He is a master of blending fact and fiction but, as Philip Pullman says, today’s politicians are on another level

I meet Philip Pullman 24 hours after he has got into trouble for idly musing on Twitter that he would like to hang Boris Johnson. “It was a silly joke,” he admits, looking slightly embarrassed as he enters his sitting room with a plate of biscuits for us, perching them on teetering stacks of books beneath which there is said to be a coffee table. He says his publishers were a bit miffed: threatening to murder the prime minister was clearly not how they had agreed to start the publicity campaign for his forthcoming children’s novel, The Secret Commonwealth, and Pullman had to publicly retract his words after there were complaints. “But,” the 72-year-old author adds, his tone brightening, while one of his dogs clambers on to his lap and the other maintains a vigil beside the biscuits, “the upshot was I gained 2,000 followers on Twitter!”

Pullman creates magical realms in his award-winning fiction, writing it in his 16th-century farmhouse in a village outside Oxford, where he lives with his wife and his ukuleles and cockapoos and overflowing shelves. But if I expected to meet someone otherworldly, I was wrong. Pullman, who has two sons and several grandchildren, is very much of this world, and can talk in detail about the shadowy machinations of Dominic Cummings as well as the designs of Victoria Beckham and the woodworking videos he sometimes gets hooked watching on YouTube. His observation of the government is not one-sided: he tells me that Michael Gove, as education secretary, once invited him to discuss literacy. Pullman told him that “the basics” weren’t grammar and spelling, as Gove believed, “because everybody who’s got a word processor knows you correct those at the last minute,” but rather nursery rhymes, songs, a love of language itself. Nothing came of it, “but I’ll give him credit: he was very courteous and he listened, and there was a civil servant making notes. And Gove cracked a joke about me being ‘at the heart of the Magisterium now’, so he had plainly read my books.”

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