Bemusing Neil Gaiman

I’m fed up with not writing on my blog. There’ve been all sorts of things I’ve wanted to type up recently that haven’t made it out of my head, and it’s usually because I want to do them justice. That doesn’t seem to be working, however, so I’m going to try the less-coherent-as-written-late-at-night-but-at-least-there tactic.

With this in mind, here’s me this evening:

Me and Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of a few fantasy authors I really rate, but it’s interesting how much more often he turns up in my thoughts and writings relative to the others. I think it’s because he’s a strong and accessible personality, and this ends up inextricably linked to his work. I’ve been thinking about it today, and I don’t think it’s any surprise he’s good friends with Jonathan Ross. They’re both very open about their lives, give every impression of being entirely decent people, and their characters are a strong part of everything they do. A Jonathan Ross show will always make use of his particular presenting style that (unless he’s an extremely good actor) is his genuine personality; a Neil Gaiman novel isn’t an anonymous fantasy text, it’s very much his style – his books of short stories contain explanations for how he came to write each of them, and when reading I feel like I’m becoming familiar with him as a person, and not just his writing. Neil Gaiman also writes daily on his blog – he’s written something about this evening already – and his family life has been a regular feature of my daily reading for over a year.

I booked tickets for an interview with him at the Criterion Theatre a few weeks ago. They were only £5, and with the train ticket at £10 there seemed little reason not to take a trip. I arrived in good time, and the theatre wasn’t quite full.

He started by reading an excerpt from Stardust. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking listening to authors read their own stuff – they’re writers, not public speakers, and it can be cringeworthy. In this case I realised after thirty seconds that I was completely engrossed in the story and barely aware of his reading at all. And I’ve read the book before. That’s some skill.

The Guardian’s literary editor asked a few questions about his past, and then it was opened up to the floor. The first person asked for a kiss, which got a good laugh, and plenty of interesting questions followed. Had he ever shelved a story with religious themes due to fear of offending people1? Who would he want to play him in a film of his life2? What happened at the end of the (recent, and excellent) Steve Ditko documentary3? There was a quick draw for the winner of two tickets to tomorrow night’s Stardust premiere, and then it was over to the local Waterstone’s for a signing. I got lost.

It’s only 100m away, and I got lost. I tried to follow the crowd, forgetting that London is one big crowd. I found it a couple of minutes later, but by this point was near the back of the queue. I got chatting to a nice guy called George, and together we shuffled forwards in the evening drizzle, until finally getting through the doors about 45mins after arriving.

We were unsure whether there’d be books near the signing table, so headed to the graphic novel department to pick up something appropriate. There was nothing there – everything was near the signing table – so we went back downstairs and found ourselves the last two people in the queue. Which was fun 🙂 Not long after this I started worrying about time. It was 2100, the queue was 100 people long, and the last train was at 2200, fifteen minutes away. We crept forward, and I could see it was going to be close. Waterstone’s was closing shortly, and before we reached the table they cleared the books away. I was very close to leaving, but in the end decided I’d get a coach home if necessary – I didn’t want to miss the opportunity, since I was by this point only 10 people away!

I finally reached the front, and this happened:

A Critical Introduction, not by Neil Gaiman

I explained that I hadn’t a book of his as they’d been cleared, but I did have this one on photographic theory and it’d be wonderfully surreal, and entertaining for my classmates, if he’d sign it. To be honest I can’t remember exactly what he said in reply, but I recall it as brief bemusement followed by a smile and something along the lines of ‘no problem’. ‘Not written by Neil Gaiman’ was a nice touch, especially considering he’d been signing books for over two hours solid by that point. George then quickly took a photo and I said thanks for all the hours of entertainment. It was a nice little moment. He gives every impression of being a very decent person in interviews, and in person practically exuded friendliness. Definitely a cool guy.

Then we ran, George not actually needing to but in solidarity with me, and we split at Piccaddilly Circus. I wish I’d given him a moo card as we got on pretty well. I reached Marylebone at 2203, and it turned out that the last train was at 2210. So I made it. Jammification!

  1. no, although one story involving ‘feotal dreams’ never made it as he was worried some sadist would use it as anti-abortion material []
  2. anyone, providing they had Dylan Moran’s hair []
  3. they chatted with him for a while []