Interview – (Philipines)

From the July 20, 2005

More dreamtime with Neil Gaiman

In the week leading up to Neil Gaiman’s stay in the Philippines, Just a Philosopher’s Stone’s throw away from his hotel, anti-government protestors had gathered. He was checked into the Peninsula Manila under the name of Mr. Punch, a character from one of his own books. That Gaiman is now living a rather adventurous and surreal life not unlike that of one of his fictional people is to be expected. By telling the story of Dream, ruler of the Dreaming, and his dysfunctional family, the Endless in “The Sandman’s” 75-issue run, Gaiman has seduced a world’s imaginings and has let his creative wanderlust take him where it may, to novels, children’s books and other creative endeavors.

Do you have an upcoming project with Marvel Comics?

(Smiles and answers very carefully) Yes.

Can you say something about it?

(Smiles wider and shakes his head vigorously) No.

“Coraline” was followed by “The Wolves in The Wall.” Now, you’re coming out with “Anansi Boys…”

Well, “Anansi Boys” is an adult novel-well, sort of. Actually, “Anansi Boys” is an odd novel. “American Gods,” which won the Hugo and the Nebula and the Bram Stoker and the SFX, the Locus and so on and so forth, is definitely not a book for kids. I mean it has horror and extreme sex, and all sorts of cool stuff. “Anansi Boys” is the next adult novel, but it has no extreme sex, no sex, no swearing, there’s absolutely nothing in there that I wouldn’t mind a 12-year-old reading.

On the other hand, “The Graveyard Book,” which is the next children’s book, begins at least in the current draft, with four pages of a serial killer walking around a house in the dark, having killed all of the family, and looking for the baby to finish them all off. It’s the scariest, nastiest thing I’ve ever written. These days, I don’t make a lot of separation between the adult stuff and the kid’s stuff as I should.

Along those lines, you’ve done quite a bit of film work, with the English script for Hayao Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke,” the script for “Good Omens,” and now “MirrorMask.” Following your gustatory metaphor, is cinema another kind of meal that you really enjoy?

Absolutely. The fun for me of cinema is that it’s a completely different kind of adventure. And there’s also this huge kind of teamwork involved.

The strange thing about cinema and TV is this. When you read a novel by me, it’s a book by me. That’s what you get. When you read a comic by me, it’s a comic by me and an artist. When you’re looking at film, you’re looking at something I thought up, as interpreted by a director, as told to you by 80 people and the limitations of budget. It’s so much of a different thing.

On the other hand, I love the reach of film. I love how many people see them. I love, right now, the weird technical possibilities of film and that “special effects” no longer mean what they did. And that is really interesting. The things that Dave McKean experimented on in “MirrorMask” will wind up proving useful somewhere down the line.

You’ve always been interested in different kinds of mythology and different ways of thinking. Is there anything new that you’re currently fascinated by or enjoying? What books are you reading?

Right now, I’m sort of just loading the hopper. Right now, I’m just finding out about it. The joy of being an author for me is that the place where you get ideas or background material is never other people’s books, it’s always weird little books about unlikely things. I just finished reading a book on the history of the menagerie of the Tower of London, going back to the 13th century. I’m now reading a book about the legends of the 10 lost tribes of Israel, and that’s really interesting, how virtually every ethnic group in the world has been identified as part of the lost tribes of Israel.

That’s why you’ve become both an icon of reading and writing in the world. How does that feel?

If I ever thought about it, it would be a bit alarming. It’s like the blog

(NOTE: you can find, along with other fascinating resources on his website,

I’ve been keeping the blog since January 2001, which is about as far back as people have been blogging. There were dinosaurs blogging when I started. “Dear blog, met a stegosaurus today.” Overall, there’s probably a million words’ worth of stuff in the blog and you could probably extract a small book of advice for writers from this stuff I’ve written to answer specific questions.

But I never set out to keep the blog as a source of advice for writers. It’s just that lots of people want to know things like, how do you this and how do you deal with writer’s block and whatever. And this is how I do it, this is what I think it is.

Is it still as much fun for you or has it gotten more difficult as time has gone on, now that your reach is so wide and there’s a huge audience for your stuff?

I think it’s just different. I’m not sure that harder is right, and I’m not sure that more fun is right. It gets harder to arrange time because all of the sudden you become like a bowling ball on a rubber sheet. When you’re a young writer, you say yes to everything. And then there’s a point when you turn around and… you have to start saying no, which is very hard for a freelance writer to learn.

I still enjoy writing. The most fun I’ve had the last year was going to Glasgow and hearing them workshop “The Wolves In The Walls” as a children’s opera by the National Theater of Scotland. And it was absolutely funny and wonderful. The second most fun was writing “Anansi Boys,” and that’s just the process of me and my pen going off every day and writing. I think that includes the terrible days, of “Christ, I’m an idiot, what makes me think I could be a writer,” and the days when I didn’t even bother picking up my pen because I’m completely struck in a story and had no idea what was going to happen next.

I was three-quarters of the way through “Anansi Boys” when I called up my agent and said, “I have to tell you, the book is crap. I think I’m going to go and stop writing now. We’re just going to have to tell Harpers that we’re never going to finish the book.” And she says, “Oh, so you’re at that point in the book.” And I say, “What do you mean?” And she answers, “You always get there. All my writers do.” Three-quarters of the way, that’s how you feel about it. And then suddenly it all pulls itself together.

I’m so happy with the book, it’s so funny and so light. I like the fact that people read the book and it makes them happier and makes them feel better, and that’s what it was supposed to do.

You’ve ventured into all kinds of genres, but is there something specific you still really want to do?

I’d like to write a stage play. I’ve never created an original stage play. I’ve had stage plays adapted from things I’ve written and I’ve watched them and I’ve liked them, or I haven’t. I would love to do something for the stage, to see what happens.

Does it surprise you that you’re popular, say, in this country, or when you see the reactions you get when you travel?

No. The thing is, I have a more like a “kind-of” famousness. There’s the normal kind of famousness that people have, which means people have heard of you even if they don’t like your stuff or don’t listen to you. Everyone in the world knows that Britney Spears is famous. I’m pretty sure she’s the girl who sang “Oops, I Did It Again.” But apart from that, I can’t identify a Britney Spears song at gunpoint, and, honestly, give me a machinegun and line up 30 average-looking blond American girls and tell me to shoot Britney Spears and I can hit anybody.

But I have a sort of binary fame. Because I tend to exist in either “Neil-Gaiman-I-haven’t-heard-of-him-what-does-he-do
,” or “N
eil-Gaiman,-oh-my-God-he’s-my-favorite-author.” There’s not an awful lot between them. What was becoming very apparent to me, because I get to go backstage at my website and I get to see where people are coming from-I noticed that Singapore, with a population of four million people was coming in at number five or number six, and the Philippines was coming in at number eight or nine, out of the world. That was the point when I said I have to go to the Philippines, I have to go to Singapore, I have to go and sign in these places because I know there are people there reading this stuff and I’ve never been there and I want to find out what they like.

I went this morning to judge the art show and it wasn’t choosing between apples and oranges but like apples and chocolates and mirrors. So, I go down there, it’s 9:30 a.m. and there are 350 people there, and they catch sight of me. One moment, I have 100 people shouting hello and I say hi, and then it just sort of erupts into a deafening, top-of-the-throat (begins to produce his estimation of a crowd shouting) ahhhhhhhh. It didn’t feel like The Beatles. It felt much, much odder than that. I thought, “This is the Philippines, they are loud, they are vocal and they are really enthusiastic. This is going to be really fun.”
–Ruel S. de Vera