An evening of Neil Gaiman

Wednesday, 24 May, 2006

Haoran, Sarah, Guan, Neil and me

Haoran, Sarah, Guan, Neil and me.

(The original is actually quite out of focus but it looks a bit more in focus now that I've re-sized it down. It makes me more reluctant to get other people to take pictures for me just so I can be in the photo; I care more about getting a good photo rather than being in it.)

So this evening Guan came over for dinner to eat leftovers and be subjected to Jimmy Barnes singing “Respect” and “Chain of Fools” and then he and I braved traffic to go to hear Neil Gaiman for free at Macquarie University as part of the Sydney Writers' Festival. It took us 15 minutes to get out of the inner west so we were running late, driving in strange territory (for Guan) in the pouring rain but having an interesting conversation about families and workaholicism and stuff like that.

When we got there, I only had a vague idea where the actual building was. We snuck in the back. Neil was reading “How to talk to Girls at Parties” and we'd missed the start.

Neil reads

(Best photo I took all night.)

I thought the theatre would be overflowing with people (because it was the only free event where you could see Neil) and it wasn't, though just about every seat was taken. Guan and I sat on the steps.

After the reading, Neil took questions and said lots of helpful stuff about collaboration (which was good for all of us since that's something we'd like to try doing). His main points were things like “Make sure you're both doing the same thing” (in contrast to when he and Terry Pratchett were going to work on a film script together and Terry wanted to write an action movie and Neil wanted to write comedy) and, on comic artists, “Find someone good and then just let them get on with it.” He also talked a little bit about the varying degrees of collaboration—from Dave McKean oh-that-wasn't-what-I-was-expecting! to very detailed comic scripts for some of the Sandman issues—to writing a story with Gene Wolfe where he would write five pages, then post them to Gene, and then Gene would write five pages and post them back etc. (I know these days we have email but I really like the idea of sending stuff and getting surprises through the post.)

I also got to ask him my question ( which was something like, “Robin McKinley once said that her archetypal source story is Beauty and the Beast. But for you, you don't have an archetypal source story—it's about the storytellers. Firstly, what is it about the storytellers? And secondly, what makes a story worth writing?”) And he told me off for asking big questions and then said that themes were like cockroaches—always lurking around in the background and then they freeze when you shine the light on them—and the themes would somehow work themselves in. He also said that you find out what makes a story worth telling once you write it and you spend the rest of your life doing that. And then later he answered part of my question in response to someone else's query about Anansi Boys (because he said that Anansi Boys didn't start out as being a book about storytelling and stories) and he said that what interests him the most are the characters—who they are and what they are doing here. He said that American Gods germinated with him thinking about a guy who had been bumped up to first class for whatever reason (missed his plane? Just lucky?) and he goes in and sits down and the guy next to him turns to him and says, “You're late. Now I've got a job for you.” I thought that was interesting but it confirmed a lot about what I think are Neil's strengths—story and character (he's one of the few writers who is very good at both).

After question time, there was a signing and we all lined up with our little books.

Haoran, Sarah, Guan and books

I asked Neil how he was holding up and he said okay but he could really have used a glass of water during the question time. I probably should have taken the hint and got him one. Instead I gave him these.

I got Anansi Boys and Murder Mysteries signed (the latter was bought in Melbourne last July and I never opened it until last night—when I realised that he hadn't simply illustrated “Murder Mysteries”, he'd turned it into a comic). He underlined the word “you” in “This one's for you” on the dedication page which made me wonder whether he had written that for Anansi Boys just so he could do that during a signing. He thanked me for the nuts in Murder Mysteries and I should have left it to dry longer before shutting it because it smudged the opposite page.

And we got a group photo and then were out of there, back through slightly more familiar territory with no rain, having a conversation about collaboration, G.K. Chesterton's, “A Piece of Chalk” and what makes stories worth writing.

Tomorrow, back to indexing.

(Oh yeah, and on Thursday you can hear Neil talk about graphic books streamed live on Bigdpon.)

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The pic with Neil is so ... heeheehee ... cool ... heheheheh…

Wish I could have been there - and it’s a close tie as to whether that would be to see NG again or to hang out with you people.

I may be in Sydney next month, but possibly only for a day…

Which day?


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