Manchester Literature Festival: Neil Gaiman

Posted on October 14, 2013

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Neil Gaiman is a name known to an impressively wide spectrum of people. For some, he is the enchanting author of Coraline and Stardust. For others, he is the architect of American Gods and Neverwhere. Others will know his two Doctor Who episodes. For those at Manchester Literature Festival’s event at The Dancehouse yesterday it was his new children’s book, Fortunately the Milk, that took centre stage in a rare UK appearance for the best-selling author.

Fortunately the Milk (available now in hardback, or interactive audiobook) is a gloriously silly story of Mum tasking Dad with a list of thing to do whilst she’s away. Along the way Dad has a time-travelling adventure meeting aliens, pirates, dinosaurs and wumpires (but not the handsome, misunderstood kind).

Talking about this new “peculiarly shiny book”, Gaiman says inspiration came from wanting to write a book that made dads cool, after The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish where under his own admission he portrays fathers as “newspaper reading, carrot ending lumps of unawareness, and that’s wrong – it’s dadist”. Wanting to write something where dads were cool, he formulated the idea for Fortunately the Milk.

Listen to an extract from his reading below:

Gaiman then recounted what a strange and busy year 2013 has been for him, with the publication of not one, but four books. A constantly in demand author, the question and answer session was a packed look into upcoming treats. Fans of The Sandman, his acclaimed comic series, will be pleased to hear about The Sandman Overture coming over at the end of the month. With six issues over the next year, and promising the story just before Sandman #1, it is a highly anticipated return from Gaiman to the Sandman universe.

Elsewhere, American Gods and Neverwhere fans will be thrilled to hear that Gaiman is considering tying up loose ends over the next few years – provided that he doesn’t get distracted by other projects: “I’m so rubbish. I always plan to do sequels to things, but I just have more ideas than things I get round to. I’ve promised myself the next few years are going to for tying up a few loose ends. This is partly prompted by the Radio 4 adaptation of Neverwhere, I listened to it and thought: ‘I really like this, why isn’t there any more?’ and so I sat down and finished a short story I started ten years ago called ‘How the Marquis Got His Coat Back’ where you meet more of his family and the Shepherds of Shepherds Bush.. but there is a Neverwhere novel to be written called The Seven Sisters too..”

On his relationship with Terry Pratchett (who he collaborated on to produce Good Omens), Gaiman recounted a story of how, in their younger days, whilst over in Seattle they were sharing a room to save money, and one night, creeping in after hours to the hotel room after having been drinking with other authors Neil heard a little voice saying: “What time of night do you call this? Your mother and I have been terribly worried about you!” Clearly good friends, Gaiman holds a substantial amount of affection for Pratchett, with the pair having plotted further adventures: “We did talk about doing some more, but Terry has, as you know, serious health issues. Right now though, I’m putting my money on Terry. He rang the other day to ask for my help with something for his memoirs and I felt a pang as I thought, ‘Oh no, this is my friend, the memory’s going’, how wrong was I as he dove in with, ‘Do you remember in March 1990? We did that radio interview in New York with an ABC affiliate station, and when we came out.. was it 42nd or 43rd Street we walked down?!’, absolutely true story!”

Asked if a sequel to Chu’s Day was on the way, Gaiman confirmed that one was currently being painted, and then spoke about his experiences trying to get his picture books published in China and an Amazon review from a fan disappointed with his picture books:

Gaiman feels that writing for children, whilst more difficult in some respects, as any errors children are likely to pick up on and write to the author about, is more rewarding. Reflecting on his last major book tour, he recounted the tale of how copies of Coraline passed his signing table, loved to death and how the 20-something girls clutching them would tell him about how the book got them through some difficult times: “It was their friend when they didn’t have friends. It taught them about bravery, and make them think ‘I could be like Coraline, I could be like that’. That was something that hadn’t occurred to me, running into real-life adults who had been reading my stuff since they were 10/11 and felt hugely important.”

Concluding an enchanting afternoon and summing up his career to date Gaiman commented on the “magical, delightful absolute freedom I appear to have, which very few writers have, the ability to do whatever they want to next”. Lets hope it’s not too long before he’s back in Manchester again.

With thanks to the Manchester Literature Festival.

Fortunately the Milk is available to buy now. Neil was also on BBC Breakfast this morning, and you can view his interview here.

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