Readers + Writers week – Neil Gaiman town hall talk

Saturday night last week the town hall got packed with all sorts of geeks. Writing geeks, scifi geeks, roleplayers, hipsters, you name it. Everyone was there to see Neil Gaiman speak. Kate De Goldi was there to interview him and field questions from the audience.

Neil started with reading three poems. One was ‘locks’ which he said was the closest thing he has to a credo. Then he read us an unpublished poem about a kind of Gothic English seaside horror story and the third was about St Oran and had the refrain “God is not what you imagine”. He’d only written that one 10 days ago and it was first time he’d read it aloud.

There was some talk about influences, favourite books, and Neil mentioned C.K. Chesterton, especially The Man Who Was Thursday which of course, I want to read now. Hoping Penguin will put out a new orange bound version of it..Also ‘club stories’ which is a framework for telling a story: a number of people sitting around the fire, sharing stories. It’s a good frame, but it’s also a good way to explore unreliable storytellers, because of the nature of the event the narrator is likely to exaggerate.

Talking about how he writes so many stories ‘to order’, for anthologies and things. Neil replied that he’s the kind of writer who if you give him a bunch of money and tell him to write what he likes, whenever he likes, whatever length and to take as long as he wants with it….you’ll be waiting for the rest of your life for the story. On the other hand, if he receives an email asking him for a story for an anthology about cats who think they’re Shakespeare, he might initially think it’s silly and then in half a day, he’ll have an idea for a story. Art needs boundaries, he said. Especially boundaries and restrictions to chafe against. This kind of thing gives focus.

They talked briefly about word limits and what makes a novella as opposed to a novelette or a short story. He started a joke: A novel, a novella, a short story and a novelette walk into a bar…. (He didn’t give us a punchline, but I think there’s a good joke in there somewhere….)

Kate De Goldi asked about Shakespeare, since his stories come up so often in Neil’s work. Neil said he was given a set of Shakespeare’s plays as a kid and no one told him that he should read them because they were good for him, so he just read them. He mentioned that they weren’t all good, name checking Measure for Measure as one that he never went back to. He also said that he found it strange that people will go on about things like the long speeches for the amazingly deep meanings, forgetting that Shakespeare wrote for his actors.

“No, that speech exists because the guy who he was just talking to has to get changed!”

Neil described his ideal reader, the audience he writes for, as himself. He said “sometimes its me at 9, but mostly it’s just me”.

One of the questions he was asked was how does he feel about procrastination. “I am an awesome procrastinator,’ he said. ‘I can put things off ’til like, Thursday.” Kate said something about how even when you’re procrastinating you do work through things and you’re actually still writing but Neil said that wasn’t actually the case for him.

Another question is what are you reading? And he told us it was Journey to the West, which I really want to read now too.

Re: collaboration, he said that when it comes to working with Dave McKean he will give him the words and then Dave astonishes him. Neil says ‘that’s not how I imagined it’ and that’s how it works. He also talked about collaborating with the reader on all his novels.

A kid asked him what his favourite mythical creature was, and he replied Basilisk/cockatryce because they’re so bizarre and deadly and the only thing they’re vulnerable to is weasels. He said he likes to think that there’s someone, somewhere with a bag of weasels, just ready and waiting.

Then he read to us a passage from American Gods, and it was funny and awesome. He really transforms the words when he reads aloud, like he’s not just a writer, he’s a storyteller. It made me want to read American Gods again. It’s been a while after all. Then he did a three and a half hour signing and I was really glad that I’d taken things to be signed to the smaller Embassy reading the day before. Lee and I went to a wedding reception instead.

Here’s a link to a Scoop report on the talk.

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