How We Met: Caradoc King & Philip Pullman
Sunday 06 March 2011
Caradoc King, 64
Head of the literary agency AP Watt, King is agent to writers including Graham Swift, Tony Parsons and Philip Pullman, whom he has represented for 35 years. He lives in London with his partner
We met on the first day of the autumn term at Exeter College, Oxford, in 1965. He was a tall boy, with long hair, and damn good-looking, like a rock star to be. We were two provincial boys who didn't know anyone, so we agreed to meet for a drink in the college bar.
He spent a lot of his time playing the guitar, painting pictures and writing; when we were revising for finals he was brooding over his first novel. Philip was into rock – JJ Cale particularly – while I was more into classic music. Did we get stoned the whole time? The one thing about Oxford from 1965 -1968 was that we hit that cusp period when it was pretty straight; the 1960s didn't really start until 1968, though we did have a puff or two.
Once, we were invited to dinner by the college rector, as a couple of bright likely lads, along with a distinguished guest – JRR Tolkien. Looking back, it was an extraordinary encounter: a young undergraduate who would become the greatest fantasy writer of his generation, sitting in the presence of this revered author of The Lord of the Rings.
After graduation, I recall a fantastic road trip we went on after one Christmas, from Gloucestershire to Land's End, for New Year's Eve. We hung out in pubs, got a bit pissed and on New Year's night, we slept in the back of my van on an incredibly cold night, waking up to an incredible Cornish sunrise.
I went into publishing, while Philip worked part-time, determined to become a writer. When, in 1976, I joined AP Watt as an agent, he offered me his first adult fantasy, Galatea, and we have been professionally connected ever since.
It's a pleasure to combine admiration with friendship. He might have said, at some point, I've written novels for you for 20 years, why do I still have to do my day job? But we've never clashed; he's my oldest friend. He tells rattling good yarns, but doesn't overintellectualise what he does; the story always comes first.
These days he's regarded as this profound and visionary figure, but he's also the same man I remember when I first met him: he's just a lot of fun.
Philip Pullman, 64
An award-winning, bestselling author, Pullman is best known for his acclaimed trilogy of children's fantasy books, 'His Dark Materials'. He lives with his wife in Oxford
Ten of us were reading English at Exeter College, Oxford, in 1965 and we were summoned to a meeting with our new tutor on the second day of term. We were all fresh out of school, but Caradoc, who was the only one wearing a suit, struck me as being much more grown-up; he had the air of a man of the world. He seemed to already know who to go to at college to get this or that concession.
He was a boss already, a natural leader, directing plays for the college drama society. In the third year, we shared a cottage. At that time you weren't allowed to live in unapproved digs, but Caradoc decided he wanted to live in style in the country, so we found a cottage to rent and Caradoc put the case to the rector that we were victims of unhappy family circumstances, and persuaded him to let us live there. We lived in a sort of mock old club man's style. We pretended to be old buffers sitting in our club, had sherry before dinner and took turns to cook.
We were even invited by the rector to dinner, with his wife and their guest of honour, JRR Tolkien. He turned to our housemate, Richard, and said, "Tell me, young man, how are they pronouncing Anglo Saxon these days?" Richard hadn't a clue, so he turned to Caradoc and said, "Now then young man, did you enjoy Lord of the Rings?" and he said, "No, I haven't read it." That was the end of Tolkien's conversation for the dinner.
Caradoc worked like blazes, and got a much better degree; I went to two lectures and found them so boring I never wanted to go to another. After university, Caradoc went to a job in publishing – he knew what he wanted to do; I had no idea. I got a third-class degree and drifted to London to sleep on people's floors.
In 1976, I had an adult book due to be published and Caradoc represented me. I was so embarrassed to go to him with such a tiny advance. Since then, it's been an easy relationship; he has my full trust.
While we're close, we do disagree on things: you could call me a humanist, while Caradoc is a Catholic, so we've argued about the excessive wealth of the church, and its displays of symbolism. Caradoc is one for ceremony; I'm not.
We see each other regularly, meeting for dinner in London, but we're both middle-aged and slow now – though he's changed a lot less than I have. He's kept his hair, I envy him that, and he keeps trim with Canadian Air Force exercises. I'm just raddled and wrinkled now.
Caradoc King's memoir, 'Problem Child', (Simon & Schuster, £16.99) is out now
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