Last night I headed along the M4 to Bath, to spend the evening with Neil Gaiman. Ok, he was on stage at The Forum and I was one of over 1,000 people in the audience, but you know what I mean. As you might expect I really enjoy Gaiman’s comic work, but I’m also a fan of his prose work too and American Gods is one of my favourite all-time novels. So, when I found out that my friend Julian Burrett, writer of Chris Smith and the Nazi Zombies from Hell, had picked me up a ticket to the talk I was extremely pleased. The event, organised by the marvellous people at Toppings booksellers, was the first part of his tour to promote new novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
All in all, the evening was really inspiring and it helped me to maintain the fire in my belly for my own writing, for a number of different reasons. Firstly there was the talk itself, I was listening to one of the leading figures in genre fiction, someone whose work spans novels, short stories, comics and the screen. Hearing him talk about writing gave me the same buzz as listening to Howard Chaykin or Walt Simonson being interviewed on panels at Bristol Comic Expo years earlier. Gaiman came across as a confident, intelligent and extremely likeable man. His enthusiasm for his work, personified by his willingness to stay until 1am so that everyone in attendance had their copy of the book signed, was obvious and his love of stories and storytelling was infectious. He read two excerpts from the book, and in some ways his country upbringing reminded me of my own, and the pictures in my head as he read, weaved between fantasy and reality. The Q&A that followed (all questions fitting the author’s wonderful pre-determined question criteria, i.e be an actual question) was refreshing, he showed those posing the questions the same respect they obviously had for him. He talked about Alan Moore‘s influence on him, his intention to one day complete Miracleman and gave us some insight into the potential American Gods HBO series. These snippets of information were readily snapped up by the eager audience, but the real gems were the quieter responses, the ones where his guard was down and he gave us a true insight into the mind of a lifelong storyteller. The Ocean at the End of the Lane wasn’t a planned novel, it was inspired by a secret his Father shared from Gaiman’s childhood and was solely planned as a long distance love letter to Amanda Palmer. When it was finished, it was, what many are describing as the best work of his career. But above all it started life as a story for its own sake, a fact which I can’t stop thinking about.
One of the other reasons that I was inspired last night was seeing how passionate the other people in attendance were, he received a huge round of applause when he arrived on stage and another one moments later, when the slightly ineffectual journalist interviewing him introduced him by name. People shared a common love of the stories Gaiman has created, we all laughed together, shared the same excitement, all wanted to know more.
I was also surrounded by other creative people. Old friends Ian Sharman (Alpha Gods, Hero 9-5) and Holly Rose (Shrapnel) were there, Conor Boyle, who is drawing my latest Unseen Shadows story and writer Lizzie Boyle were also in attendance, the collective brains behind Disconnected Press. Julian has just had his first comic released, which I had the pleasure of editing, and his brother Alex Burrett is also a writer whose work includes the surreal and critically acclaimed short story collection “My Goat ate its own legs” from Burning House. All these people have been writing, drawing and creating because they have to, it’s an essential part of who they are and why they exist. On that note, I am no different.
From today every time I get a little despondent, too focussed on success, achievement or “breaking in”, I’ll look at my signed copy of the book and think back to last night. But not to imagine trading places with one of the most recognisable writers on the planet. I’ll be remembering with fondness that the reason we write, and the reason we read is one in the same. Because we all love stories.