Sunday, 28 August 2011

an evening with Neil Gaiman

If you were on Twitter last night, following the #NeilatEB tag, then you would have heard me tweeting at the event we were hosting with Neil Gaiman, organised by The Edinburgh Bookshop

It was a fantastic evening held in 'The Crypt' below St. John's chapel at the far end of Princes Street. I got the train up to Edinburgh yesterday morning, waved to Arthur's Seat, had a mooch around the Book Festival [which had a man dressed as The Mad Hatter outside, hurrah], and had a lovely booky lunch with Becky and Anna. I do miss Edinburgh [I did my degree at Edinburgh Uni and so lived up there for four years].

In the evening, Vanessa and myself, and the Edinburgh Bookshop team, set up The Crypt, got Neil's books ready, and then at 7:30pm, Neil arrived, had a cup of English tea, and we had a lovely evening of informal questions; Neil read from 'Smoke and Mirrors', did a signing, and there was more tea [followed by wine]. I gave him a big thank you hug for tweeting and blogging about 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops.' [ETA: and now giving us a quote for the cover of the book!] Here are some snippets from the evening:

Q: What is your favourite genre to write in?
Neil: Anything can make my heart sing.

Q: When you get an idea for a story, what comes first: a person or a moment?
Neil: Sometimes you get the story by working backwards... not the way you'd expect. 

Neil: I'm very lucky, because when I was younger I got to interview lots of interesting authors who were at the pinnacle of their careers by writing one genre only, when they wanted to write others. So [being able to write and publish many genres] - I'm lucky... Some authors are like dolphins; you can train them. You teach them a trick and they get a fish, so they do the same trick again to get another fish. You wouldn't go to an otter show. If you teach an otter a trick, and give it a fish, when you offer it another fish it will do something completely different. I think I'm an otter author.

Neil: One thing that does motivate my writing is guilt [laughs]. The next book I'll probably do will be an adult book, because I love the people at Headline publishing, and I think I owe them another one.

Neil: I quite like being edited, but with American Gods, the editing process was not about making it a better book; it was about making it a shorter book, because of the price of paper. 

Neil: At the moment I'm writing a short story that's now out of control. It's driving me mad in a way that nothing has since Coraline. Coraline was only supposed to be 3000 words! 
Vanessa: Coraline terrified me. 
Neil: Well, then this one might terrify you, too. I'm writing a story... I think it's a kids' story. It's got a child as the main character, but there are lots of creepy things, and murders. 

Neil: When writing: the obsession comes first; then comes the book. 

Neil: I like writing on the go; I'm very good at turning off the world.

Neil: I have a custom-made jacket. I told them I wanted a jacket with lots of pockets so I could put pens in them, and inside jacket pockets big enough for a large Moleskine. [pulls a notebook out of inside jacket pocket]

Neil: I love collaborating because I can't reread my own work for pleasure, whereas I can pick up Good Omens and chuckle at it. A collaboration, when it works, lets you laugh at your own jokes.

Neil: For the very first time, recently I went illustrator-shopping for a book I've written called 'Chu'sday' about a baby panda who sneezes. I wanted to come up with a picturebook that could be published in mainland China [as none of my others have been]. However, the tragedy with illustrators is that most of the ones I'd like to work with are dead.'
[sorry, any excuse for me to get this cute thing linked: CLICK]

Neil: After this work in progress, the next book will probably be American Gods Two.
Everyone: Oooooooh.

Q: What's with you and bees? You've won awards for your bees, right?
Neil: Well, I have, for the past four years, won county prizes for the honeycomb my bees produce.... having said that, my bees this year have been crap. I got cocky the year before because we got all our bees through the previous winter, but last year the temperature dropped to -30c in December, and all my bees died. 

Q: Would you ever write a 'British Gods'?
Neil: Yes. In fact, there's a story at the back of the new edition of American Gods which is set in Scotland, and that was meant to be the first of three novellas - the second set in Yorkshire, and the third set in London. 

Neil: My favourite myths are the ones that have managed to creep into myth through the back door. The myth that is only just a myth, 'The Pear Drum', was my inspiration for Coraline.

Q: How did you come up with the button eyes in Coraline?
Neil: You know, it would be lovely if you could book an appointment with yourself in the past, to say 'look, in the future, you're going to come up with this idea in a book, and please please just pay attention when you do, ok?' But, you can't, and I don't know where that idea came from. 

Q: If you could write a letter to your sixteen year old self, what would it say?
Neil: ... Don't wear that. 

Q: Lots of people worry that they've spent their entire lives doing a job that they hate. You do a job that you love, so what do you spend your time worrying about instead?
Neil: What a great question. I don't really know. I just know that, when I was younger, I thought, I could be in my seventies and in a hospital bed, dying, and I could think to myself: 'I could have been an author.' And I wouldn't ever know if I was lying to myself... so I had to try and do it, to find out.

Neil: If I wasn't a writer, I'd love to run a really really old bookshop and be one of those people behind the counter who glare at everyone who comes in. 
[I duck under the table and hide]

Q: What's your best writing advice?
Neil: Number one: finish things. Number two: write. Just write: I'm not being funny, but so many people say to me 'I'd love to be a writer, where should I start?' and you should start by writing. 

Q: Why is your book 'Blueberry Girl' called that, and not the name of any other fruit?
Neil: Blueberry Girl was written for my friend Tori Amos when she was pregnant. ... She'd asked me if I could write a prayer, or a poem, that could go up in the baby's room, so I did. And Tori called her bump 'The Blueberry', so it became 'The Blueberry Girl.'

Q: Are you going to write another episode of Dr. Who?
Neil: If we'd discussed me writing another episode of Dr. Who, I wouldn't be able to tell you. 

Neil: I forget that I have so many followers on Twitter, and that I'm not just talking to a collection of good friends... and then I tweet a link, and I break the internet. 


Neil: In a world where Google can give you thousands of answers, a librarian will always bring you the right one.



  1. I'm an otter writer - Neil Gaiman said so :-)

    I love the librarian quote.

  2. In case you were wondering, you have a talent for picking out the good things. These "snippets" provide just as delightful and satisfying a collection as your "Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops." Thank you and well done.

  3. Not the same as being there - but almost. Thanks for putting the work in and thanks for sharing.

  4. Just blogged about it - the library quote deserves to be passed on and on....

  5. "Don't wear that" made me gigglesnort in total agreement!

  6. I am an otter too!
    That's a great post; thanks for the treat.

  7. What a treat ^_^ Love the picture of him giving you a hug - looks like a real hug too. You lucky girl, you!

  8. Great writer!
    It seems The Rhyme Maidens is finally going to be published but the price is brutal! The Rhyme Maidens by Neil Gaiman to be published

  9. Lovely to re-live that fantastic evening. Now trying to remember which story heread from Smoke & Mirrors. It looks about 50 pages in...

    1. I think it was 'Chivalry' - the one with Mrs. Whitaker :) “Mrs. Whitaker found the Holy Grail; it was under a fur coat...."

    2. It was. I went and looked it up just after I posted that!