Fortunately, the… whatever

Guinea pig?! I felt more like a cow. (No, don’t say it.)

Unfortunately I had been reading about cows on my way in to Manchester, on a most unwitch-like train, i.e. one that didn’t leave hours in advance. I felt so little inclination to go and hear Neil Gaiman yesterday afternoon, that I cut it finer than one should with British style rail travel.

Unfortunately, that was totally fine. I arrived at the Dancehouse theatre with 15 minutes to spare and thought it was going swimmingly. After which thought we ended up penned in rather like cattle, waiting forever to be allowed in. Stairs and reception and café filled up with eager Gaiman fans, plus a few small children (whose event this really was).

I decided that if things got any worse I’d just go home again, wondering why I’d come in the first place. I like Neil Gaiman. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like crowds, and he collects them. But I can put up with crowds if treated humanely. I wasn’t alone in waiting it out on the other side of the doors, near the toilets. Fortunately, once we were allowed up the stairs, my number seat was the right number seat and so I was allowed in. (But we still had to wait for everyone to be seated, and the whole event was train-like in running half an hour late.)

Why was I not keen? Everything about this book has gone not to plan. Publisher didn’t send me a copy. I had to buy my own when that became evident. The complimentary ticket for the event didn’t materialise, so I had to buy my own at the 11th hour. The crowds, as I said. The fact that there is no way I’ll stand in a queue for three hours to have a book signed. The fact that I’m old and grumpy. And a cow.

You could say that the whole thing was threatening to curdle. I decided not to get my camera out. I’d just sit there and ‘not be on duty.’

But, you know, once Neil came on stage he worked his usual magic. He is a born entertainer, and he does events so effortlessly that even I started to feel all calm and relaxed and almost happy. His voice is nice to listen to.

Neil Gaiman

(This is a photo of Neil. Try to imagine a red curtain in the background, and that his hair doesn’t hang down across his eyes quite so much. In which case he almost looked like this.)

He said we’d be guinea pigs. He wanted to test read a longer piece from Fortunately, the Milk… than he usually does. Lying in training for Westminster on Tuesday, when he has to read it all.

As for himself he is obviously a goldfish. Or two. He’s the dad who was exchanged for two goldfish. In a way the milk book is simply a continuation of the goldfish book, and an attempt to come up with a positive book for dads.

Neil talked about his very young book, Chu’s Day. Cute pandas who sneeze, apparently. Only, I didn’t hear – didn’t know – the title, so when he asked what we thought the next book would be called, I felt Wednesday seemed appropriate.

Btw, I didn’t take notes.

He recounted how it came about that Chris Riddell would illustrate Fortunately, the Milk…, this the shiniest book in history. And Neil is about the only one who doesn’t find the charicature of himself all that amusing.

Then it was question time. Say what you want about his fans, but they ask good questions. Not all of them were fans, however, so a pattern developed where the person doing the asking qualified how fan-like they considered themselves to be.

One question was about Terry Pratchett, and in the end we all felt we were privy to some personal secret (and I don’t mean ‘when Terry slept with Neil,’ which he did, when they were both younger and poorer and didn’t buy the hotel first if they had to stay somewhere), and that’s a great skill to have. Neil even made the last rather pedestrian question sound exciting, because he was able to make the answer really special.

At the end of all that, ‘we will do some signing.’ Though Neil reckoned it would be best if he signed, until his head fell off, and the rest of us waited patiently in line.

Well, I didn’t do that, so I have no idea how long his head stayed put. Here is a photo someone took earlier, showing what Neil looks like when signing.

Neil Gaiman

‘Did you enjoy that?’ said the adult to the small child behind me. Small child said nothing. This was not a small child event, whatever the organisers say.

Now me, I did enjoy it. In the end. Neil always delivers. But I’d be happier without the crowds.

8 responses to “Fortunately, the… whatever

  1. The sign of a pro book tourer is that they can deflect even the most embarrassing questions in the direction of an answer they want to give. I’ve only seen a couple of people do it, Salman Rushdie being the one that springs first to mind.

  2. Unfortunately, for the last question they said it had to be a really special question, and then the mike was handed to a child (nice, I suppose) who asked the ‘what inspired you to write…?’ question, having missed the fact that Neil had spent an hour telling us this already.

    And Neil spun on, and made it sound both like a good question, and telling us something else again.

    I’m beginning to suspect schools tell children this is the question to ask at all times. I suspect many children who ask it don’t know what it means, and that’s why so many ask it minutes after we’ve just been told the answer to their question.

  3. Lovely report – and you didn’t take notes!! I enjoyed the pictures too (just a child at heart, you see!)

    • I sort of took notes by memorising the tales in my head by thinking in pictures. So I could see Neil with Chris, having dinner. I saw Neil with Terry in that hotel room, or walking down 42nd Street. I can see all the dads who get the goldfish book on father’s day.

  4. There’s always another answer to the ‘same old question’. Some of them flatly contradict the previous one. Both remain true.

  5. I’m sure I’d feel queasy at an event like this, having in my time watched various VIPs being paid homage to by a crowd of admirers (or sycophants, or whatever seems the most appropriate term at the time). It’s always to the individual’s credit if like Gaiman they can appear unfazed and unjaded by the whole experience.

    And, yes, small children are coached in what to say at events like these, by teachers who believe that these are crucial life skills being passed on. Like key words for CVs and interviews — you know, like passionate for example.

  6. I’d like to dislike Neil, but haven’t managed it yet.

    As for coaching children, I can get that. I just hadn’t realised they could be unaware that the question they’ve just asked was unnecessary. Far better to do what the girl on Friday did, and get the author to sing happy birthday to a friend.

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