On Thursday, February 4th, 2010, Neil Gaiman paid a visit to UCLA Live’s Royce Hall for an evening of spoken word and fan interaction. The evening opened with UCLA Live’s director David Sefton comically informing the audience of the cataclysmic dangers of using electronic recording devices during the performance, and noted some of UCLA Live’s upcoming events, including an appearance by graphic novelists Harvey Pekar and Alison Bechdel in April.
Neil Gaiman soon took the stage, starting off by reading “My Last Landlady,” a poem that he joked would be published in an anthology of “Horror… and English seaside resorts.” He noted that the anthology made perfect sense if you had ever been to an English seaside resort.
After the poem, Gaiman talked about the idea of a “crossover artist,” and how he came to be known as one. He explained that his first piece of fiction was actually a children’s book that he wrote at twenty-two, which was put away after publishers rejected it. But Gaiman soon had success in journalism and comics, which he explained was “a medium mistaken as a genre” by the general literary audience. Gaiman went on to say that he discovered that he could write any type of story he wanted in comics, and that the audience from his comic series “Sandman” followed him when he moved on to prose.
Gaiman revealed that he actually started writing his novella “Coraline” in 1991 for his daughter, but an editor warned him that it was impossible to publish, as it was “a horror for children and others.” However, Gaiman continued writing the novella, working on the piece in a small notebook he kept beside the bed. “Coraline” was published in 2002, “a summer without ‘Harry Potter.'” He soon followed up with “The Wolves in The Walls,” a children’s book with illustrations by Dave McKean.
Gaiman then talked about “The Graveyard Book,” the story of “a young boy who wanders into a graveyard and is adopted by dead people.” The story was originally inspired by the grave of an alleged witch in a cemetery in Sussex where Gaiman grew up. He noted that he had wanted to write the story for twenty years, but would keep putting the story away “until my writing was better.” Gaiman comically noted that he discovered in 2005 that he wasn’t “getting better anymore” and soon finished the book. Gaiman then read a passage of “The Graveyard Book,” and followed up with a passage from “Odd and the Frost Giants” a novelette about a boy in Viking-era Norway who “runs away from home with a broken leg.” Gaiman originally wrote the novelette for World Book Day.
The author then answered questions from members of the audience. On the subject of Gaiman’s guilty pleasure, a fan asked if the answer was Gaiman’s fiance Amanda Palmer. Gaiman replied that Amanda was actually the answer to the second question,” What’s your new favorite thing in the world.” He said that his guilty pleasure was probably bee keeping, which Gaiman noted was the hobby of Sherlock Holmes after the sleuth retired.
When asked why he thought children made good protagonist in fantasy, Gaiman said that he thought the “child’s eye view had no preconceptions, and a willingness to accept things.”
In response to a question asking what was the hardest change to deal with from a studio for a screenplay, Gaiman answered the change of the Beast of London in BBC’s production of “Neverwhere.” The beast was originally supposed to be a wild boar, but unfortunately BBC used “Angus, the highland cow” as the stunt animal.
When asked about mythological themes in his work, Gaiman noted that his next book, “Monkey and Me”, is a piece with Buddhist themes.
When asked if he would write an episode of “Doctor Who,” Gaiman moved onto the next question without comment.
In response to a question about illustrating his own fiction, Gaiman noted that he usually wants to see what a “real artist” will bring to the story, but he did mention “Heliogabulus”, the 24-hour comic that he wrote and illustrated in 1991.
Gaiman also noted that he hopes to finish his project with Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields this year.
When asked when a “Good Omens” movie will come out, Gaiman responded, “When someone makes it.”
In response to a question about the real name of “American God’s” protagonist Shadow’s real name, Gaiman answered, “Baldur Moon.”
An audience member asked if Gaiman always writes his stories from beginning to end. He answered that he usually did, but noted that he started “The Graveyard Book” in the middle. Gaiman also noted that he prefers not to outline, as writing from an outline feels like “reconstituted soup”, and he prefers to surprise himself.
Gaiman concluded the evening with “Instructions”, a poem about what to do if you find yourself in a fairy tale. The poem will be published in “Instructions”, a collection with illustrations by Charles Vess. A standing ovation followed the poem.