Last Friday, best-selling author Neil Gaiman made a rare appearance at the University of Washington for a night filled with humor, nostalgia and reminders of the importance of maintaining meaningful connections to those around us. It was Gaiman’s first speaking engagement in Seattle in many years, co-presented by ASUW Arts & Entertainment and HUB CaPP. More than a thousand people came to see Gaiman in person, and the event sold out days in advance.
Instead of following a set agenda for the evening, Gaiman answered audience questions that had been submitted to the organizers on note cards prior to the start of his talk. The question and answer format led to both humorous and serious moments throughout the evening. His audience’s curiosity knew no bounds, running the gamut from cheeky requests (such as asking him to say tomato and banana out loud) to more serious questions dealing with grief and loss.
Throughout his talk, Gaiman kept the audience rapt, drawing us in with his engaging, conversational style and turning even ordinary recollections of past events into opportunities to show off his skills as a master storyteller. His answers to questions were interspersed with readings of some of his short stories (“And Weep Like Alexander” and “Click Clack the Rattle Bag”), providing us with the pleasure of hearing his written work out loud.
Finding Inspiration in Connections
Although few people asked directly about performer Amanda Palmer and the late fantasy author Terry Pratchett, these two individuals came up frequently in Gaiman’s responses. Gaiman credits both as having been a great influence on his life in different ways.
Palmer, who married Gaiman in 2011, inspired him to write The Ocean at the End of the Lane. He also credits her as the reason he doesn’t live in Scotland (she does not, apparently, have as much fondness for the “craggy loneliness” of the Isle of Skye as he does). Gaiman spoke of her with a clear warmth and affection, and with a touch of anticipation. The couple is expecting their first child this year, and it’s easy to see that it’s an event he is looking forward to.
The same warmth was obvious when he spoke about Terry Pratchett, though it was also with a touch of wistfulness. The renowned British author, who was Gaiman’s friend for many decades, recently passed away of health complications. Gaiman reminisced about walking around Seattle and writing collaboratively with Pratchett, and their first meeting. He was the first journalist to ever interview him, a chance encounter that sparked a lifelong friendship, and while the loss had been something they sensed was coming, there was no adequate way to prepare for the grief that came with it.
“I think it’s astonishingly likely to take you by surprise,” Gaiman told a hushed audience. “What shocked me was how sad I was. Thirty years of friendship had died. You drew a line at the end of it.” Since then, he said, he found himself frequently revisiting the work they’d done together and some of the best memories they shared. Gaiman also read an excerpt from “Good Omens,” which he co-authored with Pratchett. It was a fitting way to pay tribute to a close friend and a respected author.
Gaiman spoke fondly of Seattle and his memories of the city, including his first visit for the World Fantasy Convention in 1989, which he attended with Pratchett. Another of his favorite memories was of a second-hand bookstore–now long closed–where he could wander for hours finding books to read.
Moving Forward and Advice for Writers
While Gaiman is now known as a best-selling author, his work has often included collaborations with other authors. Though Gaiman did not go into details, he mentioned a few projects in development. Fans of Dr. Who eagerly anticipating another episode penned by Gaiman may have a long wait ahead of them, although he would like to work on another script. He is currently working on another show — which he did not name — for the BBC. Bryan Fuller (the writer for the station’s show Hannibal) is slated to turn Gaiman’s novel American Gods into a TV series, and location scouting is ongoing. While the first two seasons are to be based on the novel, future seasons might go beyond the scope of the book. Gaiman did not say whether he will be involved in writing the scripts for additional seasons. He’s also, “very lazily working on a musical,” as there is a charm to live theater that draws him to it.
On writer’s block, Gaiman mused, “I think writer’s block is something clever that writers make up. If you say you’re stuck, it’s your fault. If you say it’s writer’s block, it’s the gods.” He did, however, have advice for writers who find themselves stuck in a rut: Put your story away long enough to forget what happens in it, then read it again. And don’t be afraid to explore where creative whims take you. “I always start my stories knowing something,” he said, “and going into it and finding out what happens.”