- March 25, 2013
His Dark Materials author ‘both honoured and excited’ to succeed PD James leading writers’ lobby group
Philip Pullman is to succeed PD James as president of the Society of Authors – the “ultimate honour” awarded by the British writers body, and a position first held by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Pullman, the award-winning author of the children’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials and the fictionalised biography of Jesus, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, will take over from James on 3 August, the crime writer’s 93rd birthday and the date she has chosen to retire as president. James said she was delighted that Pullman had been elected by members of the society to replace her. He will “face a far more complex and challenging world for writers than did I when I was elected, but no one could be better qualified for the task,” she said.
Paying tribute to James as a “magnificent president, whose knowledge and wit and wisdom will be very hard to follow”, Pullman described himself as “both honoured and excited” to be taking on the role. “The Society of Authors has been representing and supporting the work of writers for 130 years, and now that we’re in the middle of one of the greatest revolutions in printing and publishing and reading there has ever been, the society’s experience will be needed more than ever,” he said.
Pullman talked to the Guardian about the likely challenges he’ll face in August. He “fully support[s] the call for Amazon to pay tax in this country” – a key issue for the book trade with a petition launched by independent booksellers Frances and Keith Smith now supported by more than 100,000 signatures. “Independent booksellers are an immensely valuable resource not only to the communities in which they exist but to the wider community of writers who create the books they sell,” Pullman said. “A vast corporation like Amazon, able to (I must be careful with the word here) avoid tax in this country by paying it in Luxembourg, or whatever they do, is a threat to the survival of independent booksellers, who do pay their full UK tax in a socially responsible way, and it needs to be countered.”
He also intends to continue the society’s fight for authors to be paid when their ebooks are lent from libraries – “I think PLR on ebooks would be a very good thing” – and will maintain the pressure authors have been putting on local authorities to keep libraries open. “Libraries benefit everyone. In fact it’s hard to think of anyone who’d be harmed by the existence of a library,” said Pullman. “The benefit of having a library in your neighbourhood, or a mobile library that comes to your village (as one does to mine), is enormous.”
Pullman has previously been highly vocal in the campaign to save libraries. He gave a passionate speech to Oxford campaigners two years ago in which he compared cuts to “the fanatical Bishop Theophilus in the year 391 laying waste to the Library of Alexandria and its hundreds of thousands of books of learning and scholarship”.
Philip PullmanLibrariesAmazon.comPublishingEbooksAlison Floodguardian.co.uk