Last Monday I went into central London to go and see a talk by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman has done a few things in London in the years since I’ve become a fan but due to childcare or tickets selling out before I heard about it (mainly childcare), I’d never got to see him and I’d heard that this may be his last tour, so I had to see him. So me and Mr. Lacer (who is also a Gaiman fan but had kindly agreed to stay home and do the child caring) did a childcare swap, with me running towards the station and Boy Lacer going “Go mummy, go as fast as you can, go get that book!”, I had explained to them that there was also going to be signed books there but I was worried that due to not being able to get to the theatre that early, they’d all be gone. So, I got to the theatre and there was a very long queue, not to get in mind you, to get the book and I was nowhere near the front of the queue by the time the stopped selling books because Neil was about to come on stage. So, I made my way to my seat, a weee bit envious of those lucky sods clutching their Waterstones bags and settled down to wait for Neil himself.
I was sitting pretty close to the back but I could see one of the stage doors and it opened, not that much bigger than a crack really and I caught my first glimpse, Neil Gaiman, dressed in his usual black, sort of bouncing down the stairs surrounded by an entourage that made him look like the author rock star that he is. It was a bit weird though, Neil Gaiman is so everywhere, particularly on Twitter and it seems at the moment, the BBC, that it wasn’t all “squeeeee, oh my god, oh my god, there’s Neil Gaiman!!!!!” (replace Neil Gaiman with, I dunno, David Tennant and I’d be saying exactly that), my very first thought when I caught that glimpse of him through that door was “Oh there’s Neil”, like as if I bump into him regularly, which sort of proves the stalkerish familiarity Twitter etc can give (and I’m no stalker).
Anyway, the talk was fascinating, lots of talk about The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, I loved how he described how the book had started out as a short story for his wife because he was missing her, then turned into a novelette, then a novella and then when he finished it and did a word count, suddenly realised he had a novel, sort of novel writing by accident. He also talked about things like Doctor Who, Stephen King and his new kids book Fortunately The Milk, which is out in September and which I am so going to force read to the kids (only semi-kidding there). Neil Gaiman was as witty and wise in person as he appears on Twitter / his blog / etc. etc.
When the talk finished though, I’ve never attempted to exit a theatre faster, I may have wanted that book before the talk, I wanted it even more now. Time to join massive queue number 2 of the day. I waited anxiously, people watching the other people in the queue, Neil Gaiman fans look like Neil Gaiman fans. The theatre staff were in anxious flocks, surreptitiously counting the number of people in the queue, I think they feared an orderly riot if they ran out of books. I got closer and closer (ever so slowly), the queue split into two near the front, those paying by cash and those paying by card and I thanked the book gods that I’d remembered to take some cash out at the station on the way there, the reason why the queue was going so slowly was that it seemed a lot of people were paying by card and each transaction took ages, mind you the person taking cash payments was looking very anxious about change but people, if you ever go to one of these things, take cash to pay for your book, it’s a lot quicker. So I got my book.
I started reading the book on the train home and by the time I got off the train (24 pages in), I was already in deep maternal love for the 7 year old nameless main character, maybe having a 7 year old son of my own made the character seem extra special but awww the way Gaiman just got into the seven year old’s skin, it was like stepping into childhood again. The book is sort of autobiographical, only very sort of though, Gaiman wanted to write a story for his wife so that she could see what it was like where and when he was growing up. He also incorporated an event from his childhood that at the time he knew nothing about, the family lodger stealing their Mini and committing suicide in it, turning the story into a ‘what if he had known about it’. He also incorporated a family of three women who had lived in his head for a very long time, the Hempstocks, who lived in a farm down the lane from him that had been there since the Doomsday Book, the farm that is, the Hempstocks are the results of his imaginings of what it would be like if the same people had lived there all that time.
Being a Neil Gaiman story, of course there is magic, the lodger’s suicide unleashes a monster and the Hempstocks need to put it back but it’s very much about what being a child is like and how the world is really a fragile, thin veneer. My favourite quote from the book is from the mouth of Lettie, one of the three Hempstock women, who appears to be 11.
‘I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.’
***** (out of 5)
Joe Hill interviews Neil Gaiman (hey foodies who follow my blog, there’s a pancake recipe!)