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Wednesday, 21 August 2013
Handshake in a Cathedral: Meeting Neil Gaiman
blurry, but here he is, taking the lectern
Yesterday, I went to an event at Ely Cathedral, where Neil Gaiman gave a talk and read from The Ocean At The End Of The Lane and the forthcoming Fortunately, The Milk. I knew this would be a popular event, but couldn't possibly have predicted the queues. I tweeted a couple of photos last night - the queue snaked around town from the cathedral for at least two hours beforehand. Topping and Co, the bookshop who organised the event, were amazingly organised and must have cornered the market in copies of 'Ocean...'. There were easily upwards of 1000 people there. I was luckily 134 in the queue so didn't have to wait until the 2am that some did to get books signed. You have to admire Neil Gaiman's dedication in keeping going until, as he put it, "my hand falls off". The talk itself was good-humoured, warm and witty. As a writer who sometimes has very little faith in my abilities, it was reassuring to hear Neil's take on how none of that matters - he just writes. At one point, he answered a question about how he was perceived by others by saying he just sees himself as 'normal' and everyone else as odd. I'd go with that, and also his alternative career choice as a religion designer! I always find when meeting people you admire that less is more, so when I got to the front of the queue, Neil signed my copy of 'Ocean...' and my cherished hardback of Sandman: Endless Nights. The chapter Death And Venice is probably my single favourite Sandman story. I'll be reviewing 'Ocean...' here as part of my roundup of holiday reading later in the week. The next thing I did is either resoundingly gauche or A Nice Thing To Do. I like to think it's the latter. I gave Neil - as a thank-you - a copy of The Legend of Tom Hickathrift, seeing as the climax is set in Ely with a dragon and wolves and so forth. He must get this a lot but seemed genuinely pleased and said it was always good to meet a fellow writer, and shook my hand. There aren't many days that you can write a sentence that includes the words 'Neil Gaiman', 'handshake' and 'cathedral'. As I type this, I'm getting ready to do my own reading and signing session at Downham Market library, aiming to enthuse kids about reading and local legends, scaring them with tales of the Black Shuck and The Ogre Of The Smeeth. I don't expect to have Gaiman-like queues but I am looking forward to being on the other side of that table again, and hope I can do it with a modicum of the same good grace and humility. Thanks to Neil Gaiman for giving us his time and his words.