Those of you who've known me for a while know I'm a big fan of Neil Gaiman's, so I've been very excited about his new novel, The Ocean at the End of The Lane, which officially comes out on Tuesday. I was even more excited when I learned that the first of Neil's events was to be in Bath, and that several of my friends would be coming to see him, so I'd get to spend time with friends as well as hearing Neil speak, and getting a new Gaiman novel. What could be better?
I spent part of Friday morning baking flapjacks, with honey and blackberries and seeds (of which more later) and ventured into Bath around 4p.m. in order to meet up with Nathalie, who came all the way from Rome for the event. Given that the doors to the Forum were due to open at 7.15 for Neil's event, I was a little (but only a little) surprised to see that there were already 5 or 6 people queueing...
Nathalie and I walked up to Toppings to pick up her ticket, and met Cheryl there. We were in the queue by about 5.30, together with more friends - Anabel and Ian, Brain, Holly, and various of *their* partners and friends, so we were able to take it in turns to take breaks from the queueing to get food!
All the queueing paid off and we were all able to get seats fairly near the front at the Forum (its a re-purposed cinema. It seats 1,600 people, and I believe that Toppings sold around 1,100 tickets, so the stalls were completely full, and the last 350-400 people to arrive would have had to sit up in the balcony.
Unfortunately toppings didn't do allocated seating (which is what the Bath Literature Festival normally does for the events they have in the Forum), so there was no choice but to queue. It was worth it, though!
Neil was interviewed by a Telegraph journalist whose name I didn't catch, and there was also a Q&A session at the end.
Neil started with a short reading from the book; it was a very funny passage, right up to the point the corpse was discovered. Then he spoke a little about where it came from (the story, not the corpse) - it started as a short story for Amanda, It became a novella, then a novel.
The protagonist is a child who is sort-of-but-not-really-Neil-as-a-boy, and the landscape the book is set in is the landscape of Neil's childhood, although it is not an autobiography. It is, Neil says, Lies. But they are lies which tell us truths.
Neil talked about the Hempstock's farm, explaining that when he was a child, he heard about one of the local farms having been mentioned Domesday Book, and, at that time, didn't think about people living there in huts, but assumed that the red-brick farmhouse had been there for a thousand years..
And that by the time he came to write the book, the idea that the farm, and the family, had been there forever was entirely at home in his head.
Also about how people who write Horror are the moth cheerful, happy people around (and that Joe Hill may in fact be a clone)
We learned that the American Gods production is working its way up the echelons of HBO, and may very soon get to the level of the people who can say "yes" or "no" to the production going ahead; that there is nothing at all that Neil can talk about, regarding any possible Good Omens film at the moment.
Neil unsurprisingly confirmed that he would be happy to see a female Doctor Who ("given that I'm the person who made it canon that Time Lords can change sex..."
He was asked about his favourite myths - which he said changes, but he always comes back to the Norse gods, because they're doomed, and about writers who have influenced him - Alan Moore (by showing that you can do the things people tell you can't do) Jonathan Carroll, Gene Wolfe, and Diana Wynne Jones (which last did not surprise me, but did make my heart happy, as I think everyone should know about Diana Wynne Jones, and read her books)
After the Q&A came the signing. We were lucky to be near the front of the queue, so got to meet Neil and get our books signed early on. And I gave Neil some of the flapjacks I baked in the morning (I trust you have not forgotten the flapjacks, O best beloveds) because I worry about him keeling over from loss of sustenance.
And some of the party may have got hugs and kisses, because that's how these things go, sometimes.
Then while we waited for the rest of the party I took the big box of cookies which I brought with me to share with the queue, and, well, shared them with the queue. Or at least parts of it.
|The Signing queue (which also extended out into the lobby)|
We left the hall at about 11p.m, and went for drinks and conversation in the Raven pub.
When we went past the Forum on the way back to the car at midnight, it was clear from the stream of people coming out of the building that Neil was still signing inside.
I gather that he didn't finish until 1.30 a.m. (having arrived some time around 7, after a day of interviews and editing, and having pre-signed 1,000 books before the event started...
And just before I fell asleep, I checked twitter and saw this tweet ->
Which made me happy.
It was a wonderful evening. Although I do now need to reorganise my bookshelves, as my Neil Gaiman shelf is full!
And Neil of course went on to do it all all over again the next day, in Cambridge.