When I first met bestselling and award-winning author Neil Gaiman back in 2005, I had been standing in a bookstore line for several hours, at the second book signing I’d ever been to (the first being, very appropriately, a Terry Pratchett book signing two weeks before, at which the seed for The North American Discworld Convention was born); and I was rather hungry, and rather tired. But when I got to the front of the line, I said hello, and I told Neil that I liked his work, and that I was working on a North American Discworld Convention for Terry Pratchett, and he (being a friend of Terry’s and having co-written the novel Good Omens with him) shook my hand and said, “Well done,” and gave me a cookie. And just like that, I felt like the world was a little warmer place – because that’s how talking with Neil is (and also because I was very hungry and the cookie was very good and probably raised my blood sugar a bit).
Several years later, I am happy to be able to call Neil a friend, and to have just had a delightful interview with him that I can share with you all. It’s a great time for an interview with Neil, because despite it being only March, 2013 strikes me as a particularly good year for illustrating the kind of creator that Neil Gaiman is; i.e., someone who is able to create wonderful art in any medium.
Although Neil is constantly creating, this year’s projects highlight the diversity of his creative output. To wit: Chu’s Day , a picture book for very small children illustrated by Adam Rex, has just been released. The Silver Dream: An Interworld Novel, a YA novel co-authored by Neil, Michael Reaves, and Mallory Reaves, will be released on April 23. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil’s newest adult novel, will be arriving June 18 (and is already slated for an adaptation to the big screen ). Fortunately, the Milk, an illustrated book for young readers, will be appearing in September. Added to this, Neil is currently penning a new Sandman comics story set before the beginning of his popular and long-running comics series, and scripting another TV episode of Doctor Who, to follow on the success of his episode from last year, ‘The Doctor’s Wife.’
And then, of course, there is the adaptation of his best-selling novel American Gods to a series for HBO, in which he is involved; and the adaptation to a TV miniseries of the aforementioned novel Good Omens, in which both he and Terry Pratchett are involved. Heck, even the commencement speech Neil gave at Philadelphia’s the University of the Arts last May is now being adapted into a book designed by artist Chip Kidd and arriving this May 14. And just when you think that may cover all the realms in which Neil might be “making good art,” as his commencement speech advises us all to do, there is the Blackberry-sponsored A Calendar of Tales, a set of twelve stories recently inspired by crowd-sourced tweet-responses to questions from Neil, and now available as a free download for all to read. That project is still ongoing, as now Neil is encouraging people to submit art inspired by the stories, which may then be featured alongside them.
All of this begs the question, is there any medium in which Neil Gaiman cannot “make good art”? Probably not, and that is just how he likes it. As he says, “I love the way people like Alan Moorecan move seamlessly from humor to horror, and I wanted to be like that. For me, it’s like someone who’s been locked into a sweet shop for the night, and just wants to get his hands into as many things as possible before being caught.” Neil wants to do it all, and happily, it works for him. He even does poetry! (And that is one of my favorite of his readings that you can watch online, so give it a click!). He also does fun interviews; so now that we’ve covered what are probably just a few of the projects Neil has up his sleeve for this year, let’s see what he has to say about a couple of them (and some other things).
I’m actually going to start with a question inspired by author Terry Deary’s recent proclamation that “the concept behind libraries… is no longer relevant,” which you obviously disagree with. How do you see the role of libraries in the world today?
I think the role of libraries is one that is currently being re-shaped by libraries everywhere. Until incredibly recently, a library held the role of chiefly a repository of information, and repository of fiction; and a place where people could guide you through information. And the problem with the world today is that there are so many people who believe that the internet has replaced libraries, because the internet is filled with information, and libraries are filled with information: therefore it’s exactly the same thing. Which is kind of like saying forests can replace gardens.
The internet is a forest, and the library is a garden, and it’s a garden that offers an awful lot more than just information, because it also offers…you know, different libraries offer different things, but they are often a way for people to get online, who would not otherwise get online. And they’re a way to access the correct thing that you are looking for. And also, the truth of it is, the internet is great for a lot of things, but it doesn’t have a brilliant, absolutely free and accessible set of fiction, to make happy a small child who is a voracious reader but who is not part of an incredibly rich family. They need libraries.
I agree; even growing up in a house full of books I used the library for specific things I was looking for or wanted to read, and I found new books by browsing and exploring at random.
Yes; you use the library, and it’s a way to go and find stuff. It’s a way of expanding your own horizon.
Speaking of expanding horizons; let’s talk about The Ocean at the End of the Lane, your newest adult novel. It seems pretty different from any of your previous writings; maybe because it’s more personal?
Yes, it’s definitely a very, very personal book. It also wasn’t meant to be a novel. It was a short story that just kept going and never stopped. So, as a result, it’s this sort of small but perfectly formed kind of thing. It’s not really like anything else I’ve written.
In a lot of ways, if it is like anything, it’s like Mr. Punch, and Violent Cases. And with Mr. Punch and Violent Cases, people would ask me if they were autobiographical, and I would say, “No, they’re not.” What they are is they’re like a mosaic, where all of the little red squares are autobiographical. But the red squares aren’t actually the story. You know, they’re just little bits that I put in with the rest.
In that vein, although Ocean is not autobiographical, the beginning point for the book is a bit that was autobiographical. I’d asked my dad, before he died, when I’d just bought my first MINI and I was saying how much I loved having a MINI, why he’d gotten rid of the little white MINI that he and my mum had had until about 1967. That’s when he told me about how the MINI got borrowed in the middle of the night by a lodger who had just lost all of his money and all of his friends at the casino in Brighton; and the lodger drove it down to the bottom of our lane and committed suicide. So that bit is real. That actually happened. Although I’d never known that that had happened. But that was the starting point for me, was the idea that something like that would happen. And I began building from that.
Overall, Ocean also seems to be a pretty emotionally mixed story, with some hope, and some darkness, and some funny bits, all inseparable from each other; and to me, that made it feel very “real,” despite the surreal elements at play.
Yes. It is a very strange little book, because in some ways, it’s really sad; it has happy endings after a fashion. But some really bad stuff happens to some of the people in there, and not all of it gets fixed by the end. But there’s also a lot of funny stuff, and a lot of stuff, I hope, that’s funny and human.
From my reading of it, I’d say that’s very true.
Another of your upcoming books that I’ve been hearing a lot about is your new illustrated book for young readers, Fortunately, the Milk, which you’ve called “the silliest thing” you’ve ever written. Tell us, how did you end up with (comics artist) Skottie Young as your illustrator?
What’s actually really amazing about Fortunately is that I have two different artists. And I have the two coolest artists for the book in the world. I have Chris Riddell in the U.K., and Skottie Young in the U.S. Because the U.K. loves Chris Riddell, but the American publishers think he’s too English, and the Americans love Skottie, but the English feel that his stuff looks a little bit slick and American; and I love both of them. So I just feel like this geeky bespectacled kid who is suddenly taking the two most beautiful girls in school to the prom. I get two dates.
Plus, everyone’s going to want to buy both books.
You know, I think some people really will. And normally we fight to get books out on the same date, whereas here, the English is actually coming out about a month after the American, and it’s one of the few times when nobody minds, because the English are saying, “You know, anybody who cares enough about Fortunately to buy it in from America is also going to come buy the English one as well.”
I’ve seen so many amazing Chris illustrations. I haven’t seen as many from Skottie yet. But Skottie may be sending stuff in to Harpers; and they’ve shown me about four pages, which are fantastic.
Oh good. Skottie has a very unique style.
He does. And we were hooked up by Twitter. It was like a kind of weird Twitter blind date. Somebody on Twitter just kept saying, “Oh my God, I wish that Skottie and Neil would work together,” and I thought, hang on, that name is familiar, and I went and clicked on Skottie’s name, and went, “Oh, you’re the one who does the wonderful Oz stuff. And I thought, “How cool,” and I just sent him a tweet. I said, “I’d be up for working together when the right project comes along.” And every few months he’d nudge me and say, “Has it come along?” and I’d go, “Ahhh, not yet.” And then Fortunately, the Milk came along, and I went, “Here,” and I slipped him the manuscript, kind of secretly. And said, “Would you like to do a little test drawing, just so that I can show the publisher?” Because Harpers didn’t really know Skottie.
Yes, he’s mostly in comics.
He’s in comics, exactly. I said, “Can you give me a little test drawing I can show them?” So he did, and it went from there.
Fantastic! Speaking of Twitter, you’re very active there. If there was a Twitter-pocalypse and Twitter went away tomorrow, how do you think that would affect your life? Would you miss it? Would you get more done?
I’d get much more done.
But would you miss it?
Yes, I’d miss it. I’d miss it particularly in long train rides and taxi rides and just times when I was really bored.
And, of course, you might never have met Skottie.
Maybe I wouldn’t have done. Twitter is great for increasing connections. Things connect. But it’s also a time sink. At the end of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I thank the good people of Twitter, who told me the price of Black Jack and Fruit Salad sweets, and I said “without whom this book would have been written in half the time.” And it is true.
Indeed! I’m feeling very apocalyptic today, so let’s wrap up with another apocalypse question. If we actually ended up in an apocalypse, what would be your marketable apocalypse skill? How would you sell yourself to a group of survivors so they wouldn’t steal all your food and weapons and leave you to die? How would you convince them to let you come along with the group and help fight zombies, or whatever the problem was?
You know, I’m not sure that I’d want to go along with the group and help fight zombies. I think what I’d probably want to do is just hole up in a place filled with books, with as much food as possible, bar the doors, and pretend I’m not there while catching up on my reading until the zombies get there. That would be fine. Because honestly, I’m really good at making stuff up, but that’s not really going to be terribly much use when the zombies come. Because people would go: “Okay, Neil! Distract them. …With a sestina. Just go and make up an impromptu verse to distract them.” Or, “140 characters of wit! Go on! Go on!” And I’m going, “Zombies don’t care.”
Unfortunately. But we do! And so thank you for this interview.
I hope everyone enjoyed this conversation with Neil Gaiman…But wait! There’s more!
I also talked with Neil and with illustrator Adam Rex about the children’s book they’ve just collaborated on, Chu’s Day! So if you’d like to read the rest of the Neil Gaiman interview, and an interview with the talented Adam Rex, head on over to my weekly column on ComicMix, and check it out!
About DC Books and Authors Blog
Literary Brain Trust is the tongue-in-cheek name of a group of people in Loudoun County, VA who love great books and appreciate the people who write them. These authors take us on amazing journeys and change our perceptions of the world around us. The Washington, DC area is home to many successful authors, screen-writers and playwrights. This blog will explore what they write and how and why they do it.