IM­PRES­SIVE BODY OF WORK

Gaiman talks writ­ing, up­com­ing event at li­brary

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - FISH GRI­WKOWSKY fgri­wkowsky@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/fisheye­foto

In his po­lite and al­most sub­tle way, author Neil Gaiman has had nearly as much im­pact on western cul­ture as any liv­ing hu­man.

His 75-is­sue run of The Sand­man — star­ring Dream, al­lur­ing Death and their mag­nif­i­cent fam­ily of eter­nals far above mere gods — is a lit­er­ary mas­ter­piece that el­e­vated ba­sic ex­pec­ta­tions of the power of graphic fic­tion, full stop. Smartly, DC Comics just re­launched four ti­tles set in Dream’s do­main, with Gaiman, an English­man long liv­ing in the U.S., in a benev­o­lent care­taker/ cu­ra­tor role.

Mean­while, Gaiman’s sto­ries, many of which spawned films and TV se­ries, in­clude Amer­i­can Gods, Caroline, The Grave­yard Book, How to Talk to Girls at Par­ties, and a de­light­fully un­hinged apoc­a­lyp­tic novel co-writ­ten with the late, great Terry Pratch­ett called Good Omens. The novel is cur­rently in pro­duc­tion as a se­ries launch­ing on Ama­zon Prime and BBC 2 next year, star­ring David Ten­nant, Michael Sheen and nar­rated by Frances Mc­Dor­mand.

Gaiman’s shadow is so vast, in fact, I felt an ur­gent need to write a sep­a­rate ar­ti­cle, sim­ply about his work.

His pro­duc­tiv­ity is stag­ger­ing. And yet, in an exclusive in­ter­view in ad­vance of his sold-out ap­pear­ance at Ed­mon­ton Pub­lic Li­brary’s For­ward Think­ing Speaker Se­ries at Shaw Con­fer­ence Cen­tre Tues­day, he re­vealed he oc­ca­sion­ally has to ac­tu­ally re­strict his move­ments to get the words out, which led to some bril­liant ad­vice.

The full tran­script of our re­veal­ing chat over the tele­phone from London is on­line, but here’s a briefer ver­sion if you just want to get the sense of this great imag­i­neer.

Q As I un­der­stand it you’re in London work­ing on Good Omens …

A I am. I’ve been show-run­ning Good Omens for the last — how­ever long it’s been. We started about 14 months ago. We’re wrap­ping ev­ery­thing up. Tonight I’ll be go­ing in and view­ing Episode 1 all the way through for the first time.

Q Are you feel­ing Mr. Pratch­ett in the room on set? How do you think he’d re­act?

A I think he’d mostly be in­cred­i­bly happy. There’ve been a cou­ple oc­ca­sions where Terry was con­spic­u­ous by his pres­ence. Any­thing we shot in Azi­raphale’s book­shop, be­cause we had Terry’s hat and scarf on the coat hanger by a lit­tle dis­play of Terry Pratch­ett books.

Q Which will burn at some point …

A Ex­actly! And ac­tu­ally, we took it out be­fore we set fire to the book­shop. Also, there’s a small scene in the first episode where Crow­ley is eat­ing at a sushi restau­rant. When he was alive, Terry and I had joked about how we wanted to be ex­tras, and we were go­ing to sit in the back­ground and just eat sushi. I wrote the scene, and the night we came to shoot it I re­al­ized I was not pre­pared to sit on my own, or sit with some­one who was not Terry. So I wound up just head­ing back be­hind the cam­era and be­ing very, very sad.

Q Wah! Amer­i­can Gods was en­riched by turn­ing up Laura Moon — what sorts of changes can we ex­pect in Good Omens,

with­out spoil­ing too much?

A One of the things you can ex­pect is angels. Terry and I had talked a lot about how we wanted angels as bad guys, as well as de­mons. So we have Jon Hamm as Gabriel, the boss from hell, the boss you re­ally don’t want. You also get to see a lot more Azi­raphale and Crow­ley through time. If you ever won­dered what they were do­ing dur­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion, or in Arthurian Bri­tain …

Q Can you de­scribe the writ­ers’ room sce­nario with the four new comic book ti­tles on the bor­ders of The Dream­ing ?

A We had a big story sum­mit last Jan­uary in New Or­leans, and mostly what I was telling ev­ery­body was to make it less com­pli­cated and tell them to trust the char­ac­ters more. And I think mostly they have. We’re hav­ing an­other story sum­mit this Jan­uary or Fe­bru­ary coming, and I’m sure that most of what I’ll be telling them (laughs) is to make it less com­pli­cated. I think they’re do­ing a fan­tas­tic job.

Q You’ve sug­gested peo­ple just write if they want to be writ­ers — but do you have any tricks you’ve used on your­self if you’re feel­ing lazy? What do those ne­go­ti­a­tions look like?

A Mak­ing rules. Rules like: you can sit here and write, or you can sit here and do noth­ing. But you can’t sit here and do any­thing else. You’re not al­lowed to do any­thing else other than sit round, star­ing out the win­dow. And star­ing out the win­dow not do­ing any­thing gets so dull so quickly, that you might as well write.

Q Can you talk about writ­ing about other peo­ple’s cul­tures? How are you care­ful and sen­si­tive when min­ing other peo­ple’s sto­ries?

A I’ve been writ­ing for 35 years, some­thing ridicu­lous like that. And started off very much just sort of min­ing sto­ries. And I started to find the most im­por­tant thing I could do is go and talk to peo­ple, do my re­search. And the more you talk to peo­ple, the more you re­search, the more you want to get it right. The more you re­al­ize myths or cul­ture are not set dec­o­ra­tion.

Q You’re coming to Ed­mon­ton for a li­brary event — what made a good li­brary for you when you were a kid?

A Li­brar­i­ans! You think of a li­brary as be­ing about the walls and the shelves and the fea­tures and the bells and whis­tles, and ac­tu­ally it’s al­ways about the li­brar­i­ans. You can have strange, run­down Vic­to­rian build­ings with fab­u­lous li­brar­i­ans and then you have a fab­u­lous li­brary. These days of bud­get cuts and aus­ter­ity, you have some very sad li­braries with no li­brar­i­ans at all, where peo­ple think you can just have vol­un­teers to put books on shelves, and that’s all a li­brary is. And it’s so much more than that.

Q You’ve spo­ken of en­vi­sion­ing your var­i­ous life goals as moun­tains — what are some of them you haven’t ac­com­plished yet that you’re aim­ing for?

A I’d love to make a mu­si­cal, I’ve never done a mu­si­cal. There’s a spe­cial, weird thing mu­si­cals do, and I’ve never yet done that thing and I’d love to do some­thing with songs.

The more you talk to peo­ple, the more you re­search, the more you want to get it right. The more you re­al­ize myths or cul­ture are not set dec­o­ra­tion.

Author Neil Gaiman has a sold-out ap­pear­ance at the Shaw Con­fer­ence Cen­tre on Tues­day.

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