Three weeks ago I met my favourite writer, Neil Gaiman at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. (It’s taken this long to write it because I’ve been struck dumb by the excitement of the experience!….Or I’ve been struck down by a series of viruses.)
When I say ‘met’ I mean to say that I attended a talk and book signing, but, it’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to actually meeting him!
I don’t really think of myself as much of a ‘fan’ of anyone really, I don’t feel like I can justify the term. I’ve rarely read everything, listened to everything, followed obsessively and I’m almost always late to the ‘party’.
On the other hand, I queued for nearly two hours, half of that in the rain for the chance to get my books signed by Mr Gaiman. So I guess I can claim at least some fan-tastic tendencies…
My first encounter with Gaiman (though I didn’t know it then) was through the TV mini-series ‘Neverwhere’. I went on to read some of the early Sandman graphic novels. Later I read the novel adaptation of Neverwhere, and finally I put the pieces together.
Neil Gaiman creates a fantasy feel that really appeals to me. The concept of another, magical, gritty, gruesome and brutal world hiding just behind (or in the case of Neverwhere, just below) the ‘normal/real’.
It’s a theme that runs through many of the yet-to-be-written stories that circle around and around in my brain. I think it’s perhaps fuelled by (or maybe it fuels) my gaming background, the idea of living dual lives in reality and fantasy.
I find Gaiman’s writing style very easy going. He deals with some deep issues and subjects without being pretentious, creates some quite horrific scenes without gratuitous violence. There’s a sort of relaxed, conversational tone to his work which gives an air of truth. As though you’re privvy to the reality of life, rather than a fantastical story.
Before discovering Gaiman I was really into Clive Barker’s books. Weaveworld is most definitely one of my favourite all time books and I recommend it to anyone. But, although, Barker’s work is far darker and way more gruesome than Gaimans’ he has a very similar feel. As the reader I always had the impression that Clive wasn’t telling fictional stories, he was telling the truth, a truth that he could see through a doorway open somehow to him, and of course his books ran along that theme.
It came as a pleasant surprise to me to discover the Barker and Gaiman were friends. But made perfect sense.
At the talk, Mr Gaiman discussed how lucky his is to not be pigeon holed, to be able to write episodes of Dr Who, books for adults, graphic novels and children’s stories, seemingly seamlessly. I agree, and in the end we’re all winners. Why should a writer be confined to one area. It’s bad enough the way books are categorised by genre let alone forcing a writer to only write in one!
Later he talked about how he is a story teller, rather than a novelist.
A distinction that I’ve appreciated more in the thinking time since. A story teller is all about getting those tales out there. Where a novelist takes time to polish and perfect one story. At the end they have something beautifully crafted. But it takes longer for each story to make it’s way from their head to the world at large. Neil Gaiman is like a fountain of fiction. He just keeps on churning out top-quality stories that suck you in and then wreath you in their fantasy.
I’m not suggesting that his stories aren’t beautiful or well crafted, they are. But they are more about the story than the telling of it. Which is just fine by me because I love the stories he has to tell.
But it’s not just Neil Gaiman’s writing that I respect. It’s his approach to life. I agree with him on many of his political views, he always talks sense, everyone who meets with him says what a genuine and nice person he is. He loves his family and his animals and the world around him. He’s a celebrity, yet seems to be well and truly grounded in his world (all be it a somewhat surreal sounding one!), regularly tweeting, retweeting and responding to his fans. He’s not afraid to use his popularity to help further causes he approves of. He genuinely seems interested in creating a dialogue with his fans.
He even retweeted me once…and oh, was I excited! 😀
So it was excellent to hear him talk about Remember the Milk (which is great! Can’t wait to read it to my daughter), The Ocean at the Bottom of the Lane (Which is shaping up nicely), being an author, being him. He was brilliantly candid and spent nearly 30 minutes taking questions from the audience. He answered each one at length and with honest consideration. It was so refreshing. He approached the whole thing as though he was just hanging out with us (all 300 of us in neat rows at the foot of his stage…)
It wasn’t just cool to listen to him because, yes, I guess I am a fan, but, he also had lots of interesting things to say. Like there’s a sequel to Neverwhere…somewhere, in the pipeline 🙂 That he probably won’t be writing any Dr Who episodes for next season 😦
Afterwards we managed to find ourselves about 10 people from the end of the book signing queue. And it was raining.
But, like the good natured Brits we are we waited cheerfully in the rain.
There were all sorts of people in the queue. Kids in full Steampunk themed outfits, middle-aged men and women, students, grandparents and of course children.
We considered ourselves reasonable lucky, whilst we had been standing in the drizzle and chill for nearly two hours, Neil Gaiman had been signing books for all that time. These days I get writer’s cramp just writing the shopping list I’m so used to typing! 😉 I can’t begin to imagine how exhausting it must be signing and signing, smiling and greeting a whole parade of total strangers who think you’re great.
Finally we were inside the Waterstone’s tent and a little step to the left brought the man himself into sight.
Earlier we’d been informed us that we could only get one book dedicated, others would just be signed. So I had to decide. Dedicate the Ocean to me, or Fortunately the Milk to myself and my daughter. Afterall, I bought it for her to read when she’s older. I chose the latter of course.
Mr Gaiman commented on the uncommon name given to him, I explained it was my daughter, he said that it was a good book to read with her, then “I’m drawing a stegosaurus”. As he signed The Ocean he said firmly “This one is not for your child.”, “No, that’s for me” I replied and we smiled, he nodded and I was off and away.
That was it. Almost 2 hours for a 30 second exchange.
But I was so excited. It was brilliant. And now I have two books signed by my favourite author.