Jun 19, 2013

It never gets old

Me and Neil Gaiman
Let us all ignore how weird I look.

The other day Renay wrote an excellent post about going to a John Scalzi event and getting to meet him afterwards. There was a lot about her post that I could relate to — if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might already know that Neil Gaiman was a catalyst for me in much the same way Scalzi was one for her — but what resonated with me the most was what she said about growing up starved for a vibrant literary culture and wondering if she’d ever come to take it for granted:
I will probably become jaded and cynical one day, when I live in a place where I can overdose on this aspect, and forget that I missed out on this literary culture the first few decades of my life, but I hope not. Thanks to those who organized it and made it happen! \o/
My most recent move brought me to a town that is a veritable book lover’s paradise: I’ve been to more literary events in the past six months alone than probably ever, and I’ve occasionally wondered if I’ll eventually slip into cynicism and complacency. I can’t guarantee it’ll never happen, but I suspect that all of those years of having the things I wanted to experience so painfully out of reach have left their mark on me. Sometimes it surprises me that things like going to a Neil Gaiman talk and signing and being able to buy his new book a few days before the official release date have become so normal for me; but I also still have moments when I want to explode with gratitude and awe. While nothing is likely to beat That Week in Edinburgh in 2011, it will never get old that I have now met my favourite author five times. I have met my favourite author five times! I have met my favourite author five times. Favourite author! Met! Five times! None of which were horrifyingly awkward or embarrassing!

A pile of copies of The Ocean at the End of the Lane
All the books!

Just because I know I’ll want to remember, here’s what we talked about this time around: I asked him how he was doing, because I knew his short visit to the UK had been a bit of a whirlwind, and he said he was tired but really enjoying himself. Then I thanked him for being so generous with his time, because I imagine that signing for hundreds of people so many evenings in a row takes a lot out of a person, and he said that the fact that the people he meets are all so kind makes it much easier on him. I told him I was ridiculously excited to spend the following day reading his book, and he said he hoped that I’d enjoy it, and that if I finished too fast I could always read it again. Then, because he was signing for two Anas-with-one-“n” in a row (“a conspiracy of Lusophones”), we talked about Portugal and Brazil. He said that he loved Brazil, and that when he visited Portugal he had liked Lisbon, but what he really loved was — pause while he tried to remember the name — “the place with the forest and the fairy castle”. “Sintra!” I said — yes, yes, I love it too. Then he thanked us for coming and that was all: a small moment, but one that mattered to me.

Neil Gaiman smiling

Also, what I said in 2011 is still true: everyone who meets him walks away with a smile, and you can tell he goes out of his way to be kind and attentive and treat the people in front of him like real human beings. This is a quality that’s easy to take for granted, but there are few things that I admire more.

A few words on the pre-signing talk: it was brief, much more so than any of his other events I’ve been to. It was definitely more of a signing with a talk before it than a talk with a signing at the end, but I’m not going to complain. He read from The Ocean at the End of the Lane (the bit about the burnt toast and the stolen car, which is really funny until it gets really dark), and then answered questions from the chair and from the audience. Here are a couple of highlights from my very poor notes:

Neil Gaiman reading from The Ocean at the End of the Lane

  • He drew attention to the “As heard on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime sticker on the cover of the UK edition of the book and said (a bit tongue-in-check, of course) that it signalled a level of mainstream acceptance that he finds “absolutely terrifying”. As someone who comes from comics, he got used to living in the gutter. He had his gutter all nicely furnished, and now suddenly he’s being pulled out of it.

  • Contrary to what people sometimes suggest, he’s not someone who flat-out refuses to write sequels to things — it’s just that he keeps being distracted by new, shiny projects. Between a thing he already knows how to do and a thing he’ll have to learn how to do while he does it, he’ll always pick the latter. It’s riskier, but he knows he won’t get bored. Having said that, there’s certainly more American Gods in his head, more Neverwhere, and more Stardust (but not, he said, more Coraline), and he hopes to get around to telling those stories some day.

  • Case in point, he recently finished a short story called “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back”; it’s set about a week after the Marquis de Carabas comes back from the dead in Neverwhere, and in it we get to meet the shepherds of Shepherd’s Bush and the elephant of Elephant and Castle — neither of which are very nice.

  • He feels that Violent Cases are Mr Punch are the only things among his previous work that cover more or less the same terrain as The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

  • He gave his standard writing advice: write. Finish things. Start new things. Actually doing the work is more important than anything else.

  • He’s a little wary of the current idea that writers have to have a social media presence and an online platform from which to promote their work. The reason why he’s online today is the same reason why he first got online in the early 90’s: because he enjoys it, and because he’s interested in it. If you’re a writer, you need to put writing first. The rest needs to come in your own terms, and to be done because you find it enjoyable and not as a means to an end.

  • He’s currently working on his Sandman prequel, and it’s the slowest writing he’s ever done due to the immense weight of expectations that accompanies the process.

  • Finally, he talked a little bit about some of his literary influences: Douglas Adams, Alan Moore and Diana Wynne Jones were all people who showed him that the sort of thing he wanted to do could be done, and who inspired him not only when it comes to their art, but also to their relationship with and behaviour towards their fans. All were grateful and considerate and kind. Also, a little anecdote that made my day: he has the honour of having been the first adult reader who was not a teacher, librarian, or otherwise a professional involved with children’s literature to tell Diana Wynne Jones that she was a brilliant writer and that he loved her books.
There. And here’s my signed book, just because:

Signed copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane



  1. Hurray for getting to meet him again! I managed to get a seat at the Apple Store last week when he was interviewed by Mariella Frostrup but alas, no signing. However it was enough to listen to him. Such an amazing, generous person and I totally agree with you! I'm looking forward to reading his book.

  2. I've probably said this before but NG should appreciate how much you are an ambassador for him! I had never heard of him until that quote on your blog (and am glad you have kept it there) and so I think of you when I think abt this author. and thank you for that!

  3. Marie was talking about the insanity of getting tickets to see him in Boston. I can relate...there are a list of people that I could camp out overnight to see. I love your passion and enthusiasm for the services at your disposal. I had libraries growing up but we were in the middle of nowhere...I never met an author! Ever! Even today, they come around Orlando much.

  4. you are right that it never grows old meeting and being in the presence of those we admire. It just makes our hearts grow even bigger and I do believe that the mystery of their creativity washes over us while we are there

  5. Fabulous summary. And how utterly awesome that you got a chance to meet him and talk to him (um, how many times?:-D ). I live in a literary black hole, despite being a a handful of miles from a major university.

  6. Wow, what a fun event! I love his signature! I have a feeling meeting the authors we adore will never grow old.

  7. What a fabulous event! He's coming to my city later this year but the event sold out. :( I'm sad to miss it but happy about the new book!

  8. What a fantastic evening. I'm another huge Gaiman fan and have a ticket for his Portsmouth event in August. I've never met him before, but am hugely, hugely excited - and even more so after reading your post. Can't wait!

  9. I love it so much when you share your literary event experiences, particularly the Gaiman ones. He is such a lovely man. I am so bummer his tour isn't bringing him anywhere near me, but at least I get to see him vicariously through you!

  10. You know, if you shook his hand, then you've totally shaken mine by the law of transference.

    Lovely write-up!

  11. Gaiman has been so nice to everyone I know who has met him (he even posed for some photos with my daughter and her friend) that I don't mind paying the extravagant price for his latest book in hardback.

  12. Is he starting to recognize you now? ;)

  13. You do NOT look weird, first of all, you look adorable :D This post made me really nostalgic…especially hearing you talk about the author events you've gotten to go to and how it's important that you not take that for granted because it's the life you always wanted because it got me to thinking about when we first started blogging and the excitedness of author events and how that feeling never really goes away :) And a new Neil book will always make me a little nostalgic I guess. But particularly when it comes to you, because you were the first person I met who shared as much of a passion for Neil as I did. I'm so glad that you got to go to this event and that you enjoyed it as much as you did :) I think I may shoot you an email in a bit :)

  14. What a wonderful, happy story! I hope it never does get old for you--and judging from how clearly you appreciate these moments now, I don't think it will.

  15. You do not look weird!! Now that that's out of the way :P this post makes me happy :)

  16. I will tell you this story now even though I'll probably put it in my blog post when I review The Ocean at the End of the Lane (I'm saving it for vacation so I haven't read it yet). I went to a signing Neil Gaiman did in New York this past week, and I asked him to sign the foreword he wrote to Reflections on the Magic of Writing? And he said such a lovely thing, he said that he missed Diana Wynne Jones and had so much wanted to give her this book to read because it was more like hers than anything else he'd written. He said it was quite a bit like Time of the Ghost in some ways.

    Also a small interaction but such a nice one, not least because he is the only person I've ever met who has read Time of the Ghost/brought it up spontaneously in conversation. And he must have been even tireder at that point, since he'd flown over from the UK after doing a crap-ton of UK events, and now was doing still more US events.

  17. No one every comes here so I will definitely never get tired of author events... :)

  18. I got to meet him yesterday and it was such an honor! He really is the nicest, most genuine sort of person. He mentioned Diana Wynne Jones at our event as well after being asked about writers who've shaped him, and then he talked about hair and Crazy Hair and how you will get crazy hair in Florida. It was lovely :)

  19. Very Cool. I get to meet him for the first time two weeks from tomorrow and am so incredibly nervous! If i managed to string coherent sentences together and not squeal i will be happy!

  20. I saw him too! In Los Angeles (Glendale to be exact.) When he came on stage the audience response, applause, cheering, whistling, etc, was similar to what happens when a rock star takes the stage. Amazing! For an author!! I think whether seeing and meeting literary heroes is forever great or gets old depends on the author. You have described here how great Neil Gaiman is in person, how engaged, how gracious. It is just the way he is and he likes doing it. He likes people. That is how he can write like he does I think. Wasn't the book great?

  21. I love hearing him read his own work! He read quite a lot for us when I saw him at a concert series (yes, a concert series!) at UCLA a couple of years ago :)

  22. How awesome, 5 times!! FIVE times!! I'm still waiting to meet him for the first time. Him and Ian Rankin, who has been to Ottawa and who I have no excuse for not going to hear read, except I seem to be getting shyer the older I get. Next time! Meanwhile, Ana, what a lovely autograph and story you have. Whee is right! Here's to awesome authors and the joy they give when they take a moment like Neil does. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

  23. After five times, maybe he'll recognize you the next time around ;-)

    I have never met Gaiman, alas. I am actually OK with that. I feel like meeting someone for the first time who has had such an emotional impact on you... well, that would be a little scary.

    I really need to read the Sandman series.


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