Connie Han listens in rapture as Philip Pullman reads from his work at Woodstock Literary FestivalThe Woodstock Literary Festival is ‘a celebration of books, of all that is literary’. Set in the pretty village of Woodstock, a 20 minute bus ride from the city centre, it feels a world away from the bustling self-importance of the city. Armed with a Cherwell press pass, I go to just one of the many talks on offer, ranging from subjects as diverse as Diana Mosley’s personal letters to Biblical inspiration for sexual art. “And which talk would you like to attend?” asks the cheerful organiser in the Green Room. “Philip Pullman, please,” I say. “Oh, Philip? He’s just behind you.” And that is how I came to be talking about Milton with Philip Pullman. “You can’t just read Milton,” he tells me. “You have to read him aloud. You have to go into a secluded corner and read him loudly, or if you are embarrassed, in a whisper. But you have to say it. Poetry has to be tasted in the mouth.” He quotes a long passage from Paradise Lost to me, from memory, savouring the beauty of the words, the esoteric descriptions, in an enraptured whisper. “That’s how you must enjoy poetry. It must be felt.”The sound of words is clearly important to Pullman. His talk is pleasant but unremarkable (tales about readers, and his wife’s struggle with computer voice recognition software, some advice to writers – ‘never start with a blank page in the morning’) until he begins to read. His reading voice is incredible, expressive, surprising. He chooses two passages with Iorek Byrnison, the Armoured Bear. The children in the audience are captivated by his rendition. His Iorek sounds like a Norwegian Russell Crowe: nothing like how I imagined him, but profoundly powerful and unique. Pullman complains that in the BBC radio version he wasn’t allowed to do the voice himself but then adds with childish glee that Ian Mckellen (‘that’s right!’) is involved in the new film (‘do you know who is doing Iorek? Gandalf!’) The appreciative crowd loves him. On the contentious subject of the film, Pullman is enthusiastic but gently ironic, (‘I’m glad to say they’re spending an awful lot of money on the fight scenes!’ ‘There are some fine actors doing it. Daniel Craig, he’s a very good actor, especially in swimming trunks’). At the end he gets bombarded with the usual questions. He takes care to answer those from children first. ‘What is your daemon?’ ‘Who inspired the characters of Lyra and Will?’ For your information: ‘my daemon, I think, would be one of those birds that steal things. All writers are thieves. Shakespeare was a thief.’ ‘All I know about Lyra and Will is that they are not extraordinary children. They are extremely ordinary. They are just in extraordinary circumstances.” It is that sense of the extraordinary in the ordinary that has brought Philip Pullman to where he is, a best-selling author in 40 countries, climbing down from the stage to rapturous applause.