Aug 28, 2011

Patrick Ness + Neil Gaiman Ninja Reading = Best Bookish Day Ever?

Hi everyone! I came back from what were possibly the best holidays ever a few days ago, and I have so much to tell you that I’ll have to break it down into several posts. I’m afraid you’ll be sick and tired of hearing me go on about Edinburgh by the time I’m done, so I apologise in advance! I thought I’d do one general post about the Edinburgh Book Festival, one about the Fringe, and, to begin with, one about the most exciting day of all, which certainly deserves its own post: the day I met both Patrick Ness and Neil Gaiman.

I arrived in Edinburgh last Sunday, and the first event I attended was Patrick Ness and Moira Young’s “Different Worlds” session: Patrick Ness mostly focused on the Chaos Walking trilogy, and Moira Young on her debut novel Blood Red Road, also the first in a trilogy (and which I’m reading at the moment).


Fans queueing up for the event

Both authors began by answering the question, “Why dystopia?”: Patrick Ness said that dystopias are “a good place to explore metaphors about today”; they’re about the world as it is now, rather than any actual future scenarios. He also referred to his recent review of Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, where he explains why he thinks dystopias particularly appeal to teen readers: they mirror the feeling of powerlessness teens often experience; of being surrounded by rules that feel arbitrary; of having the responsibilities but not the most of the privileges of adulthood. These stories are often a better representation of what living in the world feels like as a teen than realistic fiction. And, crucially, they show that even the darkest scenarios are survivable, which is important to anyone going through difficult times.

Moira Young added that her own series reflects her anxiety over current environmental issues, and Patrick Ness agreed that dystopia often comes from a place of anxiety. In his case, Chaos Walking reflects his anxiety over information overload. He asked the 13 and 14 year-olds in the audience to raise their hands, and said that people their age were growing up with far less privacy than anyone else in the history of the western world. A world with more monitoring than ever before leaves far less room for the mistakes everyone makes when they’re young to simply disappear, or for secrets to ever really be secrets.


yay

Ness also added that although his writing reflects specific concerns of his, these emerge organically from the story. His advice to young writers was not to worry about writing a story about this or that particular issue. The things they care about will find their way into their fiction, but if deliberately inserted, there’s a real danger that they’ll end up with a lesson or a mediocre “message novel”. Ness said his main goal as a novelist, especially a YA novelist, is to tell the truth as best as he can. This means no moralising or forced Hollywood happy endings. The world often does feel dark when you’re a teen; if you tell the truth and acknowledge that, the positive and hopeful aspects of the story will feel more real – they will have been earned. I think anyone who has read Chaos Walking will agree on the effectiveness of his approach.

Finally, both Ness and Young said they didn’t realise as they were writing that they were part of a dystopian “movement” or trend. Patrick Ness said that while he doesn’t at all mind being labelled a dystopian or sci-fi author, he doesn’t think genre labels should ever be the authors’ concern. Labels are helpful to readers, but they shouldn’t ever set limits to what authors write. Again he addressed any budding writers in the audience and told them, “Ignore the world when you write”. They should neither feel pressured to join any trends nor feel like they shouldn’t write something because it’s now a trend.

These are only a few highlights of a truly excellent session. After a whole week of attending Edinburgh Book Festival events, I appreciate how good it was all the more. The chair did an excellent job of making the most of the one hour time slot, of balancing each author’s participation, and of encouraging audience questions. This was by far the most interactive of all session I attended, and seeing such enthusiastic young readers take part made me incredibly happy. There was even a group of teen girls with amazing Chaos Walking t-shirts they had made themselves!


Patrick Ness and Moira Young with two young readers

Another thing that was lovely to see was how great Patrick Ness is with his young readers. He treats them as human beings and refuses to ever talk down to them. I could have easily guessed this from his writing, really, but it was still great to witness it in person. It makes me particularly happy as an aspiring YA librarian to see authors treat teens and children with such respect, but it also makes me happy as a person, period.


Eek!

There was a signing at the end, so I got to meet Patrick Ness and Moira Young, both of whom were very nice. I got my copies of Blood Red Road and A Monster Calls signed (sadly my Chaos Walking books are all stored away back home) and got to thank them both for an excellent session. Of course, all the things I had planned to say to Patrick Ness (like thanking him for trusting his readers to be smart regardless of their age, or for his amazing Carnegie Medal acceptance speech) completely vanished from my mind when my turn came, but that always happens. At least I didn’t make too much of a fool of myself, I don’t think.


My secret intrawebs identity came up thanks to the very nice girl ahead of me in line, who is also a Twitterer. Being the awkward and socially anxious person that I am, I’d never have brought it up myself. But it was still kind of cool to be recognised by a favourite author.



Patrick Ness and Moira Young’s session was at the same time as Neil Gaiman’s Guardian Book Club session on American Gods. I made the very difficult decision of attending Patrick Ness’ instead because I’m going to hear Neil Gaiman speak at the British Library early next month. But then, the day before I left to Edinburgh, I saw this tweet:



I knew it was going to be very hard to get tickets, but I also knew that my partner and I had a decade of experience of getting tickets to quick-to-sell-out events (being a big concert goer totally boosts your transferable skills!). So we decided to try our luck. We could easily have joined the queue for the Neil Gaiman signing after Patrick Ness, but instead we made our way to C Venues on Chambers Street and waited for 6pm, when tickets would go on sale. I queued up at the box office in person while M tried his luck over the phone, and we made it! Only twenty tickets were released altogether, and we got two. Part of me still can’t quite believe this happened.


Neil Gaiman signing at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Before I go any further, I feel like I should give you a little bit of context. Most readers of this blog will know that Neil Gaiman is my absolute favourite author, but there’s really more to it than that. I was in my late teens when I started following his blog; and having grown up in Portugal before the Harry Potter-fuelled boom in fantasy translations, I had limited knowledge of or access to fantasy fiction. I’d been raised on a steady diet of Greek myths and fairy tales, and I knew in my bones that I loved these stories – I knew that they were my literary home. But in the days before blogging, before belonging to an Internet community of bookish people, and without access to a local library or The Book Depository’s free shipping, it was very difficult for me to find more of the kinds of books I wanted to read.

It was in this context that Neil Gaiman’s blog opened up entire worlds for me. I can trace so many of my favourite things back to him. I can even trace this blog in a way – he introduced me to the Endicott Studio, where I saw a post about Carl’s Once Upon a Time Challenge, which I started blogging in order to join. And thanks to that I went on to meet people who also changed my life in other ways. Silly though this might sound, Neil’s web presence over the past decade was a huge force in making me the person I am today. I feel like his blog played a role in raising me, and that’s as much a part of what he means to me as is the fact that I love his books.

All this to say that getting tickets to this tiny reading meant the world to me. The event took place at the Belt Up Theatre’s Fringe headquarters at C Venues (I’ll have much more to say about them when I do my post on the Fringe); a small, intimate and semi-dark room with sofas and cushions on the floor where an amazed audience sat in the small hours of the morning and listened to songs, poems and stories. I’m not sure if I can do justice to the mood of the reading – it felt dreamlike, surreal, personal, and incredibly special. I’m sure I’m not the only person who was in absolute awe. There’s something about sitting in what feels like someone’s parlour and watching your favourite author and two amazing musicians step out of a closet that can’t really be accurately described.


Belt Up's Penthouse

I only took three pictures the whole night – they’re not great, but I do think they capture the mood of the place pretty well. We were allowed to take pictures and even film, but it felt a little wrong to do so, like it would somehow break the spell. Also, the reading felt like something somewhere between a private and a public affair; like we were being shown things that wouldn’t normally be shared with an audience. Plus some of what was shared with us was unpublished material, so it wouldn’t feel right to put it up online. I do wish I had a video to remember it better, but I don’t regret just sitting back and enjoying it.

The evening started with Jason Webley playing Last Song on the accordion. Then Amanda Palmer did Delilah on the mandolin – this is my second favourite Dresden Dolls song (after The Jeep Song) and it was just brilliant; I could kiss the person who requested it. Then Neil read his poem “Instructions” and I very nearly cried. Good thing it wasn’t “Locks”, or there would have been no nearly about it.


Instructions

There were a few more songs (including 8in8’s “The Problem with Saints”, which I had the pleasure of hearing Neil sing three times over the week; and Amanda doing a cover of “Friday” – I kid you not); poems and short stories by Neil performed by the Belt Up Theatre’s excellent actors; a poem by Neil about the night before his wedding; a poem by Amanda; and finally the highlight of the night: Neil Gaiman reading the whole of his award-winning story “The Thing About Cassandra”, from the anthology Songs of Love & Death.

I had not read this story before, which I’m glad for, as it made the whole experience even better. It was close to 3 a.m. by then, which meant I had been up for about twenty-two hours. My day started when I woke up at dawn to travel to Edinburgh; I then walked around the city all day, and I was incredibly anxious about whether or not I’d get tickets until 6pm. I had an exhausting and emotionally turbulent day, and almost fell asleep during the intermission. The reason why I’m telling you all this is so you’ll understand how much it means when I say that the story had me absolutely enthralled. It helps that Neil is such a talented reader, of course, but it was also the story itself. I can’t say much without spoiling it, but I’ll say that I loved the twist. Not just for the surprise factor, but also for what it adds to its overall meaning.


Amanda reading her poem with Jason Webley accompanying her on the accordion.

At the end of the event several people stuck around for a little while to thank Neil, Amanda and Jason Webley for an unforgettable evening. We were in a circle around Neil, and the girl beside me (who was also the girl beside me at the Patrick Ness signing queue – obviously she has great taste) and I were kind of hesitating and telling each other to go talk to him first. Neil saw this, so he came up to us, shook our hands, and thanked us for coming. At this point I was both exhausted and completely dazed, so all I did was mumble awkwardly at him about how he was my favourite author, how much it meant to me to be there, and how thankful I was for all the stories he’s given us over the years.

And then he thanked me and said it was lovely to be someone’s favourite author. He was incredibly warm and kind, as he always is. I ran into him several times during the week, and he always seemed to be surrounded by a cloud of happiness. Everywhere I’d see people go up to him and then come away bouncing and with huge grins on their faces. He’s always so kind to his fans, and never forgets to treat them as human beings. I knew this already, of course, but it was even more striking in person. In addition to everything else, this is a huge part of why I love him.

I know this post is already ridiculously long, but I might as well try your patience for a little longer and tell you about the other times I met Neil Gaiman. As some of you know, earlier this year I’ve had the occasion to reflect on the whole meeting people you admire thing when I met my favourite musician, and what I said then still stands now. Still, all these small interactions meant the world to me – from mumbling awkwardly at him that first time, to saying “Hi Neil” and having him smile at me at Jason Webley’s show at the Forest Café, to finally giving him a hug at the end of Amanda Palmer’s show at the HMV picture house (very out of character for me, but oh well!).


Jason Webley and Neil Gaiman at the Forest Café. Amazing show, btw.



Why yes, this time you can haz video. I love how you can hear Amanda singing from the side of the stage.

Both Neil and Amanda were signing at the end of her very fun show on Thursday. I got my copies of Amanda’s Radiohead EP and of The Graveyard Book signed, and most importantly of all I got to thank Neil for all the amazing things he’s introduced me to over the years.


Wheeee!


WHEEEEE!

I specifically thanked him for recommending the Belt Up’s The Boy James (on which more soon) and books like Tender Morsels and Fire & Hemlock, but I also meant Diana Wynne Jones in general, Ursula Le Guin, Martin Millar, The Magnetic Fields, Hayao Miyazaki, Pan’s Labyrinth, Babylon 5… I lose track. As I was saying earlier, he was the source of many of the things that have become a huge part of who I am, and both that and his own stories mean more to me than I can say.

And then I left the venue and there was this, which was the cherry on top:



Thank you, Neil. For everything.

41 comments:

Amanda said...

Reading posts like this just makes me so happy! I'm so glad you had such a wonderful holiday Ana!!

Jenny said...

How cool! I love Neil Gaiman's work for being awesome, but I also love it that he seems like a genuinely kind, good person. So often with authors I like, I have to ignore the things about them that are terrible (most people have a few terrible things about them), but Neil Gaiman is just nice and courteous all the time. If I ever become a proper author I want to be just like him.

And Patrick Ness! Of course! Who I also love for the same exact reasons!

C.B. James said...

That was certainly a holiday to remember.

Heather said...

Oh Ana, you had me in tears reading this. I am so very happy for you! What an amazing experience. I already knew Neil and Patrick were awesome human beings-it's just to wonderful to hear it confirmed by a friend. I couldn't feel any more warm and fuzzy...unless I could have been there too. :)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

You and "Neil" - love that!!! Great post!

Gavin said...

What a fabulous day! I am so happy you got to Edinburgh and got to see and meet all these wonderful authors. I believe one of the reasons why people like Patrick and Neil have such a passionate fan base is because they are open, kind and compassionate. Can't wait to hear more about your trip.

Lu @ Regular Rumination said...

Ana, this might sound silly, but this post made me cry. A happy cry, because your enthusiasm and happiness just pour from the page and I can feel every bit of your joy. And it's just a beautiful thing. <3

Elisabeth said...

That is seriously so cool. Happy for you.

Eva said...

Yay Ana! Like Lu, I just loved all the happiness this post exuded. :D

Trisha said...

What a fantabulous time! I am definitely jealous since (as you know) I also love Neil Gaiman, and Patrick Ness's series for that matter. :) I'm so happy for you.

Laura said...

Hurray! Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer are two of my favorite people-I've-never-met. I'm so glad you got to see them and meet Neil! He really is an amazing reader, isn't he?

And, because it seems in the spirit of things, I think I should tell you I've been reading your blog for awhile now and you've introduced me to some fantastic books and new-to-me authors like Jude Morgan, Connie Willis and Sarah Waters. So thank you thank you thank you! And thanks for posting the link to Patrick Ness's speech. I haven't read his stuff yet, but he just got to the top of my list. Total amazeballs. :)

Emily said...

What an absolutely amazing, fantastic day. I was in tears by the end of your post - Neil Gaiman seriously rocks. Keep these posts coming - I'm living vicariously through you!! :)

Jeanne said...

Chuckled aloud at his sweet tweet. How great to find that good writers are also good people!

Zibilee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zibilee said...

Oh my gosh, you are one of the luckiest bloggers ever to have gotten the chance to meet Gaiman and Ness! It sounds like they were super cool people, and that they really appreciate their fans and readers. Also, the fact that Gaiman thanked you for your support is amazing. I would have loved the chance to be there for that!

litlove said...

I have such fond memories of the Edinburgh book festival, where I met Julian Barnes, all of 20 years ago! I'm so happy you had such a wonderful experience. I've been meaning to read both Patrick Ness and Neil Gaiman for ages now, and this post is excellent incentive for me to finally pick up their books.

Amy said...

I *love* posts like this too. Sounds like a great holiday and this is an excellent reminder to get myself in gear to read the last few Gaiman books on my list.

Raimy-rawr said...

wow... you do not know how much I am in awe of you right now! more so for Amanda Palmer than Neil Gaiman (sorry but I love Neil too!!) I would do ANYTHING to meet her.. she is my idol I love her music!!

bermudaonion said...

What an awesome event! I can't think of anyone who deserved tickets to it more than you did! I got to meet Gaiman at the very first BEA I went to and I was starstruck.

theeclecticreader said...

So cool you get to met him. Great holidays you had.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

No seriously, you had the best bookish day ever!!! I've long been a huge fan of both Gaiman the author and blogger. I love his books, but I also love that he keeps bees and is so friendly. I went to see him speak in 2009, but I haven't actually gotten to "meet" him. I'm so glad you had such a wonderful time.

Chris said...

So you can add my tears to everyone else's! God Ana…there's just SO much to comment on on this post. What an amazing day!! And there's still MORE!!! I can imagine that that Neil/Amanda/Jason gig must have been dreamlike. That's just so amazing to me that it even happened!! I can't tell you how happy I am for you. And Patrick Ness just looks adorable and I love the wise things that come from him. I'm just so freaking HAPPY for you Ana!!! Love you XO

Kailana said...

This is great, Ana!!! I am so glad you had such a wonderful time and got to meet such wonderful authors. :)

The1stdaughter said...

Wow. How incredible. I love every part of this post. Both of these men are incredible authors and know we all now with 100% certainty that they're amazing people as well (though I'm pretty much sure we all thought that before). It's just so lovely to see a fellow blogger have this wonderful experience. Happy tears for this great post. Thank you for sharing this with everyone Ana!

Paperback Reader said...

You can add my awe and tears to the pot, Ana. A beautiful, passionate post. Managing to buy tickets, the circumstances and the tripartite meetings seem... fated. Moreover, you get to hear Neil speak again this coming weekend! I am delighted that I can be part of that.

Nymeth said...

Hugs to everyone - thank you so much for your kind comments and for sharing my excitement! Having a group of like-minded people to share this experience with makes it even better.

Heather, I hope you know the only way my day could have been more perfect would be if friends like you had been there with me. I thought about you guys so often *hugs*

Laura, your comment absolutely made my day! Being able to spread the word about things I love is such a huge part of what keeps me blogging. So thank you so much for telling me that.

Raimy-rawr: Sadly I only got to talk to Amanda very briefly this time around. I had met her once before, when I saw The Dresden Dolls live some six years ago, and I got to talk to her a lot more then. She said on her blog recently that she was having a really hard time on a personal level all month, and I think that the fact that she wasn't in the most expansive mood really showed. However, she made an effort to come out and talk to people anyway, which makes me admire her all the more. She doesn't owe her fans anything, she didn't *have* to talk to us if she didn't feel like it, and yet she did it anyway. I wish I'd given her a hug too.

Claire: It makes me so happy that the British Library event will be shared with blogging friends!

gaskella said...

Wow! What a wonderful time for you and a wonderful post.

mee said...

What an awesome day! Neil Gaiman's intimate event sounds and looks wonderful (the video is great!), though I doubt I would be able to stay awake without sleep within 22 hours no matter what the circumstances are lol. Do they do after midnight events a lot in the festival?

Nymeth said...

Mee, for the book festival they don't, but this wasn't officially part of it - thus Neil calling it a Ninja reading :P It was supposed to start at 00:15 but it was slightly delayed, so it ended up being between something like 00:45 and 3:15am. It was scheduled for so late because Amanda Palmer, Jason Webley, and the Belt Up Theatre actors all had other performances earlier in the evening. Everyone was tired, but I actually loved the fact that it was so late; it added so much the atmosphere! I'm not at all a late night kind of person, but in this case I was too excited to be sleepy :P

Violet said...

wow, looks had you had a lot of fun and I had fun reading your post. I felt like I was there which is the next best thing than actually being there. I haven't read your latest post yet but I want to spend my own time reading it slowly and enjoying the details you have provided us with.

Darren @ Bart's Bookshelf said...

Such a very awesome day! I could be quite jealous if I wanted to be...

What am I talking about? I am jealous!

alitareads said...

What an amazing day! I'm jealous you got to meet Patrick Ness - and it's so cool that he recognized your twitter name. I'm so happy for you that you got to go to the Neil Gaiman. And 2 out of only 20 tickets? Wow!

Mumsy said...

O Ana, how wonderful for you. I am envious indeed! I too love both these authors, and maybe give Gaiman a tiny edge for the time he tried to explain to his publishers that people in the American South DO TOO READ and would ABSOLUTELY come to a book signing/reading. I am so, so glad that you had this perfect day.

chasingbawa said...

What an amazing day Ana! I'm SO glad you got the tickets to go and see him and Amanda Palmer and I'm sure it's an experience you will never forget. He's such an amazing person, isn't he?

Kathleen said...

Wow, that sounds like you really did have the best bookish day ever. I would have been so tongue tied to meet my favorite author! Thank you for sharing all of the excitement with us. I am so happy for you!

valentina said...

awwww. I'm not even gonna say I'm jealous, because I'm not. I'm just happy that you had a day like this. Seeing the last twitter exchange made me tear up a bit. It's so true that Neil's a wonderful human being and an incredibly gifted artist and simply the thought of him existing makes me happy.
The same goes for Patrick Ness. I especially love the advices he gave to young writers:)
So glad you got to meet them both and have such a meaningful experience.

heidenkind said...

This sounds so wicked! And a video! And tweeting with Neil Gaiman! Best post evar!

Maybe I should save my money and go to Edinburgh for the book festival next year.

Kristen M. said...

Late comment but I just had time to sit down and read this. Absolutely amazing! I have the email from when Neil responded to a tweet of mine still in my inbox because it reminds me of why he is such an amazing man. It's not just what he writes but what he puts into the world all of the time. I'm so glad you got to meet him more than once!

Debi said...

My goodness. I can't begin to tell you how choked up this made me. Not only are tears streaming down my face but I don't think I could talk if I had to. Ana, this was beyond lovely. It was beyond beautiful. It touched me to the very core.

*hugs hugs hugs*

PS--you sooooooooo deserved this holiday.

Memory said...

I'm super late on this, but WOW! What an amazing experience. Words dessert me.

Alice Teh said...

Patrick Ness! Neil Gaiman! And so many others! Very excited! (Sorry for all the !!!) I loved all the pictures, especially the one signed by Patrick. :D

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