Gaiman started the final Town Hall Talk of the New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Festival with something he decided to read at the request of a fan – Locks, “The nearest thing I have to a credo”.
He then also read “with apologies to Mr Browning” My Last Landlady, and a new and unpublished piece – Rehlig Odhrain – about the death of St Oran and St Columba on Iona in Scotland. It was a great cross-section of his work.
First and foremost Gaiman is a wonderful reader, with great timing and command of different voices. He is also a attentive listener to questions and generously open with his answers. Unlike the Simon Schama session, where a sedate old fudger like me could get to the front of the theatre in time to ask something, fans rushed the mics to take their chance.
And the questions that came from the audience were rapid-fire, lucid and interesting – better put than many other questions at the festival. And his answers were gold. A young fan asked about advice for aspiring writers, and as close as I can quote it, so fast did it roll off his tongue, here is the response:
“You have to write. And when I say that some people look at me as if I was keeping a great secret from them, like they wanted me to say: Take a goat, slaughter it at midnight and stand at the door. You will hear three knocks. Do not answer the door. You will then hear five knocks. At that point you will answer the door and Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and me will be there to tell you how to write… Write. Finish it. And do whatever you can to get it published. Then, don’t even wait for it to be published, write the next thing.
Kate de Goldi showed her knowledge of her subject like she always does and explored the influence of G. K. Chesterton, Shakespeare, Victorian style clubs stories and even the write-to-order aspect of his work.
One fan asked if he was going to return to comics, and Gaiman said he would love to, but wasn’t sure when. “Last year I got to kill Batman, that’s not the kind of thing you plan for”.
Some other great Gaiman quotes and facts from the night:
- “I’m an awesome procrastinator. Not only can I put stuff off to tomorrow, I can put off stuff till, like, Thursday. More than that, I can put off deciding if I’m going to procrastinate …”
- Currently re-reading Journey to the West – a 15th century tale
- “All art needs boundaries. You need boundaries to chafe at.”
- The joy of Shakespeare is that he was writing for actors. (The speech is four minutes long because the person he is talking to next has to get changed).
- “My love of Greek myth came from C.S. Lewis”.
- Nothing improves your writing like seeing yourself in print.
- Favourite mythological creature is the basilisk. It’s a dragony thing hatched by the cockerel from the egg of a serpent or toad, that can kill you or turn you to stone. It’s weakness is the odour of weasel.
- “Someone out there has a bag of weasels”.
The queue for signing stretched out into Civic Square and Gaiman signed and drew pictures non-stop. I took pictures till the battery ran out. All ages and stages were there, taking their own photos and video and enjoying seeing their hero. It is quite moving to see so many people so genuinely made happy by reading a single author and his storytelling in all its forms – books, comics, novels, scripts, whatever.
Gaiman’s words say it best: “We owe it to each other to tell stories.”