'What was that about, Mister Blunderbuss?'

'Oh, it was about one thousand five hundred words.'

'Ha-ha, very funny. You only get to crack that particular joke once. Ever.'

'You mean I've used up my humour ration for the day?'

'For a lifetime, if that's a fair sample. Now, what was all that about?'

'Are you saying you were disappointed by it?'

'Should I have been?'

'That depends on what you were expecting. What were you expecting?'

'Seeing as how you posted that story on the His Dark Materials board on Fanfiction.net, I was expecting an HDM fanfic. I'm not sure that that was what I got.'

'I see. Well, on one hand you did get an HDM fanfic…'

'And on the other?'

'You didn't. The first line is the give-away. It tells you that, in the context of this story, HDM is a story told by a girl called Lizzie. Later on, we find that she is a prisoner in a labour camp called Bolvangar and that life there is not at all nice. I don't say why this place has been set up, or why there are children being forced to work there, apart from the fact that there is a war on. The story is too short to support that level of detail.'

'Ah. Does that mean there won't be any more?'

'Yes. I believe that the story is complete as it stands.'

'Are you sure? You could write a lot more, couldn't you?'

'Yes, I could, but then it wouldn't be the story I set out to write, which was Lizzie's story.'

'I see. But - isn't Lizzie really Lyra?'

'Only in the story she tells her fellow-prisoners. She weaves her yarn out of the situation she is in, and the people she finds herself with. The most important thing is that she uses the power of imagination to transform them. Naturally, she becomes the heroine of her own story. The overseer, with her punishing length of birch, becomes Serafina Pekkala, riding a cloud-pine branch. Bill - who was murdered with a knife - becomes Will, who is the master of the Subtle Knife. The names of the other children in the dormitory get woven into her story as well. She even puts a version of herself in her story, to try to hide the fact that she really sees herself as Lyra.'

'So what is her story for?'

'Consolation. Hope. Encouragement. Nostalgia. Excitement. A way to pass the time. What all stories are for.'

'And what is your story for?'

'The same things, I hope.'

'And who is it really about?'

'Me, of course. But you knew that all along, didn't you?'