Smoke and Mirrors (Part Two)

Neil Gaiman press conference in Paris (II)

By Azadeh Nafissi

Publishing his stuff:

He pretty much publishes everything except some early stuff that hasn’t been published because they were not good enough. He relies on his editor’s opinion about his stories and believes that they save writers from publishing bad stories, although they can make mistakes sometimes. He recalls how one of his stories was rejected by two editors then some years later the same story won an award.

Small publishing companies vs. big publishing companies:

He has always worked with small companies as well as big companies. At one point, he turned down a million dollar to work exclusively for DC comics, back in 1992-93, because he wanted to be free to do whatever he wanted and he is happy he made that decision. At this point, he thinks really good comics are made, some of them are published by big companies and some of them by independent companies and more and more of them are published on web. Currently the biggest publisher of original comic books in the world is Kick Starter and people are making their own. It is ironic because we are in a time in which comics are making more money than source materials for movies and TV. Actually, that’s a good thing as this helps keep comics alive.

On Editing:

He feels lucky because only a couple of his books were edited, ‘Neverwhere’ and ‘Amercian Gods’. And he likes the ones he wrote rather than the ones which got published. Since 2003 he has had the same editor who pays attention to all the details in his works and makes sure everything is coherent.

Anxiety about first professional reads:

He worries that everybody will say it is bad. As soon as he finishes writing something he sends it to three or four friends, most of them writers, and also shows it to his wife and listens to them, therefore there is always one more draft before sending it to his editor. In his experience, when people tell you there is something wrong with what you have done they are always right but when they tell you what is wrong and how you should fix it, they are always wrong. There is one definition of a novel which makes him happy: ‘A novel is a long piece of prose fiction with something wrong with it’ because every time he finishes writing something he sees one of those.

On writing for adults and for children:

He likes having the freedom to choose and being allowed to write for children as well as adults. He knows how rare it is; very few writers are allowed that freedom. When he sent his first children’s novel to his publisher, he heard about their negative attitude towards adult authors who wrote children’s books. Most children’s publishers say ‘no’ to adult authors.


He always reads his children’s books to his own children. The first person who read ‘Coraline’ was his daughter Maddy when she was 6 years old. His theory was if she ended up crying under the table after finishing the book, that would be an adult book but Maddy enjoyed it and asked for it each night until he finished, so he got the courage to present the book. He always reads his children’s books to her and many of his works are inspired by her like ‘Crazy Hair’ and ‘The Graveyard Book’. When he started writing ‘The Graveyard Book’, he thought it was terrible but as Maddy wanted to know what was next in the story he kept writing it and the story won several awards.

Hempstock family:

Hempstock family has been with him lot longer than that story. When he was eight years old, his mother told him that one of the farms on the lane was mentioned in a doomsday book, tracing the place back millennia in history and he thought how interesting it would be if the people on that farm lived for a thousand years and nobody noticed. By the time he was 12-13 years old, they were called Hempstock and the Hempstock family lived in this farm at the end of his lane in his head for a long time. He never thought to write a story about it, although he put Hempstock in other stories such as ‘Stardust’ and ‘Graveyard Book’. If you wonder whether these characters are related, the answer is ‘yes’. When he decided to write a story set on his lane, Hempstock appeared again. This was the chance he had waited a long time for to write about Hempstock.

‘Ocean at the end of the Lane’:

His wife, Amanda Palmer, is a musician and in January 2012, she was in Melbourne, Australia where she was making an album. Neil was in Florida writing and not able to accompany her during that process, so he wanted to do something romantic. He thought to write her a short story, put in it things she likes and send it to Australia. Things that she likes including himself, his childhood, not lots of fantasy as she doesn’t like fantasy, just a little bit as he likes fantasy and about love, friendship, childhood and all of those things. So he began writing his short story for her and after 2 weeks it seemed like a very long short story as he kept writing, it changed to a novella. He knew that publishing a novella would be problematic so he kept writing until it accidentally changed to a novel. He thought that it was not a commercial book as it was very strange and personal but to his surprise the book was a huge success.

On Allusion:

Writers don’t live in a vacuum; they have to allude to other things: stories, poems, myth, culture, etc. You cannot sit in white room and expect to create something. Everything is an allusion.

His involvement in UN project about Syrian refugees:

He got involved in the UN project about Syrian refugees through his social media Facebook and Twitter. The UN refugee organization asked him to retweet their activities and informed him of their project. The heartbreaking situation of those refugees makes him talk about this issue constantly and act upon it. As he says, right now, we have more refugees on the planet than the end of World War II.

You can watch his short film here and please don’t forget to share: