Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan caught up with Bestselling author Neil Gaiman on his UK Signing Tour for Anansi Boys in November 2005. Here we present part one of this revealing interview.
Paul Kane: Well, first question I’ve got is how did the party go on Monday night and the thing with Lenny (Henry) on Tuesday Night?
Neil Gaiman: They both went very well. At the party it all got a bit weird because every bookseller they’d invited came, and booksellers apparently don’t come to parties very much so they didn’t actually expect…You know, they sort of expected 50 people, they’d got a place with a capacity of 120, and all of a sudden I look round, the place is completely full and they’re turning booksellers away because the fire capacity has been breached. So that was kind of interesting; but it was fun…Back when I was a journalist and I’d go to these kind of launch parties, it always really irritated me that what would normally happen at the launch party is that the author and several cronies would huddle in the corner with a bottle of wine, looking up rather dourly as they milled around, and after about 45 minutes would go, normally slightly imperceptibly, occasionally with a bit of a fuss, and then everybody would hang around and drink, going, “Gloomy bastard, weren’t they?”…Carrie Fisher actually saved my life by being an evil, gloomy bitch, but that’s another story – quite literally. But I’m not naturally the sort… you know, in a party situation I’m there as one of the gang, I’m not the kind of person to go into a corner and surround myself with cronies anyway. So at this one I got a very nice lady named Kim, who’s the Hodder Rep in London, to show me around and introduce me to everybody, and I made a point of signing their books and it was great. So that went fine…And the Lenny event was actually I think probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a stage ever, because he’s so funny. Partly I had to be funny just to keep up, otherwise I just would have been left being Costello to his Abbott…
Paul Kane: He sets quite a high bar.
Neil Gaiman: Absolutely. And also it was just fun, but because Lenny’s known me forever he was an awful lot cheekier and less respectful than anyone else would have been in that situation, which meant I got to tease him back a few times. My favourite bit was when some girl asked, “Would you ever collaborate with Joss Whedon?” and I said, “Well, If the opportunity came up, sure.” And she said, “Which universe would you write in, yours or his?” And Lenny starts going, “Which universe? What do you mean which universe?” And I turned to him and said, “You are such a fanboy geek, you cannot make fun of that – I’ve heard you discoursing about things like universes and who’s stronger than who, saying things like, ‘They’re going to bring back more of these D.C. Earth Ones…’” So, thank you Len. It was really fun. And what was really nice about that evening was that it wasn’t spoiled by…Normally after a really fun evening like that, when you’re doing an event for - I believe - 830 people, all pleasant memories are, more or less, over the next five hours eliminated by signing for 830 people, which turns into a sort of hellish marathon. But what was lovely about this was that most of those 830 people, or the greater percentage of them, had already figured that the place to get their stuff signed was going to be Forbidden Planet on the Saturday, and they were going to go home to baby sitters and get the last train and stuff. So only about say 200-250 people got in the signing line.
Paul Kane: Only?
Neil Gaiman: And the rest of them, I’ll see them all on Saturday. But that’s a different kind of thing, that’s a starting at 10 am and just sign… So it was actually really fun; I loved it.
Paul Kane: Did he read anything out?
Neil Gaiman: Ah, Lenny did the hangover and I did Mr Nancy’s unfortunate and embarrassing death singing karaoke. So we did it with Lenny kicking off and then me doing another bit.
Paul Kane: I was going to say, the hangover scene reminded me of a few unfortunate times…
Neil Gaiman: He’d sort of prepared another bit and we were in conversation and he said, “Well, what bit are you reading?” And I said, “The hangover scene’s really funny.” So he said, “I should do that.” Then he comes out on stage and says, “I haven’t prepared this bit.” It’s like, you could have done the bit you’d prepared, I wouldn’t have stopped you.
Paul Kane: And he’s doing the audio version, isn’t he?
Neil Gaiman: Guys, it’s brilliant!
Paul Kane: Is it good?
Neil Gaiman: Yeah, it really, really is. And it’s that lovely feeling you get when as an author when you feel like…in some ways the author’s preferred text is probably Lenny reading it, if only because there are so many characters and you’re gonna get all the voices right. And there are places in the text where text moves off into African storytelling rhythms, or places in the text where pretty much all of the characters are Caribbean anyway, so that comes across when Lenny’s reading it in a way that if someone is reading it hastily they may actually not notice that any character whose not specifically described as white is probably black. And things like that…So I really like the audio book.
Paul Kane: Because you said you could hear Lenny’s voice in your head as you were writing the book…
Neil Gaiman: Yes, that’s right.
Paul Kane: So it must be nice for that to actually come about in reality?
Neil Gaiman: It really was.
Marie O’Regan: What first sparked your interest in mythology and the gods?
Neil Gaiman: Oh I don’t know… It’s the kind of thing where I wish I had a really good origins story. Yeah, when I was four I was bitten by a radioactive myth or something…But I remember having a copy of Roger Lancelyn Green’s book Tales of the Norsemen in my Puffin edition I think and then saving up my own money and buying his Tales of Ancient Egypt when I was about seven. And I remember having my own little bookshelf. Now it’s weird, now I look at it having had three kids who were, more or less, normal – I mean none of them turned round to me at the age of seven and said I need my own bookshelf and now I will alphabetize my books. But I remember being seven and agonizing over whether Roger Lancelyn Green should go in the L’s or the G’s. Those were some of my favourite books as a kid, I love that stuff. I still remember the sheer thrill of reading about Thor, and going into this weird cave that they couldn’t make sense of with five branches – a short one and four longer ones – and coming out in the morning from this place on their way to fight the giants, and coming out in the morning from this place where they’d rested overnight and realising they’d actually spent the night in this giant’s glove, and going okay we’re off to fight these guys, right…But I mean it all sort of fell into the same thing, it was part of comics for me as well. Comics seemed part of the same thing as myth, it was just these more brightly coloured myths. America seemed every bit as unlikely as the ancient Norselands or places with pyramids and stuff.
Paul Kane: And a lot of that feeds into 1602 and American Gods…
Neil Gaiman: It does, it’s all the same kind of stuff. It’s the stuff that composted down I think in my head.
Paul Kane: Have you got a favourite myth or fable?
Neil Gaiman: No, although I do love the Norse ones. And I think I love the Norse ones and I keep going back to the Norse ones because most myths are about people who are in some way cooler and more magical and more wonderful than us, and while the Norse gods probably sort of qualify, they’re all sort of small-minded evil conniving bastards, except for Thor and he’s thick as two planks and gets drunk a lot. And his wife cheats on him. You could do a soap opera based on the gods…
Paul Kane: There’s a believability about it.
Neil Gaiman: There is, and I think probably the best book ever done about the Norse was a book that I couldn’t allow myself to read between coming up with the idea of American Gods and finishing it. After it was published I actually sat down and allowed myself to read it for the first time in 15 years and discovered it was just as good as I thought it was – which was a book by a man, I believe, called John James called Votan. He did three books: Votan, Men Went to Cattraeth, and Not For All the Gold in Ireland. Men Went to Cattraeth is okay, but Votan and Not For All the Gold In Ireland are astonishing little books. In Votan – and I didn’t realise how good it was until after American Gods where I really had been doing my homework on the Norse and getting all of my headers down in my head – because the idea is that you have this rather dodgy Greek trader in about 3rd or 4th Century A.D. and in Votan he becomes Odin and he winds up in this little village and you realise that everyone in the village…that these are the Asgardians and everything that happens to him during that story, y’know, he goes back ten years later and they’re telling stories about him and he’s realising that all the Odin stuff, all the Votan stuff, is him. Then you get Not For All The Gold in Ireland which does more or less the same thing where he goes off to Ireland. He comes into England at the end of the Romans and goes over to Ireland looking for gold and gets to inspire most of the Mabinogion and stuff, and they’re just witty and evil and nasty and funny and clever.
Paul Kane: Because that sounds like an origins story for a superhero, you start off that way and suddenly become Odin.
Neil Gaiman: What’s fun is that he’s just a wily Greek trader the whole time. But it’s one of those books that I don’t know why it’s not famous, I don’t know why it’s not beloved, I don’t know why it goes out of print for 20 years at a time and will come back into print and nobody notices. It’s one of those books that I probably would never have heard of were it not for reviewing books for the BFS in 1984. It was just sent to review.
Paul Kane: That’s happened a few times to us too.
Marie O’Regan: Which do you prefer working in, a collaborative medium like comics and film, or writing shorts and novels?
Neil Gaiman: I like being allowed to do both. I don’t think one is better than the other, I think both are really necessary. The trouble I find with novels is that you can quite genuinely lose all social skills. By the end of American Gods I had talked to nobody but members of my family, more or less, for about two years. And there were long periods of time when I’d abandon them and go off to Florida or Ireland, or at one point I was stuck on the book and just needed to get some stuff done and booked a room in a hotel in Las Vegas because it was the cheapest air fare and the cheapest hotels; just hid out for two weeks, breaking the back of the book in Las Vegas. And came out of the end of that blinking and remembering how to have conversations with people. Whereas film – definitely – and to a lesser degree comics, demands lots of social skills, demands lots of interaction, which I think is really good. It’s nice to remember how to deal with people. I love the collaboration of comics, I also like the fact that I can enjoy stuff that other people have done in a way that I probably couldn’t enjoy my own stuff.
You can read Part Two of this Interview Next Month…
Interview (C) Paul Kane, Marie O'Regan & Neil Gaiman, November 2005.
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