Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Literature and the planet

Philip Pullman, who is one of the nicest people I know, is interviewed today, about his life and his concerns for the environment: Well worth reading the whole thing, but here are a couple of highlights:

Frightening people is a very good way to make them passive and supine. You can be terrified into an abject denial of everything and you don't want to know about it: you just shut your eyes and your ears. But the most useful, the most helpful and most energising thing is to say: "You can do this, and this, and this, and you can press your Government to do that."

Environmentalists need to know something about basic storytelling in order to make their words effective. Samuel Johnson apparently said something I find very useful to remember: "The true aim of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it."

Research is much easier than writing, so the temptation is to shove all the research in. But page after page after page of the stuff goes by and, of course, people stop reading.

I suppose the real story, the basic story, the story I would like to hear, see, read, is the story about how connected we are, not only with one another but also with the place we live in. And how it's almost infinitely rich, but it's in some danger; and that despite the danger, we can do something to overcome it.

. . .

AS: What gives you a sense of wellbeing?

PP: My first answer would have to be a good day's work. If I have done my thousand words, my three pages, and it's gone well, then nothing else matters - I'm satisfied. If I've done it and it's gone badly, well, I can correct it tomorrow, it's there.

If I combine that with a little bit of exercise, a little bit of play, which for me involves usually making things with wood, or playing music, and if my family is well and happy, and I have something nice to eat - that would be a good day for me.

I am very lucky. And I'm wary of preaching about how we should live, because I know how lucky I am: very few people have the chance to do what they want to do and stop doing it when they want to, and I do. Mind you, for 30 years I didn't. I had to write in my spare time while I was doing other jobs.

So perhaps I am entitled to preach a little bit. I'm entitled to say that in order to do the thing you want to do then you have to do it, whether or not you've got the time. If it means missing Neighbours, then miss Neighbours, or EastEnders or whatever. You must ask which is more important to you in the end.


Lindsay said...

I am very inspired by Pullman and his work. Thanks for putting this up.

By the way, I also loved the recent profile in The Guardian (online here:,,2219483,00.html) in which Pullman's editor David Fickling says 'He's not saying it's easy to be alive, but he is saying it's glorious.'

I couldn't agree more.

Charles Lambert said...

Struggling under the ever heavier yoke of the real life magisterium, as I'm doing these days in Italy, I'm grateful for anything Pullman has to say. Thanks for pointing me to this.