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Neil Gaiman p2

Neil Gaiman talks about his favorite books...

During a question and answer session at his Brisbane talk, I asked Neil Gaiman about some of his favorite books.
“I would definitely have Hope Mirlee’s novel Lud-in-the-Mist [1926],” Mr Gaiman said.
“It’s a fantasy. It’s now back in print. It gets in and out of print. I think it’s the most interesting of 20 th century fantasy novels. It’s a lot shorter than Lord of the Rings (laughter). But I actually prefer it.
“And it’s a detective story and a ghost story and a weird sort of little allegory… So I’d have that.
“I’d have the Newgate Calendar. [or Malefactor’s Bloody Register. The original series, by R. Sanders, was published in 1760 in five volumes and described some lurid crimes from 1700 till then]
“My copy is in five volumes but theoretically it could be in one.
“And just because I love reading these stories about 16th century coin forgers; and it’s filled with these sort of strange little tragic dramas, and occasionally not so tragic, and sometimes they’re funny and sometimes they’re horrible; a world in which you could be hanged for stealing tuppence or transported for life.
“You get a very strange perspective on the world…”

In Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods, a Mr Ibis writes in a leather-bound journal about the life and crimes of one Essie Tregowan including her transportation to the American colonies.
“I’d probably take The Man who was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton [1908], because it’s a book I’m very fond of,” Mr Gaiman continued.
American Gods also seems to give a tip of the hat to this fantasy novel.
In American Gods, Shadow is flying home from prison when he meets a Mr Wednesday on the plane.
Mr Wednesday claims to be a refugee from a faraway war, a former god, and the king of America.
“Maybe the Narnia Books just for old times sake,” Mr Gaiman said of which other books he would number as his favorites.

“They were my favorite books when I was seven…”
He also mentioned an interesting choice for his favorite book.
“There was a place, which isn’t there anymore, which was sort of near where I lived, which was called McCosh’s House of Books.
“And Mr McCosh was a very old man who looked like Santa Claus’s anorexic older brother (laughter) Long white beard..stained with tobacco.
“And he owned a hospital, and he turned it into a place where he kept books which he mostly sold through mail order.”
Mr Gaiman said every ward of this old hospital was tumbling with books.
“You’d open a room and it could be a shower room and every shower cubicle would be filled with book shelves with books on them.
“The shower cubicles I think were modern history. And I used to love it.”

“And three times a year you’d get a piece of paper from McCosh with a map showing how to get to his house, and a little note saying ‘You need these books more than I do’…
“And I would go to McCosh’s House of Books three times a year and try and find wonderful books.
“That was how I found John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester [1647-1680] who turned out to be my favorite poet, for example.”
John Wilmot was a wild character, similar to Spider Nancy in Anansi Boys.
Mr Gaiman said he wished he had a complete set of Wilmot’s poems including the ones burned by Wilmot’s mother and wife the moment he died.
Then he mentioned his favorite book.
“I actually found my favorite book there, and it’s about that high, that thick; [about half a metre long] it’s got a thick leather cover, and I opened it and it was published in the 1850s and it’s an accounts ledger, and it’s completely empty.
“And the pages sit perfectly flat. It was hand-sewn and leather…and all of the pages are numbered, and I bought it and one day I’m going to write a book in it.”
Later he said he liked Jorge Luis Borges.
“Yes, I’ve read a lot of Jorge Luis Borges and I think he’s great… In my case he was one of those writers I discovered as a sort of 15 year old not thinking anybody else in the whole world had ever heard of him.
The Universal History of Infamy…reading his short stories.”
Of the fantasy genre label in general, Mr Gaiman said, “I get frustrated with people when it comes down to fantasy just as a general generic term because I think fantasy encompasses all things that are made up. I tend to think of mainstream fiction as, for the most part, romantic fantasy.”

Neil Gaiman covered a number of topics in his talk.
On his writing he said he was never completely satisfied with it, although he did chortle sometimes as he wrote.
“Mostly what we’re aware of when we’re writing is the vast gulf between the Platonic ideal of the thing in your head, this perfect, towering, crystalline, wonderful thing, and this sort of slightly lumpy thing you’ve put down on paper… I suspect that’s true of anything.
“The thing you do tends to fall away. And so it’s always ‘It could be better’. And so many people say ‘My favourite novel is normally the one I haven’t written yet’…”
A frequent collaborator on projects, both novels and comics, Mr Gaiman said he had managed to collaborate with just about everyone he wanted to.
He talked about working with Terry Pratchett on the novel Good Omens, published in 1992.
Good Omens is another humorous book, making fun of the end of the world, demons, and Omen-ous things.
“Back then I was completely nocturnal. I was more or less completely nocturnal until about 1994 when I gave up smoking.
“I really liked being nocturnal, and around about one o’clock in the morning I’d find myself flagging as a writer I’d just light another cigarette and carry on typing till four in the morning..and filling the ashtray.

“And I discovered when I gave up smoking what would actually happen was at around about one in the morning I’d start feeling dozy, and then at five o’clock in the morning I would lift up my head from the keyboard and find 500 pages of the letter m. (laughter)…”

“But back then I was more or less completely nocturnal.
“So I would get up early in the afternoon and there would be a little red light flashing on the answering machine.
“I’d press the button and the tape would rewind..again, primitive technology we had back then, and this was also in the days when you were collaborating, there was no email back then.
“Because this was 1988. We both owned modems but we weren’t sure what to do with them.
“Just so we could say that we had. Terry modemed me chunk of text and it took us an entire day to do it, and if you could actually tap down the phone in morse code it would have been quicker.
“But I would wake up in the early afternoon and the little light would be flashing and the voice saying, ‘Get up, get up, you bastard. I’ve just written a good bit’.
“I would phone Terry and he would read me what he’d written that morning and I would read him what I’d written much much earlier that morning, and then it would be a mad dash to get to the next bit before the other one could.
“That was how we worked it. It was enormous fun. We wrote it for 12 weeks and we didn’t actually know if anyone was going to publish it.
“We weren’t sure if it was publishable. How come? Because nobody had written anything like it before, and we didn’t know whether publishers would want it.
“I do remember Terry actually asking me at one point, he said, ‘Look. How long have we been working on this so far?’ And I said, ‘About six weeks.’ And he said, ‘What’s the longest it could take us?’ And I said, ‘Maybe another six weeks.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s twelve weeks. If nobody buys it we can afford that, can’t we. Let’s keep going.’
“Little did we know. These days Good Omens has gone on to become this international phenomenon, and it’s sold to become a movie, several times. (laughter)”
He said he and Terry Pratchett had met recently at a function, and had talked about writing more. Mr Gaiman had a number of other projects on the boil, too, including Marvel Project Number 2, which he said he was going to talk about with his editor as soon as he returned home.
Also DC comics would probably have a Sandman 20th anniversary issue in either 2008 or 2009.
There might also be a Sandman Zero, which explained what happened to him before Sandman 1 when he was captured.
Check out Neil Gaiman’s website at www.neilgaiman.com –