Sunday, January 06, 2008

Philip Pullman - (ex)shedworker

One of the bestknown shedworkers of recent years is Philip Pullman, as rodcorp reminds us in an excellent post which looks too at his writing techniques. Pullan wrote the His Dark Materials trilogy in a shed in his back garden - he had a superstition about not tidying it while he was writing a book - and was so closely associated with it that in The Independent’s ‘You Ask The Questions’ column sent in by readers, one question was ‘what are the defining qualities of a truly great shed?’ to which he replied: “The important quality about my old shed was that it wasn't in the house. It was down at the bottom of the garden. It was a comfortable place. Insulated. Warm in the winter. Dry. Quiet.” Here's how he described it in an interview with children's book site Achuka:
"My shed is a twelve foot by eight foot wooden structure, with electricity, insulation, heating, a carpet, the table where I write (which is covered in an old kilim rug), my exorbitantly expensive Danish tilting-in-all-directions orthopaedic gas-powered swivelling chair, my old computer, printer and scanner (i.e. they don't work any more but I'm too mean to throw them out), manuscripts, drawings, apple cores, spiders' webs, dust, books in tottering heaps all over the floor and on every horizontal surface, about a thousand jiffy bags from books for review which I'm also too mean to throw away, a six-foot-long stuffed rat (the Giant Rat of Sumatra from a production of a Sherlock Holmes play I wrote for the Polka Theatre), a saxophone, a guitar, dozens of masks of one sort or another, piles and piles of books and more books and still more books, a heater, an old armchair filled to capacity with yet more books, a filing cabinet that I haven't managed to open for eighteen months because of all the jiffy bags and books which have fallen in front of it in a sort of landslide, more manuscripts, more drawings, broken pencils, sharpened pencils, dust, dirt, bits of chewed carpet from when my young pug Hogarth comes to visit, stones of every kind: a cobblestone from Prague, a bit of Mont Blanc, a bit of Cape Cod ... On and on the list goes. It is a filthy abominable tip. No-one would go in there unless they absolutely had to. I enter it each morning with reluctance and leave as soon as I can."
This shed, which Helena de Bertodano described in the Daily Telegraph as a "tiny, dusty hovel" (the same article featured one of the very few published pictures of his shed, above by John Reardon), now passed on to illustrator Ted Dewan on the understanding that only creative work is to be undertaken in it by himself or by future users, was what Amanda Mitchison in The Daily Telegraph described as his ‘nest’. Dewan says the shed was duly blessed in a ceremony in 2003 which nearly set fire to it. Pullman no longer writes in a shed but in an extension at his home near Oxford which John Cornwell in The Times describes as "a luxurious alternative to the old garden shed. Bright, cool, book-lined, it has a raised desk-cum-workbench at one end."
Thanks to Alan at Notchcode for suggesting a post on Pullman in the politest possible way.


  1. Any more pics of Mr Pullman's shed?

    When I contacted his people last year they just said he does not work in his shed any more, and that was it.. :(

  2. No, this is the only one I could find of the exterior. I think there are some interior ones knocking about, but basically they're just him in front of bookshelves and not very sheddish. It's certainly true that he's not a shedworker any more. But at least he doesn't work in a conservatory.

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