Neil Gaiman. What can I say about Neil? Well, a lot, so hold onto your butts because I’ll likely be zigzagging across topics as I talk about how Neil has influenced my life. First, let’s give a brief description of the man himself, or neilhimself as his Twitter handle is aptly named. Neil Gaiman was a largely successful writer by the time I discovered who he was. He began as a journalist. Then he worked in comics and then in fiction and then television and film and pretty much any creative field you could imagine that involves putting words on paper at any stage. This is a slight exaggeration of course and his career did not simply go in that order or that easily. To put it simply, Neil has never been limited by one genre, subject, or medium. His stories vary greatly from kids books to mythology to religious satire to nonfiction. He has been immensely successful and rightfully so. He can be considered a celebrity author. Someone whose name is larger than their works. Someone whose careers have exploded and grown to a size where a large portion of the human population would recognize them or at least one of their works.
I discovered Neil’s work long before I discovered who he was. I was a fan before I knew where to direct my appreciation. I honestly can’t remember when or where I first discovered who Neil was as a person, but I think the first work of his that I ever came across was the movie adaptation of his book Stardust. I did not see the movie in theaters. I think my family had rented it (which is somewhat an already dated subject since everything is streamed nowadays, but to my credit it was a dvd we rented and not a vhs at least). Anyway, I absolutely enjoyed the film for various reasons. It has a great cast, possibly my favorite role by Robert De Niro, and it is infinitely creative and quirky and just downright fun. I never knew the movie was based on a book.
The first book I read by Neil was, if I remember correctly, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It came in out in 2013 but I think I picked it up around 2015. I picked this book up because I was looking for a shorter book to read it seemed interesting. It was at this time that I first discovered Neil as the person behind the books, and also when I realized that he wrote Stardust. I enjoyed The Ocean at the End of the Lane and was definitely ready to read more of Neil’s work but I did not dive in, as I have done with other authors I like. There was something different about this author. I strange draw that pulled me in but didn’t make me want to dive down the rabbit hole.
I once talked about Neil on this blog about two years ago when I was first getting started and trying to figure out exactly what this blog would become. I’m really happy with how it has turned out with the book recommendations and my own stories that I share and now this section where I discuss those who influence me. Even back then, after I had read his recently published Norse Mythology book, I couldn’t help but maintain that feeling of reserved admiration. I began becoming more interested in the man instead of his works. In my defense, if such a thing is needed, Neil is an extremely interesting person and an absolute joy to listen to. And this is where I veer off on a few tangential stories. Please indulge me.
The first is the most recent. I only just began my journey into audiobooks. I don’t know why I hesitated but I just enjoy having a physical book in my hands and reading the words. The first audiobook I ever tried, which convinced me I could enjoy this medium, was Neil’s The View from the Cheap Seats. Again, it greatly helped that it was read by Neil and he has a lovely British accent that you can just listen to all day. The View from the Cheap Seats is a collection of nonfiction that covers many different topics. Ironically enough, I had bought a physical copy of this book when it was first published in 2016. I remember the day specifically. Early in the week it was to be released, I had seen on Twitter that Neil posted a list of independent bookstores in America that would have signed copies of this book. I checked the list and found that only one store in my state would have such copies. To my very exciting surprise, that particular bookstore was just down the road from the university where I worked. So, when the day came for the book to go on sale, I took an early lunch and went down to hopefully pick up a copy. I remember finding out they were only to receive ten signed copies and I was lucky enough to get one. Ironically again, I did not read the book in its entirety until I listened to the audio version. Life can be funny sometimes.
I’ve heard the story of how Neil met Diana Wynne Jones a few times. I think once was in the audio book and another may have been in an interview I watched online. It was such a chance meeting and one that grew into a great friendship and I often imagine myself becoming friends with Neil, and other authors, in a similar way. He is at a hotel bar sitting alone probably working on something and I find the courage to introduce myself and tell him I enjoy his books and we become great writing friends. A fledgling writer can dream of such influential encounters. Though this may never happen (nothing is impossible), I did get a chance to go see him in person. I never got to speak to him directly or even get within 100 feet, but I was able to sit in the same room as the man and listen to him talk about a great many things and read a few things from his published works.
There is a story about this encounter too because it was not easy getting into that room to see him. The event was first publicly announced perhaps six months to a year before it was to happen. I discovered it on Twitter (a really handy platform). It was to take place at Kansas University. I kept checking every few months to see if tickets were available and wasn’t entirely sure it was going to take place because it wasn’t officially posted on the site. Eventually it was and they announced the event was going to be free. Even better, right? It was free and anyone could pick up free tickets, limit of two per person, if they picked them up from the Lied Center of Kansas. The problem was, though this was the closest he was to come to my home town, at least to my knowledge, it was still nearly 4 hours away. Tickets were to be released on a weekday. I thought of taking off work to drive up there and grabbing a few tickets then driving all the way back to make it to work for the next day. Eight hours of driving for a few tickets. I almost did it. But first I talked to every one of my friends who lived in Kansas City, which was about 45 minutes to an hour away from the center. None of them could get the tickets due to work obligations and that they couldn’t make it up there in time even after they got off work because the center would be closed or the tickets would be gone. I think the tickets did “sell out” that morning. Well, to my luck again, I also have family who live in that area and my aunt knew some people who lived near the center. Her friends were able to snag a few tickets for myself and even a few extra so I could bring some friends. So I had the tickets. But of course the event itself was an evening event. On a weekday.
An Evening with Neil Gaiman to call it exactly as it was publicized. I took a half day off work, hopped on the highway with my mom accompanying me and letting me get some sleep for the long day ahead, picked up my father-in-law halfway there, stopped at my aunts to pick up the tickets and drop my mom off to hang out with her brothers, then drove the rest of the way to the center where I would meet my other friends before going in (they ended up arriving a bit late but I got them their tickets and all was well). Anyway, the event starts at 7pm, or 7:30pm, I can’t remember exactly, and we sit and listen and have fun until around 9pm or 9:30pm. Again I can’t remember because it was some time ago. Afterwards, I had intended on hitting the road to get back home so I could work the next day. I found my friends after the event and we hung out and caught up since we hadn’t seen each other in awhile. While we chatted, the line to buy books dwindled and we hopped in line to make a few purchases. I hadn’t planned on buying anything since I had brought a large bag of his books I already owned in the small chance he would have done any signing. But there were pre-signed copies for sale. I really hoped to snag his new book Art Matters, illustrated by Chris Riddell, which was set to release the very next day. This was November 2018. A signed copy would have been great, but I had pre-ordered the book so I was already getting a copy. When we arrived at the register, only a few copies remained and I picked up signed copies of a few books I already owned. These were Norse Mythology (I did like the paperback version anyway, my first copy was hardback) and American Gods in paperback which I also had originally in hardback. This copy had the television cover on it though. My friends and I paid for our books and my ever patient father-in-law was hanging about having discussions with strangers and waiting on me. I said goodbye to my friends and set out on the ride home. First to pick up my mom, then to drop off my father-in-law, then finish the drive that ended with me getting into bed close to 4am and having to be at work the next day at 8am. Needless to say, I was very tired that next day, but it was worth the experience to see someone you admire.
I bought my father-in-law a copy of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I had not read the book yet at the time but knew the premise. He had bought me The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, which I had recently read and therefore thought he would enjoy Good Omens. I was right. I went on to read the book as well not long afterwards. The weekend the television adaptation of that book came out, he was in town visiting and we binge-watched all six episodes and loved it. I might even like the adaptation better than the original book, but they are each great and compliment each other in ways that make the experience of each version collectively greater.
When it was announced that Neil was doing a Masterclass, a program I had never heard of previously, I of course found out about it (probably from Twitter) and my amazing wife bought me an all-access pass for my birthday. I of course took his course first and liked it and I have started taking other writing courses on the platform and am learning great things and discovering other authors and areas to learn more. I’ve learned about and discovered many different authors and books from Neil. Many simply from him talking about them. Many books I have gone on to read while several remain in my to-read pile.
Neil Gaiman has been a large influence in my creative life. Especially for only being a part of it for a handful of years. I imagine he will remain an influence throughout my life. I have yet to get through his collective works. I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface. Regardless, I am extremely grateful to him. He is a phenomenally nice, genuine person. Though I have never known him personally (I still hold onto the hopes of meeting him one day), I know enough about him from stories by other people, and through interviews and his Masterclass and stories of his interactions with fans, to know that I would probably admire him even more for having met him. It is strange to be influenced more by the man than by his works, especially in this field and when not knowing him personally, but nonetheless this is the case with this particular author. I have deep respect for him and always wish him well. I hope you can discover him and come to enjoy him in your own way if you have not done so already.