Pullman was well-known for writing in a shed, to a rigorous 3-pages-daily quota. For instance, from this 1998 interview:
I sit down to write by hand, in ballpoint, on A4 narrow lined paper, after breakfast, and work through till lunch with a break for coffee and reading mail. Then I have lunch and watch Neighbours (invaluable). In the afternoon I read or take the dog for a walk or do something physically constructive (this summer I made a clavichord with my 16-year-old son – a delightful business for all sorts of reasons). In the evening I finish the three pages which is my daily task, or if I finished them in the morning, I do whatever journalism or reviewing or lecture-planning I have in hand. I spend Sundays answering letters; it takes me all day.
The shed is part of - rather than being merely the location of - the writing ritual:
It's quite comfortable in there, but because of my superstition about not tidying it during the course of a book, it's now an abominable tip. I write by hand, using a ballpoint pen on narrow lined A4 paper (with two holes, not four). I sit at a table covered with an old kilim rug, on a vastly expensive Danish orthopaedic chair, which has made a lot of difference to my back. The table is raised on wooden blocks so it's a bit higher than normal.
I write three pages every day (one side of the paper only). That's about 1100 words. Then I stop, having made sure to write the first sentence on the next page, so I never have a blank page facing me in the morning.
That technique for avoiding the tyranny of the blank page is commonly seen in writers (I'll try dig out some examples in due course). Though elsewhere Pullman himself cites Van Gogh: "he said why should a painter be afraid of a blank canvas, a blank canvas is afraid of the painter, if you take that attitude you've beaten it already".
However, the fullest recent account of his method reveals that the writing is no longer hammered out in the shed, and the shed itself has embarked on its own creative journey:
I used to work in a shed in my garden. But it got too crowded with books and manuscripts and all kinds of bits and pieces, and I got fed up with being down at the end of the garden, especially on rainy days; and then we moved house anyway, and I had to decide whether to take the shed with us or leave it there. In the end I gave it to a friend, the illustrator Ted Dewan - on condition that when he's finished with it, he'll give it to another writer. He's replaced the windows and some of the roof, and I like the idea that it'll get passed on to lots of other writers and illustrators, and each of them will replace this bit or that bit until there isn't an atom of the original shed left.
Anyway, I now work in a big study in the house we live in, and I have room for all my books, and for several power tools as well. I have a bandsaw and a drill press and a planer and a bench grinder in here, and two guitars and an accordion, and a lot of wood that I'm going to make things out of. [...]
Given that he says "people don't always know you're making a joke" at the start of this interview, you wonder whether that last bit is a fib. He continues:
I'll get up at about half past seven and take my wife a cup of tea, and have my breakfast at the kitchen table reading the paper. I'll sit down at my desk at about half past nine and work until it's time for lunch, with a break for coffee half way through. If I'm lucky I'll have written three pages by then, and I can fool about with my power tools in the afternoon. If not, it's back to the desk until the three pages are covered.
I write with a ballpoint pen on A4 sized narrow-lined paper. The paper has got to have a grey or blue margin and two holes. I only write on one side, and when I've got to the bottom of the last page, I finish the sentence (or write one more) at the top of the next, so that the paper I look at each morning isn't blank. It's already beaten. That number of pages amounts, in my writing, to about 1100 words.
When I've finished a story I'll type it all on to the computer, editing as I go. Then I read it all again and think it's horrible, and get very depressed. That's one of the things you have to put up with. Eventually, after a lot of fiddling, it's sort of all right, but the best I can do; and that's when I send it off to the publisher.
The shed's transformative journey recalls both Simon Starling's Turner prize-winning shed.
Pullman went to night school to learn physically how to write, how to hold a pen correctly, how to shape letters into a perfect script, how to become so expert at the technique of sending messages from the brain down the shoulder and along the arm into the fingers and on to the page, that he'd never have to give it another thought.
Related: The Economist's Intelligent Life has a great interview with Pullman, with brilliant photos by Jillian Edelstein. Roald Dahl was also well-known for writing in a shed. Ballard, who aimed for a similar thousand words daily.
More how we work.