~ I WOULDN’T WANT TO BE NEIL GAIMAN ~

Posted: May 27, 2021 in books, children's writing, creativity, Fiction, honesty, Story, Top Tips, Truth, words, Writing
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The weekend before last, I went to see Neil Gaiman at the Auckland Writer’s Festival. With the restrictions imposed worldwide because of the pandemic, the organizers intended the festival would focus on those authors resident in New Zealand. It was a great opportunity to highlight the national talent pool, and the organizers also drew from the international authors already available in the country. Neil Gaiman had been here since lockdown was first imposed in 2020, being with his wife Amanda Palmer, who had been touring here as a writer at the time. The festival organizers had tried to get Neil Gaiman along to the Auckland Writer’s Festival many times in the past and failed. Lucky us.

Neil Gaiman and his interviewer Nic Lowe wandered on stage, no introduction apart from the lights being raised. They sat in worn-looking black leather armchairs while Nic conducted the live interview. Neil Gaiman was normal. It was great. And he was also the typical author, long-haired, a tad shambolic, wearing an exhausted jacket, the pockets hanging heavy with what one imagined were several books, maybe even cigars. He looked thoughtful, yet at ease with everything. It was easy to imagine him writing at home wearing pyjamas and a robe all day long.

The interview was fine. My feedback to Nic Lowe would be this: he could try speaking a little less, allowing us to hear a little more from the star.

How many books had Neil Gaiman written in his illustrious career? “A fan had stacked them up at one point, and the pile reached over 7 feet.” Wow. His output has been prodigious, including the comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book. They have made his stories into movies and TV series, Good OmensAmerican GodsCoraline, and more. And Neil has plainly loved every minute.

Did he expect to be where he is today in terms of career? Neil said he never expected to be famous. When he started out, he worked in niche areas where no one in those days ever got famous. ‘You didn’t get famous in comic books, fantasy, or children’s writing—I thought I’d be out here with the weird kids. Then it spread out and now we’re all the weird kids.’ The audience laughed. In fact, we laughed a lot. The humour surprised me—I didn’t expect him to be so funny. Neil spoke with intelligence and dry wit, poking fun at himself and everything. When asked what he would have done if he hadn’t become an author, he replied, “I would have been a freelance religion designer.” That got the biggest laugh.

And the theme Neil put across in the hour-long session, was, “Young writers don’t have to feel guilty for not inventing the whole thing. It’s okay that you got it from somewhere and passed it on. I want young writers to know it is okay, and that’s how storytelling works. Know that nothing comes magically from nowhere.”

He said that writers who think their prose all comes from within them were ‘not being honest.’ He likened it to there being a giant pot of stew bubbling. And we all take bits out and ‘along the way we get to add a potato or two to the stew pot or a bit of gristle.’ Cue another belly laugh.

Personally, I don’t think it’s always dishonesty by the authors. In a lot of cases, you write what comes to you and you do not realize that you are pulling archetypes and story tropes from a treasure trove of shared ancestral memories.

Having a talented author like Neil Gaiman telling authors there is no need to reinvent the wheel, that we can dip into the community stew pot and borrow the pieces we need then we give back our piece for passing on to others, was liberating and exciting. I hadn’t ever heard anyone say that before. It was warm, generous and inclusive during these more divided times. The fact I came home excited to write means it was time well spent. 

While I made myself a hot cup of tea and a slice of buttered toast at home, Neil Gaiman remained at the event. In fact, he stayed there for five hours, some people said it was seven, signing autographs for the queue of avid fans who snaked outside of the building into the square. Honestly, I do not have any ambition to be famous—I’m too lazy! Would I want to be Neil Gaiman, stuck at his signing table well past dinner time? NO.

Being unknown has its perks. Like dinner and stuff.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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What we need in a crisis are friends. ~ Neil Gaiman

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Comments
  1. davidprosser says:

    I like Neil Gaiman, he’s down to Earth and very funny. But if he mentioned Good Omens I do hope he said he wrote it with the late Sir Terry Pratchett, another very funny man. It was one of the best books i’ve ever read.
    Huge Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    • yvettecarol says:

      Indeed. Neil talked about Sir Terry Pratchett a lot and with love. He also told us he proudly owns his famous hat. One of the public asking a question asked if he’d ever worn the hat and Neil said he looked ridiculous in it. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. GP says:

    One of my favorites. I’m happy to hear that NZ likes him too!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You may not think of yourself as famous, Yvette, nonetheless you are still famous, fabulous and fantastic. I love this post.

    Mr. G’s masterclass was excellent.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you, Yvette for this article. It made me smile and … made me feel all warm and secure.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice post Yvette.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cheers to dippy into the pot of stew, whatever the recipe and wherever it comes from….

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Keith says:

    Yvette (or is it Yvette Carol?), newcomer here from another hemisphere. I love the analogy to a stew pot and adding in a potato, although I would leave out the gristle. Also, your point about presenters not allowing guests to speak more is dead on accurate. We have a more than a few here in the states who talk over guests, often interrupting a good point because the presenter does not like the opinion. Comedian John Oliver did a spot on his show “Last week tonight,” where he showed numerous examples where the interviewer answers his or her question leaving the guest to repeat what was said. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • yvettecarol says:

      Hi Keith, welcome! It’s Yvette. Carol is my surname.
      I love the analogy of the stew pot, too. Once heard, never forgotten. I also gave a speech this week at Toastmasters about seeing Neil interviewed, and the word “gristle” garnered a few comments there, also!
      In a situation where you have a big crowd who have paid money to see a famous author interviewed, I think it’s even more heinous that the interviewer should talk at length. It really did make me annoyed. Good on John Oliver for highlighting the practice.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Keith says:

        Thanks Yvette. I read something that authors tend to write first books about what they know, but later books require research. One of my favorite non-fiction authors is Malcolm Gladwell (“Outliers,” “The Tipping Point,” “Blink,” etc.). He said in an interview he writes in an unusual way. He does a little research, then writes, does a little more research, then writes some more and so on. He said he would get bored if he did all his research upfront. Keith

        Liked by 2 people

  8. yvettecarol says:

    That’s interesting. Yes, I do that too. Whenever I’m writing a story, and unexpected things develop, I will go look it up. So I research on the fly as I go. Then, the new information drives the story forward.

    Liked by 2 people

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