Bookings are now open for my three 2020 residential writing retreats, co-tutored with RNA Chair Alison May. Details can be found here.
A writing hero
You know those moments when you finally get to… not exactly meet but spend time listening to someone you have really admired for a long time. One of two things will happen. Either you’ll be disappointed, or you’ll fall in love.
And isn’t it the best thing in the world when it’s the latter?
This week, I had a major fan-girl moment. I had a front row seat at the Royal Festival Hall to hear the amazing Neil Gaiman talk about his work in general and in particular his latest book – Norse Mythology. This book is a retelling of the classic Norse myths in Gaiman’s own unique voice.
Not only is he a great writer – he is a pretty fabulous reader too.
The evening started with him reading one of the stories from the book. It involved the Mighty Thor and his hammer, Loki , a giant ogre and a wedding.
No spoilers here of course, but it’s beautifully written, and funny and never have gods seemed so real. That, he said later, was one of his aims in this book. To introduce the stories he has always loved to a new audience, and to tell stories, not just about the actions of the gods, but about the gods themselves. To make them a little bit more human, because there is a little of them in each of us.
As he was reading, I was struck by his use of speech tags. As a writer, I am very conscious of a tendency to overuse ‘he said’ and ‘she said’. I try to find ways around that. But in the dialogue in that story, Gaiman used ‘he said’, ‘said Thor’ etc. in almost every line. And it worked. The reason it worked was because of the rhythm of his writing. The story was funny, and of course humour is all about timing. The beat, the pause if you will, before and after ‘Loki said’ was part of the humour. It was a masterclass in dialogue.
I could have listened to him read all night – but then again, I could have listened to the conversation that followed all night as well.
The thing that struck me most of all was his joy. That was a word he used often and it also described the way he talked. The joy he finds when he writes. And the joy he finds in the stories he discovers, and the research he does. And in other people’s writing. The other word, I guess, would be passion. He has such passion for story telling – in all its forms, whether it’s an ancient and rather long and ponderous Norse poem, or a few lines from a book he’s read. Whether it’s a children’s tale or an epic like American Gods.
On the subject of American Gods – he told the story of how the idea was born when he was on a trip to Iceland. He saw a little diorama at a tourism bureau showing the voyages of Icelandic explorers to the new world. One of his first thoughts was – I wonder if they took their gods with them. And American Gods was born. He also showed us a sneak preview of the trailer for the TV adaptation that’s coming. And Wow – that’s all. Just WOW!
The most moving part of the night for me was when he talked about working with Terry Pratchett. It’s clear how close they were, and how much he misses a friend and collaborator. And the emotion that swept through the 2,000 odd readers in the hall was a clear tribute to a writer we all miss terribly.
At one point, he was asked what line he had written was his favourite. After a few moments thought – he came back with a line from American Gods.
“Chicago happened slowly, like a migraine.”
I so loved that book! But I still have an incredible fondness for Neverwhere… the story about a hidden world of London – inhabited by people who have fallen through the cracks in reality. I was a newcomer to London when I read that – and I have loved it ever since. (Also have the TV show on DVD).
I was thrilled when, to close the event, Gaiman announced that he had completed three chapters of the sequel. He’s been inspired to do thing by things he cares about and things he is angry about.
“There are little pockets of old time in London, where things and places stay the same, like a bubble in amber.”
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