First: Part One of the Interview With Neil Gaiman is live at the fps web site! Yesterday was all transcribing and editing and formatting stuff. Later today I shall post an outtake, I think.
What was the human experience behind the published interview? Read on!
To begin with, I got to the interview site half an hour early. The STM directions were off by half an hour (in my favour, but still). I killed twenty minutes by wandering around old Montreal (hurrah for a warmish day) then showed up at the interview site ten minutes before my slot was scheduled to start. I had no idea who to talk to to check in, but a very nice lady at the concierge’s desk pointed me to a man in a blue sweater who had met someone famous-ish when he’d arrived. Accordingly I went over and waited patiently for him to finish his conversation with someone, then introduced myself and hurrah, it was my contact. Who proceeded to tell me they were running forty-five minutes late, and Neil was nowhere in sight. (Later I learned that his flight was very late, and there was a press conference to get through before the private interviews could begin.) So I said I’d come back for four-thirty and went to have a nice hot cup of tea in a nearby Van Houtte cafe that was warm and upscale and relatively empty but for a handful of people reading, like me. I had my copy of Smoke and Mirrors with me, because I’d figured if things were a bit late I could read a short story or two. Well, I read half of it, then tidied up and went back to the hotel.
Where I learned that there would be yet another forty-five minute delay. (This would be the traffic jam of waiting interviews to be conducted before mine.)
Well, at least I could see Neil this time; he was posing in a lovely overstuffed cognac leather armchair in front of some very luxurious wood panelling while a photographer snapped a cascade of digital photos. Rather than leave again I settled into a chair in the lobby and took out Smoke and Mirrors once more. (Ended up finishing it, too.) He sat down for the next interview and had a cup of tea during it, then did the interview before mine, and then the assistants put a little sample platter of food in front of him and looked at me apologetically. Good grief, the man was exhausted, and I’d been going to suggest that he eat at some point myself; I wasn’t going to make a fuss! He polished that off quite quickly (it smelled truly lovely, and reminded me that I’d eaten quite some time ago and had no idea what supper was going to be) and they brought me over to be introduced.
Looking back on it, I think what I was going for was a very human interview, rather than a right-down-to-business you’re-here-to-answer-questions kind of interview. Which wasn’t necessarily good for my end product, but seemed to succeed in making him relatively comfortable. I could not, absolutely could not, ignore the fact that he was exhausted and trying to keep up with everything, or treat him like a means to an end. He’s a person, first and foremost. And my approach did mean I lost a few minutes of topical stuff, but I’d like to think it made him a bit more relaxed and felt like someone wasn’t expecting him to perform so much as share a conversation about cool stuff. (If we’d had time I would have asked him one of Ceri’s questions: “What have you been waiting to talk about the whole tour, but no one’s asked yet?” That was a derivative of her first suggestion: “Okay Neil, youâ€™ve been on tour for ages, and the Newbery before that. What do *you* want to talk about?”)
He didn’t look as tired as he’d looked in some of the photos I’d seen from earlier in the tour, and I was glad for his sake. The Montreal stop was so brief in his whirlwind press junket, and to be late out of Toronto and having to end up compressing all the appearances and interviews must have been beyond crushing. The grace under cumulative pressure that he demonstrated was really inspiring. My mother would say that he was a true gentleman, and she’d be absolutely right.
Our settling-in and level-checking conversations consisted of talking about his schedule, how long before he could see his daughter Maddy (one day) and before he could go home (three), talking about how he was trying to keep up with all the Newbery coverage (and was losing ground), and talking about Emru. Then we got into the interview proper, which went pretty much as the published interview reads until the assistant gave me a two-minute warning. (That happened between part one of the published interview, and what will be part two.)
At the end he asked if I’d brought something I wanted him to scribble in, and I pulled my copy of Coraline out. I’d agonised for days over this: what, out of my extensive Oeuvre of Neil Gaiman collection, was I going to bring for him to sign? My first issue of Stardust? Preludes and Nocturnes, as I first encountered his writing in the very first issues of Sandman as it was released? The original copy of The Books of Magic vol. 3, which is also signed by Charles Vess? (That got nixed because when I checked it was inscribed to Johane, who gave me her set when she moved.) The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish, for Liam? (Who has been resistant to the suggestion of reading it, although he goes through all the pictures and asks what’s happening; my standard answer is, “Well, we’d have to read the book to find out.”) Good Omens? I might have brought American Gods, but t! has it out on loan. Fragile Things, although I love it, was, well, too new. The Graveyard Book? I adored it, but I didn’t want him to think I’d brought it just because it won the Newbery. Just before I left I settled on my copy of Coraline, because it was the reason I’d been given the interview, after all. He drew a lovely big picture of a ghostly rat saying “Boo” in it for me.
I wanted to talk to him about so much. I’m reading Susannah Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu, for example, and I know he was instrumental in getting that titular first short story published, so I wanted to ask him about that. I wanted to ask him about his creative process and how or if it differed when writing for different media. I wanted to talk about the Newbery, although we did touch on it in the pre-interview bit, because for one of my favourite authors to win one of my favourite awards makes me want to ask all sorts of questions. I wanted to thank him for introducing me to Thea Gilmore and Tori Amos. I wanted to tell him that I played the cello, for some reason. And I wanted to thank him for those very many hours of joy he’d given me as an author, and how much inspiration as a writer.
And I wanted to say, “Once upon a time Ceri handed you a blank postcard at a signing and said, ‘I have a friend who is collecting story prompts and I’m surprising her with postcards from the authors at this con. Would you write a line or a thought on this to mail to her as a story assignment?’ And I got the green-ink fountain-penned postcard from you in the mail and used it as a talisman for years until I finally wrote the story in February of 2006.”
And above all, I wanted to say, “You are such an incredibly generous man, sharing what you do with the world. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”
He is such a wonderful man. I love him. I loved him as a writer before; as of the interview, I totally love the man himself as well. The world needs more men like Neil Gaiman in it.