I should write something that will make the world a better place, but then I decide it's just too hard. I'd rather write stories that are fun to read.

  3. That is such a good way of looking at it!! I'm with you all the way!

  4. "Once upon a time" stories probably do more to change people's lives in an uplifting way. So you may be changing the world more than you think. One young person at a time.

  5. Thanks for the comments.

    I think kids will mostly smell a rat if you start preaching at them anyway. Better to make someone think than tell them to.

  6. I have to admit I do sometimes like to sneak in a Point, but I do agree with you that the story is paramount and that you have to entertain first.

    Given Pullman's latest book - which I've not read yet - I wonder if he has changed his mind about the "message business"?

  7. Thats a good point, Simon. And it's a book I have very little interest in reading, partly because it sounds like a cry for controversy.


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