In April I was fortunate enough to have a one-to-one interview with Neil Gaiman, the results of which appeared in the Independent on Sunday on June 9. We met on a gloriously sunny day in the Aubaine restaurant in Kensington. You can read some internal dialogue regarding my thoughts ahead of the meeting here.
Gaiman was funny, charming, interesting and interested – everything I could have hoped for in an interviewee. Thanks to Sam Eades at Headline for fixing it up during Neil’s heavy schedule in the weeks running up to publication of his latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Because of the space constrictions on the newspaper piece – it was limited to 1,000 words – I thought it might be interesting to reproduce here, with a little added context, some of the quotes from Neil that I was unable to shoe-horn into the piece – DVD extras for that interview, if you like.
So. We took a window table in the Aubaine. I had a beer. Neil would have liked English breakfast tea but they didn’t have any, so he had a pot of Darjeeling, which was a little weak for him. I mention this in case you find yourself in the situation where you are either able to offer Neil Gaiman a cup of tea or me a bottle of beer. For the record, I’ll drink pretty much any beer.
The first thing we talked about was my agent, the incomparable John Jarrold, who has been friends with Neil for many years. Neil recounted for me his first meeting with John, which took place at Eastercon in Glasgow in, I think, 1986. I didn’t take notes on this conversation, as it wasn’t really for publication. But it was a nice little story – Neil had been dispatched by the now-defunct Today newspaper to cover the Eastercon, and rolled into the Glasgow con hotel very late. John Jarrold – not yet an industry professional – was the Fan Guest of Honour, and had an open bar tab. He beckoned Neil over and informed him that it was Neil’s duty to accompany John on his mission to push the boundaries of this free bar tab into the early hours of the morning. It was only thanks to the writer Ramsey Campbell and more importantly his wife Jenny that Neil ended up sleeping in a bed and not under a table in the foyer.
From that point I knew that Neil Gaiman was my type of person, and the interview went swimmingly after that. I asked him how he would describe the process of writing, how much he plotted and planned. He explained how stories develop:
“You look out of your house and it’s really misty. You can just see far enough ahead.”
He spoke about his “crazy year” which is detailed in the Independent on Sunday interview and added:
“If I had any advice to other authors it would be don’t promise your adult publisher a book and your children’s publisher a book at the same time, because they might both say ‘this is our lead title for the year’!”
“Fortunately, The Milk is like the Bizarro-World Ocean at the End of the Lane. Everything that Ocean is, Fortunately, The Milk isn’t, and vice versa. Ocean is a story about childhood book-ended by an adult perspective. Fortunately, The Milk is about an adult, book-ended by a child. It’s about a Mum who goes off to a conference leaving Dad in charge. It’s my favourite children’s book I’ve written. There’s a stegosaurus! Called Professor Steg! And he has a time machine!”
I asked Neil if he ever loses his temper. He seems so temperate and measured in his interviews and on Twitter. Can he really be so even-tempered all the time?
“I get grumpy more than anything, and it’s usually when I’m hungry. Amanda will say to me, ‘get something to eat. You’re being grumpy’.”
So there you have it. English Breakfast Tea, strong, and for God’s sake keep the man fed. And you should get on just fine with Neil Gaiman.