What I like about Neil Gaiman is his calm. Especially on a night like Monday, when it was touch and go whether we would have an event with him at all. A family emergency meant he had to return home immediately after his talk with Chris Riddell, leaving the latter to do the book signing on his own.
I obviously like a few more things about this unflappable man, and his event with Chris was just what fans want. Both are born entertainers, and worked perfectly together, including their impromptu reading of a chapter in Coraline, accompanied by simultaneous illustrating.
Because that’s what they were talking about; the tenth birthday edition of Coraline with button eye illustrations by Chris. Button eyes were what we got to see as Chris drew for us on the whatchamacallit on stage. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wondering how he does it, and how he makes it look so easy. I mean, if he made it look hard, we’d all admire him more, wouldn’t we? And the publishers could pay him more.
Coraline is anything but ‘the new Harry Potter,’ which is why Bloomsbury got to publish it. They were the ones who had the old Potter, and could allow Coraline to be Coraline.
The big tent was packed to the rafters, but I was alone. My companion has a problem with the buttons. At first I thought she was missing out on a great night for no reason, but that was until the eyes joined the discussion. Narrow escape.
As Neil said of himself, he is the kind of man who will lead you into the woods, and then let go of your hand and run away and leave you. He is also the kind of man who can go into a bookshop and ask what really weird horror books for four-year-olds they stock. It appears they had none.
Coraline was his answer to the lack of such books, but he was so busy he had to write it in bed, 50 words every night, in place of his bedtime read. And once it was due to be published, Bloomsbury – who had not heard of this Neil Gaiman before – decided on a paperback. Booksellers – who had – demanded a hardback, because they knew they could sell a more expensive book. They could and they did, but the UK edition had no pictures, on the grounds that Dave McKean’s illustrations were too weird. Not so weird that they didn’t make it into the subsequent paperback, however. And now it’s Chris Riddell’s turn to draw those eyes.
Chris had already done the children’s version of The Graveyard Book, so he and Neil knew where they were. He’s almost as weird, actually. He marinates his stories in the 18th drawer, getting them out to look at, before putting them back again. He likes standalone books, as part of trilogies. Well, who doesn’t?
Coraline is a popular book in libraries. It is often stolen.
In a funny way the two men were so alike, I can no longer remember which of them had bought crates of wine called Writer’s Block. But as Neil said, if you have it, you deal with it by drinking your Writer’s Block.
After an hour of crazy talk, we had to get up and leave. There was the time’s up warning in the shape of a low flying plane. Very noisy. As someone said, if that was Neil’s plane, he might as well stay.
He didn’t. He told the story of when his daughter asked him why he signs his books Nell Gurgle, and could she do it too? No she couldn’t, but he left saying Chris was allowed to.
So Chris Nell Gurgled for both of them.