Sunday, March 14, 2010

Neil Gaiman as Mozart

Neil Gaiman is the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart of writing. When presenter, Kate de Goldi, announced this to the packed Wellington Town Hall last night, it erupted.  Of course he is: Gaiman is prolific, precocious and overflowing with astonishing offerings to a delighted public. He thinks public, he woos public, twitters to over a million people, and has a blog journal where he talks about any and everything: writing, book tours, family, his fiancee (musician Amanda Palmer) and his divine white dog. This is a writer with a packed and public brain who looks like a rock star and quite frankly rocks. He filled the Town Hall, for God's sake.

It was a crowd unlike any crowd I've seen at a writer's event. There were both men and women there of all ages - from the elderly with walking sticks to intermediate-aged children, and a definite skew towards the 20/30 year olds with bandannas, black jeans, layers of coats and scarves, and even the odd top hat. These people are the readers of his adult fantasy fiction - the latest is American Gods  - and his short stories, graphic novels, comic books, film-scripts and picture books. Many will have dived into The Graveyard Book (think: Jungle Book in the graveyard - packaged, like Harry Potter, for both children and adults) and Coraline (now made into a movie and about a girl with a creepy parallel family). My daughter and I were there for these last two, we haven't read the others, but are intrigued. Gaiman declares himself a writer who can turn his hand to anything, and works better with a deadline and limits e.g. he gets excited about a short story commissioned for an anthology about cats who think they're Shakespeare.

This man is first and foremost a storyteller. For a start, he has a deep, confiding, clear voice, and secondly, he transforms even an ordinary conversation into a place where gods leap and mythical creatures come to rest, and thirdly, he tells bloody good yarns. His first reading was a poem, Locks, about reading Goldilocks to his daughter and how when we are young we sleep 'unwisely' like Goldilocks did, but as we get older we become more like Father Bear, checking the locks. His final reading was from American Gods where the mythical and the modern, the living and dead collide in contemporary America. As Kate D G said, Gaiman loves putting myth and fairytale up against the ordinary and mundane. She also pointed out he comes back again and again to two other key ideas: that people aren't really dead, and God is not what he seems* (if Gaiman is the writer as rocker, De Goldi is one of those dudes from Rolling Stone magazine). Gaiman was encouraged to talk about his love of G.K. Chesterton, and how C.S. Lewis's Narnia series introduced him to the creatures of Greek myth.

There were about 30 people lined up to ask Gaiman questions at the end, and he dealt with as many as he could, giving generous and interesting responses. The boy who asked what Gaiman's favourite mythical creature was, was treated to the story of the Basilisk and then taken on a quick tour of the Norse Gods. The woman who wanted Gaiman's best writing advice was told it wouldn't come after five raps on the door on a dark night (open it and find the hooded figures of Stephen King, JK Rowling and Neil Gaiman ready to help), but rather through sitting down and simply writing and writing ... When it was all over, Gaiman looked set to spend as least as much time signing his books as he had talking.

Here's Gaiman on TV3 news (interesting fact stated here, Gaiman is 59 years old! I was sure he was in his 40s - nope, see comment made by anon. below, TV3 is wrong ... ), and Gaiman visiting Weta and interviewed by Kim Hill. This is his marvellously eclectic blog with links to books and book events. And look, here on Twitter Gaiman's view of the Wellington gig!

TWITTER (neilhimself): Wonderful interviewer and audience tonight at Town Hall. Glad the signing only took 3 & a half hours. Have lost fiancée.

Postscript: Apologies for not covering more of the Writers and Readers Festival in Wellington here on the blog, due to family sickness, this is the first session (sadly) I've made it to. Didn't take any notes either, just wanted to sit there and lap it up, so *apologies for any small errors of reportage. Hoping to get to Australian author Joan London today. Fantastic write-up here on Susanna Moore by Maggie Rainey-Smith.


Anonymous said...

no! he is 49!

Rachel Fenton said...

My daughter is a huge fan of the Graveyard Book! He is a demi-god.

Great summary, btw, sounds like a blast!

He looks way younger than 49! (Like a young, French, better looking Richard Gere)Is that a really old photo?