(Neil Gaiman and Audrey Niffenegger just before their event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival yesterday afternoon, all pics from my Flickr)
On Wednesday I had the pleasure of seeing two excellent authors of both prose and comics works in conversation at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as Neil Gaiman chatted to Audrey Niffenegger. It was, as Neil commented, a kind of continuing chat between the pair which has been going on and off for several years on different continents at different book events and here they were chatting to one another again “while we just had to watch and listen”. Of course we were quite happy to watch and listen…
The hour-long talk to a packed audience (the event sold out within a few hours of the EIBF box office going live this summer) covered a number of writing topics, from folklore and myth to children’s books, novels, comics and screenwriting, starting off with a look at myth and fairy tale – Audrey asked Neil what he thought the difference was between them and after thinking about it he offered the thought that perhaps myths decay into fairy tales and folklore over the centuries, often starting out as sacred mysteries people were initiated into, which over time degraded into mythology, which slowly degraded into fairy tales, but that the same stories and archetypes remained and repeated (and given his quite excellent use of folklore over the years I’d guess Neil is the perfect writer to ask on that score).
Of course comics came up and it was nice to note Neil yet again commenting on the debt he owes to his friend Alan Moore for his help and advice on writing for the comics medium, and in a (somewhat long and rambling) question from an audience member later he was asked if he found being able to use parts of the DC Universe in the Sandman (especially early tales) a help in setting up that world. He explained that while he could have essentially created a pretty similar set up with only original characters he was still quite happy at getting to play with some of DC’s established characters in his own way, with a special fondness for Cain and Abel.
Look: it’s the new life-sized Neil Gaiman action figure – fully poseable!!! –
On the books front one of the topics that pricked up my ears was Neil talking about a sequel to the brilliant American Gods novel, with the possibility of a third book much further down the line. Naturally the subject of screenwriting came up and especially being asked to pen an episode of Doctor Who. I knew Neil was thrilled to write for the show – like many of us in the UK he grew up with the original show, so having the chance to be a part of the cracking revived version today had to be pretty exciting. He told us all how it began with Steven Moffat dropping him a line to say thanks for the kind things he had said many times on his popular blog about the new Doctor Who and that next time he was in London he’d buy him a drink. As it happened he was in town the next week, he and Moffat meet up for dinner and drinks; at this point Neil had heard Russell T was due to leave the show and Moffat would be taking over, but it was still, as he put it, ‘a state secret’ (a real state secret, not like MOD secrets to be left on a laptop on the train), so they found themselves talking ‘hypothetically’ about the possibility of pitching ideas for the show, before Moffat came out and said you obviously know and I know you know I’m taking over when RTD leaves, so do you want to write for Who?
Well obviously he did and we loved the result. The story was originally going to be called Bigger On the Inside, as Neil had originally thought of an idea which involved a Nasty invading the normally safe environs of the TARDIS and pursuing the Doctor through the ship, but then he thought as the Doctor knows the TARDIS so well that wouldn’t be much of a fight, so then the idea of an entity possessing the TARDIS came to him, which suggested he had to move the TARDIS’ persona somewhere else, and the idea of putting the TARDIS mind into a human body came along. He tells Moffat who delightedly cries “TARDIS woman!” A little later, with the episode put back to the next season due to budget constraints (which worked to their advantage, he added – they got their Blue Peter competition running for kids to design the junkyard TARDIS console and he also now had Rory to add into the mix which he enjoyed), Moffat tells him he prefers another title – The Doctor’s Wife. Nice, but, Neil points out to him, that would be a good title for at least half a dozen other possible Who stories that they would do themselves out of. Ah, but Moffat points out to the other ideas, good thought they might be none would ever be really the Doctor’s ‘wife’ in the way the TARDIS is, she’s everything to him and always will be; companions come and go but the Doctor and the TARDIS are together forever, “a boy and his box exploring the universe” as Neil put it. He also went on to say that working with the Who team was one of the most pleasing experiences in collaboration he’d ever had and it was clear he was still on a roll from the enjoyment of being involved with the show and how well it all turned out, how much love and imagination the Who team add in alongside that of the writer to make that show what we love.
As ever there was a signing session afterwards and with Neil that of course means a very, very long line, inside the signing tent, snaking outside and out into the square – I even spotted a number of comics folks who had lugged along the not inconsiderable bulk of their Sandman and Death Absolute Editions to be signed. Brilliant event – thanks again to the lovely folks of the Edinburgh Book Fest for letting me attend and to Neil for kindly letting me stooge around the press tent to snap a couple of pics of him and Audrey before the show began.