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A day at Lyra’s :.
05 Novembre 2017 - 18:26:53 par Haku - Détails - article lu 246 fois - - -

A day at Lyra’s

Text/Pictures: Haku, (except specific mention)
Additional illustrations : Chris Wormell

October 18th, 2017. Only one day left until the release of La Belle Sauvage, Philip Pullman’s new book set in the universe of His Dark Materials and also the first book of a brand-new trilogy which we have been promised for over 15 years. If my decision to make my way to Oxford for the launch of the book was taken back in Februar (after thirteen years at Lyra’s service on Città, I would have felt unfaithful to her by staying at home), I had the immense honour (and huge pleasure) to be invited to the worldwide launch press conference of the book and to two additional visit tours, as a representant of our website. The very same day would later end in a bookstore with a countdown to midnight and the official release of the book...

Managed by Riot Communication for David Fickling Books and Penguin Random House publishing companies, the press conference was stunning: press was invited at the Convocation Hall of the Bodleian Library, the heart of the University in Oxford, a city filled with old streets and mysteries where the horizon is indented with the spires of numerous colleges. Some clues hint to the imminent release of the book: Chris Wormell reproduced on the front display of Waterstones bookstore his illustration of the cover for La Belle Sauvage and the other a few dozen meters away Blackwell Bookshop also made a special display promoting Pullman’s new book. As I wander nearby the Bodleian buildings, I suddenly notice that Philip Pullman is also here, walking around the old buildings with a photograph and poses for a couple of portraits in front of the yellow stones of the famous library... I am not dreaming. I am truly in Oxford and, yes, The Book of Dust is only one day away from being released!

P. Pullman in Oxford, October 18th, 2017

The quality of our welcome at the press conference is above expectations. We are invited in a beautiful building where pastries and drinks await us… as well as a NDA: not a single word of what we will hear, or see, or read must be revealed in the outer world until one minute after midnight – it would indeed be a terrible pity (and shameful) to spoil readers who have eagerly and patiently (for most of them, as Pullman said a while ago) waited for this book for up to seventeen years. But the main dilemma is not to keep one’s mouth shut: it comes from what each of the guests receives. In a nice La Belle Sauvage bag is provided one copy of the so precious book, but also a copy of Lyra’s Oxford (we better understand why once we’ve read La Belle Sauvage) and various documents related to the book’s release. And on an optional basis a gorgeous book about the numerous treasures of The Bodleian Library is also available, along with a unexpected copy of Daemon Voices, which is supposed to be released about three weeks later. If you consider yourself as a sraffie, having a copy of two brand new exclusive books of your favourite author in hands and having to decide which of those you will open first is a very, very ugly choice to make. But after only a couple of pages in Malcolm’s adventures (which happened to be my final choice), I and other guests are invited to enter the Convocation Hall and take place for the conference…

The Convocation Hall in the Bodleian Library

The place is a magnificent one, four centuries old but as bright and superb as it probably was on its first day. The Convocation Hall is a rectangular space, built of white stones covered in their lower part by a layer of dark, precious wood and lit by high windows. The ceiling is richly and finely decorated. Along the length of the room come two rows of seats of equally dark wood on three levels, facing each other, reminding in some ways of the House of the Lords. The central path leads to two chairs, and a low table for the lecturers, visible from anyone in the place. This is a warm, impressive and secure place which could be visited by Lyra in the first pages of Northern Lights. We are here about fifty guests, representing printed or online media, from the UK and abroad. Prestigious names such as The Guardian, The Bookseller or The New York Times are side to side with a member of the Oxford Student newspaper and your devoted (and highly thrilled) editor.

Francesca Pow, head of Penguin Books is the first to welcome us. She qualifies Philip Pullman as « the most beloved and respected storyteller of our time » and does not hesitate to label his trilogy as a « modern classic ». She uses some of the appraisal to be found in the recent (and wonderful) article of The New York Times and concludes to introduce the next speaker, her colleague David Fickling, head of the publishing house bearing his name and, by the way, a friend and collaborator to Philip Pullman for over thirty years. Coming from this white-haired man with a bow-tie as red as his socks, we do not necessarily expect what is to come. After a loud « Hello everybody », he immediately takes with both hands the closest copy of La Belle Sauvage, shows it to the whole room, keeping it right above his head... and suddenly shouts « This is all about this! ». With implication and a colourful way of speaking, Fickling praises Pullman’s gift for story-telling and strongly advices the assembly to read Daemon Voices (as it happens, Fickling is also the publisher of this other book) and underlines the beauty of Chris Wormell’s cover for La Belle Sauvage. Fickling also hints with a smile to the yellowish sky visible earlier that week above Oxford, as a tropical storm went above Ireland and England: a parallel quickly grew up between the many pictures of the weather phenomenon popping-up on social networks and the Dust to be found in Pullman’s books: Oxford towers in the yellow mist had indeed something of the vision from another world and provided a perfect publicity for the new book. Fickling’s words are mostly superlatives but the way they come to him seems sincere. What makes Pullman unique, according to Fickling, is his ability to write « head goers », to let the book swallow you (and Fickling literary moves his head into the open book he still carries). « When you finish a Philip Pullman’s book, you’re full of life ».

The joyful publisher tells us about some of his past meals with Pullman, when the author introduced him to his first trilogy and to his latest book. Fickling acknowledges that, after he first heard Pullman’s summary of Northern Lights, he tried to write down what he just heard and simply forgot about the daemons... As the publisher speaks, Pullman patiently waits in the nearby room, visible through the open doors. But if he first looks into the hall where the conference goes on, he just turns back when Fickling comes with too many superlatives and walks a few steps back, as if he tried to escape to the pressure his friend and publisher builds on him, word after word. And when Pullman finally enters the Convocation Hall and walks along the whole length of the room under the ovation of the guests, it looks like as if he’s tensed. But maybe this is a normal reaction when comes for you the moment to give to the world a book you have been promising over fifteen years…

Philip Pullman and Richard Ovenden in Oxford, on October 18th, 2017

The discussion is led by Richard Ovenden, librarian at the Bodleian. He introduces the discussion by reminding us that we are seating in a place where books have been collected since the thirteenth century and without a pause since four hundred years. And as curious as it may seem, these words have a sudden echo as Pullman starts the discussion by reading an excerpt of the fifth chapter of his new book. In the course of the next minutes, we are (re)introduced to a scholar we already met in His Dark Materials, currently studying an alethiometer and the associated book of meanings, in a room located, right above the one we are seating in – except that she lives in another world... in Lyra’s world. The scholar wonders about a boy, about a fish, and about an acorn. And the final word of the excerpt is... Tomorrow, which conveniently coincides with the release of this book…

Then starts the discussion between the moderator and Philip Pullman. When asked how it is possible for this new book to be about Lyra as she is only 6 months old, Pullman states that the book « is about Lyra. She doesn’t do much, but she is at the centre of the story » and soon adds with a smile that « Lyra is a McGuffin », just as these elements at the root of stories in most of Hitchcock’s films. « The events in His Dark Materials is a consequence of everything which happens in this new book as well as actions of many people living in Oxford or around ».

Where did Pullman find inspiration for the new book? Pullman speaks of course about some questions raised by the original books but also repeats he likes to steal bits of stories in the real world or in the books he read. His involvement against the construction of flats on the location of a fluvial boatyard in Oxford, almost a decade ago, introduced him for example to the way of life on Oxford chanels; the memory of a woman who lent him books in his village as he was a child helped him to build the character of Hannah Relf; another vivid memory - one of a huge flood in the mid-50s as he lived in Australia - led to the atmosphere which inhabits the whole book; finally, the rewriting of Grimm tales and the preparation of a foreword commissioned for another collection of tales edited by The Folio Society brought Philip Pullman to better study fairy tales and to use elements of them in his Belle Sauvage.

As for the story itself, Pullman confirms the new instalment is darker than his previous books; darker themes reflecting a darker world and, possibly, the increasing age of its author. But Pullman immediately reposition himself as a servant of the story: « This was the story which had to be told, and which will go on in the next books » he says, before branding with a witty look the new book as « His Darker Materials ». But do we learn here a lot about Dust? « Yes, quite a lot. That’s why I called it The Book of Dust » says Pullman. But fiction is sometimes threatened by reality: the mystery of Dust survived over the last twenty years while Pullman kept an anxious eye on the latest developments of science: « Scientist still don’t know what is dark matter and that’s good. I cross fingers ».

Interviewed on the characters of his book, Pullman acknowledges he enjoys more « writing about villains », and in the present case about a notably evil new character, even if he doesn’t seem ready to tell too much about this strange guy yet – and maybe can we suppose that the next books will bring a few surprises about him? As for the main characters, Pullman praises Alice Parslow (who’s not related to any Simon, « this is a very common name in the area ») who he enjoyed a lot to create : « she is quite difficult », he says and based on the way she acts and speaks we can only agree. But, of course, he has a lot to say about Malcolm Polstead, whose education (« one of my obsessions for many years » reminds Pullman, before briefly attacking the National Curriculum) is at the very heart of the book, especially through his relation to Hannah Relf. If he comes from a different background, more popular than Lyra’s, and thus have a different relation to the external world, « Malcolm is, like Lyra, a solitary child. But none of them is exceptional or supernatural, there was a Malcolm and a Lyra in every class as I was a child ».

At the end of the discussion, Richard Ovenden reads a small excerpt of the book when it is explained that the alethiometer can only be moved and put back in place by a senior assistant of the Bodleian Library, a position he himself occupied: this mention, he tells us, caused him a special thrill.

Then comes the time for Q&A with the audience. Some of the recurrent topics from past interviews with Philip Pullman come back, no matter if it is not directly linked to the book of the day. It is then discussed about libraries closing across the UK, about author fees, about negative effects of labelling books, about the role of fiction to discuss about the outer world, about fairy tales (« This book is not a fairy tale, even if I like tales; I hope I created human characters, I don’t like labelling them, I like characters subjected to temptations ») or Pullman’s health (« I was ill and it was quite difficult to write then, but I am better now »). And when asked for advices towards youngsters eager to write, Pullman does not hesitate: « do not follow advices, do not do what the audience expects but what you want to do, write about what you have in you. »

Caradoc King, Francesca Pow, Philip Pullman, Richard Ovenden and David Fickling in Oxford, on October 18th, 2017

In Lyra’s step with Explore Oxfordshire

In the hour following the end of the conference, it was possible, on a voluntary basis, to follow Mrs Terry Bremble in Oxford streets for a preview of a new walking tour centred on Lyra’s adventures and organized by the local tour operator Experience Oxfordshire, which also provides various touristical walking tours in the city and around. The new Lyra-tour was to start on the following day, October 19th, on a 2h-duration basis. For timing reasons we could only attend a one-hour visit without some of the indoor visits and without a stop at the Botanic Garden where the standard tour shall end, but it was already a pleasure to be invited and to experience a concept I was initially not necessarily very fond of, usually enjoying for my side to discover a city by getting lost in it rather than by following a guide...

I can however only assess that the tour was a convincing and a pleasant one, no matter if I already visited most of the city during my previous stays in Oxford. The inner centre of the city being quite small, it can easily be visited over a short amount of time and without any hast. Many landmarks of architecture and places of action from Pullman’s books are visited: the Bodleian Library, Jordan College (or Exeter College as we name it in our world – you will be able to enter in the quadrangle of the buildings and take notice of the window of Lyra’s chamber, which happens to be Pullman’s former chamber), the Covered Market (with all its colours and flavours), the Pitt-Rivers Museum (and the trepanned skulls) or of course the Botanic Garden (and his famous bench) where the tour will end. New elements will be also later added, based on La Belle Sauvage, once available to the guides. Providing many information regarding Pullman’s books (but not only), the tour is a unusual way to discover Oxford and the University by walking through small streets with respectful college entrances to go from one point to another – keep looking around, it’s beautiful in every direction. Equipped with the map from Lyra’s Oxford (every participant receives one at the beginning of the tour) and following a enthusiastic guide who knows where to stop, where to read excerpts of books in accordance with the surrounding buildings or where to share information related to Lyra’s, Will’s or Pullman’s universes, the time goes fast... And if some places cannot be visited for being too far away (namely Sunderland Avenue, St Sophia, The Trout Inn, Jericho or Port Meadow), our guide provided us without hesitation with directions to expand our visit and reach any of these places. Happy to discuss with the participants and providing many hidden stories related to His Dark Materials, Mrs Bremble provided us with a lovely visit in Lyra’s world. It would be a pity to miss this experience: this is the best way to travel to another world without the subtle knife!

The Covered Market and Exeter College, Oxford

A visit at Duke Humphrey’s

Right after Lyra’s walking tour under Oxford’s grey sky, we also had the possibility to enter in the Bodleian Library, and more specifically in Duke Humphrey’s section, the oldest study room of the building. The place is sumptuous, full of over fourteen thousands books with leather covers, stored here for most of them since the seventieth century, meticulously organized by size (for a better space management) on dark waxed wooden bookshelves. We can easily imagine here Dr Hannah Relf at work, studying her alethiometer in this quiet environment, just as she does in the excerpt Pullman read us a couple of hours ago. Our guide tells us about past and present conservation methods for the books and how these used to be protected against thief with heavy chains by the past, causing noise and weight for the scholars eager to study these.

We just need to go down one staircase to be back in the twenty-first century, with cars going on the streets and the humid October sky outside. The harsh return to reality is a bit sad, but at my shoulder hangs a bag in which lies a copy of La Belle Sauvage: after a short walk, I can fulfil a sort of personal phantasm: reading a brand-new Philip Pullman book on the most cherished bench of the Oxford Botanic Garden… May any of you have someday the luck to do the same!

Duke Humphrey’s library - Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Until midnight – the end of a years-long wait

After a moving read of the new book’s first pages, sited on the bench and then along Oxford channel in front of St-Barnabas; after a short walk across the misty Port Meadow to enjoy the cool air of this beginning of fall, the launch time for La Belle Sauvage closes. Since the end of the afternoon, a handful of lucky people attend in another hall of the Bodleian Library a huge event along with Philip Pullman and (among other guests) Anna Maxwell Martin (who used to play Lyra at the National Theater in 2004). This grand, official launch party was surely memorable, providing gipsy live music, tokay and meal in good company and anticipated release of the book, a couple of hours in advance with any library in the world… The tickets for this event were however dispatched following a ballot and I wans’t lucky enough to win one of these . The best I could was then walk along the location of the event and observe far away through the immense windows the silhouette of Mr. Pullman, busy with a pen and many readers queuing for signatures.

Not able to attend this ultimate event, I booked my evening at a midnight launch at Blackwell’s, another bookstore located on Broad Street, next to the pub The White Horse (which will host some scenes in the second instalment of The Book of Dust, according to a recent interview from Philip Pullman). I had already a copy of the book, of course, but waiting with other readers is part of the pleasure of being in Oxford and I could not have missed this.

Blackwell is a kind of a TARDIS – it’s bigger inside! From outside, the place looks like a very common bookshop with a TARDIS-blue front. In the inside, it goes 2 levels above the ground and underground you will find the Norrington room and its longest linear bookshelf in the world (!). From 22.30pm, the dynamic team welcomes us and all attendees are able to wander within the shop, except for the record-holding lower room where all the copies of the new book await midnight to be grabbed by envious readers. In order to properly wait until midnight, we all gather in the cafe corner of the bookshop and engage in a 25-question quiz followed by a read of the first chapter of Northern Lights by one of the librarians – who gives everyone a chance to remember that Pullman’s words are a melody when read aloud. When midnight comes, the happy quiz winner, a young boy who certainly wasn’t born when Lyra’s Oxford was released, is the first to be allowed an access to the Norrington Room. He has the responsibility, right after a final countdown, to unwrap from its paper cover the display containing the copies of La Belle Sauvage. One minute later, my NDA is suddenly obsolete, but who cares? There is too much to see and revealing anything I read so far would be an ethical crime to me.

Blackwell received much more books than needed for this first evening: many books await the attendees of the launch, delivered in the same tote bag with received a few hours earlier at the press conference. The content, however, varies: if the book is of course included, we can also find a nice promotional badger, a few promotional leaflets and – I must say it is the best of all and the most British and loveliest of attentions of Blackwell’s equally-lovely team: a Earl Grey teabag, to sustain our night read! Attendees, approximately a hundred of them, were for the most quite quiet when accessing the book: no shouts, no hast; only smiles on faces. With the precious book, each of them finally went back home in order to start a ride in a canoe for adventures along with Alice, with a baby-Lyra and Malcolm, her servant for life...

On the next afternoon, back in the very same Norrington Room, more than three hundred people gathered once again for a signing session with Philip Pullman, who received a Happy Birthday song from the whole room and teams. Because this is also what makes him so special an author: he offers a new book as a gift to his readers on his own birthday…

05 Novembre 2017 - 18:26:53
Source : Città
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