And not just love like, "Oh, his stories are really good and he writes about the things I enjoy reading about". Unlike actors and singers, I actually will only proclaim that I like very few writers; three, in fact: Agatha Christie, Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman. And I will only go through massive crowds to attend interviews and book signings with these three.
Okay, cross that out, you and I both well know that Mrs Christie is alas gone and will never write again (goddammit!!), so let's amend the previous sentence to "go through massive crowds to attend interviews and book signings with these two".
Anyway, I have to admit that I owe a big debt of gratitude to one of Rik's ex-colleagues who passed him a book voucher, therefore leading me to the bookstore, where I stumbled upon a tiny poster announcing Neil Gaiman's visit.
And I'm not exaggerating any of this. I usually scoff at people who don't read, but I am just so happy now that this ex-colleague doesn't read and happened to see Rik and pass him the book voucher. Because I would never have known about the visit otherwise, since I don't go shopping that much in the city anymore. And I spent about an hour in the bookstore choosing books to purchase, but if I hadn't decided to walk into every nook and cranny on my way to the cashier, I would never have seen an A4 poster tucked away in the fantasy corner. It was even facing the corner and not the stairs which have more traffic. Geez Louise, someone can teach these people a thing or two about publicity.
But really, they didn't need much publicity, not for someone like Neil Gaiman, because the reservations closed pretty soon after I reserved my two spots.
Anyway... I'll get on with the story.
So Rik and I arrived on 16 August at Polare in Rotterdam. We got pretty good seats, slightly right from the centre, and you know how author interviews go, they have two armchairs facing slightly towards each other. And we had a better view of the red armchair so I was desperately hoping that Neil would be in that. Which he was ;)
The interview was fantastic! It was more like Neil telling stories rather than answering questions. All the interviewer would have to do was make a statement and Neil would go off on his own, starting from one end and taking us on a journey to an end which we wouldn't expect at all. Like talking about being married to a recording artiste half a world away and wanting to write a short story for her so that she would think of him:
I know she likes me, so I decided to put a lot of me in it.
And she's not British, nor a man... so I put a lot of feelings in it.
I started writing, and I called my publisher and told him that I was writing a short story.
And I kept writing, and I called my publisher again that it was now a novelette.
And then I told him it was a novella.
And when I was done, I had written a novel.
In short, that was the story of how his latest book, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, came into being.
As usual, being organised by the Dutch (I've begun to realise that this will be one of my stereotypes for them), it was terribly disorganised. The interview was scheduled to begin at 7pm, and half of us were already seated by 7pm, but there were still about 50 people lining up to come in and buy his latest book to be signed. By 7.20pm, a lady came onstage to tell us the format of the evening:
Neil will be interviewed.
Neil will read a short piece from his book.
Neil will answer some audience questions.
Neil will sign our books and write a message that we have written down on a form beforehand.
At 7.30pm, there were still people buying books and everyone was getting restless and annoyed. And hey, Mr Gaiman was already in the building, because he arrived at the same time as us, at 6.40pm. So don't blame him.
The lady came onstage again and announced:
Neil will be interviewed.
Neil will not answer any audience questions.
Neil may still sign books but only with our names and then we have to move on like a factory belt (okay the last bit I made up but basically that was the picture she gave).
Cue sighs and annoyed whispers. But how annoyed can you get when you are about to see your favourite author? Talking about favourite authors, Neil Gaiman's fans are something else. Think about comic book lovers and kids who stay in their parents' basements till they're 25, no, 30 years old. People who shower once a week even in summer. People who sweat and wipe their entire face with the front of their t-shirts. And I'm talking about the girls here.
Anyway, luckily the interview was amazing, so everyone was all happy and cheerful again. And then the swarm towards the book signing began. Now normally, you'd expect that there'd be a sort of rope or sign to tell people where to queue in an orderly fashion to get to Neil Gaiman. But, again, they are Dutch and therefore will not have thought that this might be a good thing to do when it comes to 100 people and Neil Gaiman. Hence a big crowd of people, while polite, still telekinetically fighting with willpower to get to Neil first.
That's Neil over there in the centre, next to the red shirt.
It took me probably an hour, but I was finally there.
We are having a chat!
Me: Thank you for writing.
NG: Thank you for coming.
Me: I wouldn't have missed it. There are only three authors I would do this for, and one of them is dead.
NG: Who is the dead one?
Me: Agatha Christie.
NG: Yep, she is most definitely dead. But I understand why you would do it.
And this is him with Neverwhere (we could bring one book other than his latest), reading the description of himself ("Neil Gaiman is a messy-haired white male author trapped in the body of an even messier-haired white male author...) before turning the page.
So far, I've only painted Neil Gaiman in a very positive light, so I will now add some footnotes to make the whole experience more realistic.
While he was indeed very gracious and funny and brilliant (he stayed back till really late to talk to everyone who came to get their books signed, instead of following his timetable which I assume the bookstore lady had with her), he did have an empty look in his eyes while talking to each person, which I don't blame him for. After all, you can't sign books and chat with 100 strangers with your full energy, especially when you'll hear the same things over and over again. When I was chatting with him, he was busy signing, and I assume only had half his mind on the activity anyway. Again, I think all this is understandable, but I just wanted everyone to get a realistic picture of (and for me to remember exactly) what happened.