Neil, and Len
Yesterday, to that there London for work commitments, followed by a trip to the University of London's Logan Hall for a book-reading by the greatest living English author who also does comics, films, weblogs and lives in Minnesota. Look, there's LOADS of them out there, Neil Gaiman just happens to be the best of the lot.
So, I find myself in the presence of Neil Gaiman, who I am still not blackmailing (and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise), and also the event's compere, the excellent Lenny Henry, who lived up to his reputation as the funniest man in the world without even trying. Using my l33t ligging skills, I managed to get into the Green Room, where Lenny and I (see? We're on first name terms already) sat and guzzled Neil's rider while the man himself signed all the books in the world.
Thankfully, Neil puts the record straight about the foreword he is writing for the forthcoming Scary Book, in which I am not blackmailing him, and I certainly do not possess any photos of him in the presence of Jeffrey Archer, or worse, Ben Elton. His publicist – who also represents a gangster, and has obviously heard it all before, including the parts about nailing peoples' heads to coffee tables – allows me to stay, and Mr Gaiman is certainly as you'd expect, the nicest man in publishing, who I am not blackmailing, at all.
Neil signs books, while Lenny effortlessly dominates the room. Lenny Henry is Lenny Henry, it seems, whether the audience is several million or just three people in a back-stage room, reducing all to hysterics with barely a flick of his funny gland.
Neil signs books. He has an expensive-looking fountain pen with browny-sepia tinted ink. Piles and piles of books. Just when he thinks he is finished, flunkies arrive with more boxes of books, which he continues to sign like some hideous task conferred onto him by some vengeful God over something he may have written, or some ill-advised deal made over a flaming typewriter, a task he is doomed to undertake forever.
Gaiman writes of Gods, their tricks, games, lusts, foibles and their generally selfish behaviour; belief (or the lack thereof) of their Earthly subjects, and it is only reasonable to expect that some deity will have taken umbrage at some stage, and the Curse of the Sepia-Inked Fountain Pen is his eternal damnation. I myself fully expect a Hell of dog's bottoms at some stage, but that's the price you pay for minor internet celebrity.
(Terry Pratchett, Gaiman's co-conspirator in the novel "Good Omens" is similarly cursed, and all the proof one needs that this is a classic Old Testament Curse of the Whale-Swallows-Man or Pillar-Of-Salt variety from a God that enjoys a good laugh as much as the next deity. Doomed, he is, to sign every single book bearing his name ever printed, ever. Just to make his task tricky, I've buried a couple in a metal box in the garden. Next to the cat and a bottle of Dr Ju-ju's patent cat re-animating gel.)
Mr Henry: I know you're reading this. Update your damn blog, man! Also, I've got a spunker of an idea for a sitcom. Really. It is this: excellent.
Len, and Neil
The evening's events are, in the main, on the subject of Gaiman's latest work, the darkly humourous novel Anansi Boys. The pair talk of where the idea of the book came from (the act of teaching Lenny Henry's daughter to ride a bike, as it happens), and why it's not a book about taking the stabilizers off a bicycle (that's literary editors for you).
Then, as you concentrate on Gaiman the novelist, you are reminded of his sheer diversity, being a man from whom story flows from every pore. For some people, this can be a dreadful, shocking mess of unfinished projects and terrible quality control, for Gaiman it is a body of assured novels and short stories, cult comic books and illustrated works, and the logical step into the hellish world of film-making. The evening's audience, made up of fans from his many genres, may be easily recognised by how much black they are wearing.
Henry knows he can steal the show any time, but doesn't. The pair are such good friends, going back to the filming of Neverwhere (which Lenny still argues should have been set in Dudley) that they are an unexpectedly funny double act, playing off each other with confidence.
An off-the-cuff announcement that cult artist P. Craig Russell will be drawing a graphic novel version of Gaiman's scary children's book Coraline draws gasps from the audience, and names are dropped like confetti (Robert Zemeckis and his golden chequebook, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie) over the filming of Beowulf, which he has written with Roger Avary. Then, I forget to ask to whom we should be currently mailing dog turds to ensure that Good Omens gets filmed, and for most, the evening is over.
Over for all, except Gaiman. He is dragged into the foyer to sign books. More books, books and an endless queue of fans clutching multiple copies of his work, all requiring his signature, as decreed by the prophesy. A curse, and a pleasure, for Gaiman and his sepia-tinted pen bear it well.
He is still there.
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