Neil Gaiman: The Amadeus Mozart of post-modern fiction

Neil GaimanThat’s how chair Kate de Goldi described the phenomenon that is @neilhimself, and the crowd which pushed the Wellington Town Hall and the signing queue to its limits backed up her lavish praise.

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He then also read “with apologies to Mr Browning” My Last Landlady, and a new and unpublished piece – Rehlig Odhrain – about the death of St Oran and St Columba on Iona in Scotland.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.”

Gaiman, Lanagan: doing it for the kids, not the librarians

authorsA kind mum put the request to Neil Gaiman on behalf of her eight-year-old son: Please write a Blueberry book for boys.

Gaiman took it on the chin and said he also gets told off for not writing books for dads, who also get a hard time in children’s stories. He’s addressing this with a new book called Fortunately the Milk, where a dad gets to have an adventure. He also revealed how he originally wrote the Blueberry Book for Girls as a poem for Tori Amos when she was pregnant.

It was a fitting note near the end of the session – both Gaiman and well-known Australian author Margo Lanagan had spent much of the time with Kate de Goldi explaining that they struggle to be prescriptive as to whether a book is for children or young adults when they write it.

The success of Coraline, Gaiman said, was due to the young daughters of his agent. The agent had initially said that Coraline wasn’t a children’s book as she was terrified reading it. They worked out a deal whereby she would test it on her children and if they were terrified they’d sent it off as an adult book, and if they loved it, it would be sent off to the children’s publisher.

They did love it – but Gaiman found out at the premiere of the musical that one of the children was actually terrified – she had said she loved it because she knew she wouldn’t get the rest of the story if she said otherwise.

When asked what a young adult novel was Margo Lanagan said “It’s a place in a bookshop. Beyond that it’s a very large argument.”

Librarians teachers and parents and “and other throwers round of their weight” want young people’s books to have particular themes or outcomes. She does put some “concessions” in her books she says, but is now moving much more towards fantasy writing which helps get around the problems.

Gaiman related how when he was reviewing book in the 1980s all he saw were prescribed fictions by teachers and librarians. “A proper book should be kid in south London in a tower block who’s older brother was having trouble with heroin,” he said. The books always featured a noble teacher who would point out the error of the youth’s ways.  “Horrible,” he said.

Diana Wynne Jones was the kind of writer both authors admired. She is often quoted as saying ‘when you write for children you only have to say things once’. Gaiman put it slightly differently: “She assumes that kids are really smart and are paying attention”.

After Gaiman’s professed love of libraries earlier in the day, this was an interesting cautionary note. Encourage reading, don’t gatekeep. What do you say librarians? Are you “throwers around of your weight”?

Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer: full press conference audio

Our sincere thanks to the New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Week organisers and media team for allowing us to be at this media conference. We appreciate it very much.

This is the full 25-minute conference. You’ll hear Neil and Amanda talk about being happy to be back together again, learn about the clothes Neil used in ‘that’ interview in the bath, hear about why Neil keeps in touch with fans so much, how he’s ‘banging the drum for libraries’, the duo’s own artistic collaboration, the writing process and more. Oh and yes, the wedding dress question.

There is some background noise and clicks and bumps and water being poured and even Amanda opening a mint. Enjoy!

Interview – Some Rights Reserved – Creative Commons License Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand

“Libraries are as important as anything gets” – Neil Gaiman

“Libraries are as important as anything gets”. So says ‘feral child brought up by librarians’ author Neil Gaiman.

Richard Liddicoat was at Neil Gaiman’s press conference this afternoon, before Gaiman was set to take the stage – he is no doubt the golden boy of the New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Week with fans all abuzz.

Gaiman is an ardent library lover, and is about to be honorary chair of American National Library Week.  Even in depressiony, recessiony times, he says, your library is still there …
Listen to Neil here:

Neil is in New Zealand with his rock star girlfriend, the genius Amanda Palmer who is touring New Zealand.  She is playing at Al’s Bar in Christchurch on Tuesday 16 March. You’ve gotta love a woman who sings about Oasis, Guitar Hero and Leeds United, looks super hot at the Golden Globes – and graces the cover of Friday’s Press supplement!

Amanda is also working on a record called Amanda Palmer Down Under in which she’ll sing Oz and NZ related songs and collaborations.

Kia ora Neil and Amanda.

Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman