What’s it like to bring one of the most magical worlds in fiction to life, and into the hands of readers?
In October the second volume of Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust trilogy, The Secret Commonwealth, was published, which has given fans and readers a chance to learn about Lyra Belacqua’s life as a young adult and student at Oxford.
We heard from Gemma Rostill and Michael Bedo, two of the team working on bringing the book to life, to hear about what it was like to work with such a widely-loved author, and on publishing a book whose characters mean so much to so many.
What was your role, and what did it involve?
We worked on the marketing campaign – so everything from creative messaging and imagery to media spend and fan/bookseller engagement. Whether managing daily organic content on Philip Pullman’s official communities across Instagram and Facebook, paid social and digital boosts behind key PR moments and providing booksellers with the tools to promote the publication – we’re always ‘on’! The audiences for Philip Pullman are wide-ranging and rapidly evolving this year, so it’s been an exciting challenge to reach, engage and learn from them. We’re constantly analysing results as we go and shaping the campaign as it happens.
What was it like to work on one of the biggest books of 2019?
Full on! It’s incredibly exciting, not least because we’re huge fans of the books ourselves (Gemma changed her whole career path at university after reading His Dark Materials) but for the opportunities it offers as marketers. There’s a huge amount of emotional investment in these books across the board, from consumers to our retail customers, so we have to find the delicate balance between leveraging that and being sensitive to something that means a great deal to many people. The trick is, as ever, to have a laser focus on the audiences and ensure the campaign is multi-faceted to bring each one with you throughout the campaign.
How did your campaign differ from the launch of the first in the Book of Dust series back in 2017?
The 2017 campaign was very special, as it was the first time in many years that Philip had written a full-length novel with his beloved heroine, Lyra, at the centre. Our strategy was to create a year-long teaser campaign with a huge ‘lift-the-veil’ moment at publication, releasing very little content and keeping consumers on the edge of their seats and pre-ordering in their thousands by drip-feeding news month by month. This time, we took the opposite tack and established a series of content reveals, building on the huge fan engagement since 2017 and using a core creative message around ‘Lyra’s journey’ to mirror the actual journey she undertakes across Europe and beyond in the book, and as a person – from a tiny baby in La Belle Sauvage to a young adult of 20 in The Secret Commonwealth.
What was your favourite moment of the campaign?
Seeing fan engagement with our campaign – from incredible creativity amongst bookseller in-store displays using our materials and their imaginations, to reactions during our Alexandra Palace launch event live stream and the hugely enthusiastic engagement with the launch and progression of our Instagram channel. I (Gemma) also had the chance to meet and interview Philip for our social channels, which was a huge privilege. To be honest, it was a complete out of body experience but one that translated into amazing video content – and I just about managed to stifle my inner fan girl.
What book/campaign are you next working on?
Gemma: I’m straight into planning The Secret Commonwealth paperback for next June!
Michael: I'm working across a variety of Young Adult (YA) campaigns, including Karen McManus’s new book, The Cousins, out next autumn, Malorie Blackman and Harrow Lake, our exciting new YA voice launch this summer.
It is almost ten years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford's Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.
Now, in The Secret Commonwealth, we meet Lyra Silvertongue. And she is no longer a child . . .
The second volume of Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust sees Lyra, now twenty years old, and her daemon Pantalaimon, forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined, and drawn into the complex and dangerous factions of a world that they had no idea existed. Pulled along on his own journey too is Malcolm; once a boy with a boat and a mission to save a baby from the flood, now a man with a strong sense of duty and a desire to do what is right.
Theirs is a world at once familiar and extraordinary, and they must travel far beyond the edges of Oxford, across Europe and into Asia, in search for what is lost - a city haunted by daemons, a secret at the heart of a desert, and the mystery of the elusive Dust.
The Secret Commonwealth is truly a book for our times; a powerful adventure and a thought-provoking look at what it is to understand yourself, to grow up and make sense of the world around you. This is storytelling at its very best from one of our greatest writers.
*The first book in The Book of Dust trilogy, La Belle Sauvage, is coming to the stage in the summer of this year. Performed at The Bridge Theatre from July 2020, it will be a theatrical spectacle not to be missed*
Reviews for The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume Two:
"[Pullman] has created a fantasy world, made yet more satisfying in rigour and stylistic elegance. This is a book for getting older with" Guardian, Book of the Week
"The Secret Commonwealth is ablaze with light and life. The writing is exquisite; every sentence sings ... To read Pullman is to experience the world refreshed, aglow, in Technicolour" i
"Pullman's story is still thought-provoking ... This book elegantly weaves in live issues, from Europe's refugee crisis to facts in the post-truth era. And Pullman's prose is rewarding as ever" The Times
"A long, taxing, complex journey, laced with beauty, terror and philosophy" Metro
"As ever, Pullman's story is complex and vast but home to some of the finest storytelling in the 21st century. Revel in whole new worlds and enjoy one of literature's most wonderful heroines before she comes to HBO and the BBC" Stylist
"Pullman is confronting readers with the horrors of our own world reflected back at us. In The Secret Commonwealth he creates a fearful symmetry" The Herald