OXFORD author Philip Pullman is warning fans of his latest novel they may have to be patient before they get their hands on the sequel.

In October La Belle Sauvage was published - the first novel in a three-part series entitled The Book of Dust.

But Mr Pullman said the book trade’s prediction that the sequel would be published by October was a ‘bit optimistic’.

La Belle Sauvage, which tells the tale of 11-year-old Malcolm Polstead, who lives with his parents at The Trout Inn in Wolvercote, was published to great acclaim in October and in November booksellers at Waterstones named it their book of the year.

Fans of La Belle Sauvage are desperate to read the next instalment, The Secret Commonwealth, and The Guardian has pencilled in its publication for October, in its round-up the best books for 2018.

But Mr Pullman said he couldn’t guarantee the paper’s prediction that the second instalment would be published by then was a ‘bit optimistic’.

He said: “Originally I was hoping to get it finished in time for publication a year later.

“It is finished but it still needs a considerable amount of work and I want to make sure it is as good as it can be for the readers.

“If I can get it done in time (for October) I will but it might have to wait until the spring.”

Father-of-two Mr Pullman, 71, who lives in Cumnor, is the author of His Dark Materials, a trilogy of fantasy novels.

The last part of His Dark Materials came out in 2000 and fans had to wait 17 years for the characters featuring in it, including Lyra Belacqua, to reappear in La Belle Sauvage.

Now it looks like they could be forced to wait a little bit longer than they expected for the new novel.

Mr Pullman confirmed that the title of the next Book of Dust novel, The Secret Commonwealth, was inspired by a book of the same name by Scottish folklorist Robert Kirk, who died in 1692.

The book features fairy folklore, witchcraft and ghosts.

Exeter College graduate Mr Pullman did not want to give anything more away about the title’s significance.

But the new book is expected to be set 20 years after the events of La Belle Sauvage, featuring Lyra Silvertongue as a 20-year-old undergraduate, travelling to Central Asia.

The author said the reaction to the publication of La Belle Sauvage was ‘very pleasing indeed’.

He said he was now ‘thinking quite hard’ about the third instalment of The Book of Dust.

Mr Pullman is due to give a talk at the Sheldonian Theatre on Thursday, February 22.