Neil Gaiman exclusive! Part 2
Because The Witch’s Headstone was written first, and then published as a short story, did you have any feedback from that which influenced what you were writing?
What I did was I wrote it, which may sound silly. You have to bear in mind that I had the idea for The Graveyard Book when I was about 24. My son was about 18 months old and we lived in a very tall house which was mostly stairs and no garden and there was a churchyard over the road. Mike had a tricycle, so I would let him pedal around in there. During one of these little pedals between the gravestones I thought that I should do something like The Jungle Book but in a graveyard. And that was the idea! I wrote a first page, didn’t like it very much and thought, “This is a better idea than I am a writer.” And just left it. So then time passed and every few years I’d try to write a bit of the first chapter. Normally I’d try to write the adoption scene and it wouldn’t be very good. Finally I got to the point where I thought, “You know, I’m not getting any better. I should probably write this thing!” And so I started with chapter four, with Bod as a boy actually out there doing stuff. I was writing on the beach in Antigua while we were on holiday for Christmas a few years ago. My daughter Maddy asked what I was writing so I read her the first two pages and at the point where I looked at her about to say “It’s terrible, it’s awful, I have to give up,” she said, “What happens next?” So I just kept writing, more or less to entertain her.
I guess she is the target audience!
That was nice. And once I’d written chapter four I knew what had happened before and I knew what happened after, so I had the flavour, the taste. And I also had this idea – I didn’t know if it would work or not – something that was actually a novel and build it out of short stories two years apart. I love the structure, I love the feeling you get of it beginning as a short story collection and then it becomes a novel. It’s very gratifying when people tell you that they cried at the end!
I cried too! I was on the train going by Battersea Power Station and had to stare hard at it while it went by to control myself!
Do you know what’s lovely? I did the audio book. The director, Michael, and I and the engineers had been working on it for three days and I’m on the last page and I noticed that Michael took the last page away to write down credits that I needed to read and hadn’t brought it back. So I told him, “I don’t have the last page to read.” And my director comes in and he’s crying and pretending not to. And it was the strangest moment! He had a good cry!
I have to ask – will there ever be a Graveyard Movie?
Oh, I think so. The thing that I love about The Graveyard Book right now is that it’s a thing that I’m really proud of, that I’d love to go back to. It’s absolutely not beyond the bounds of possibility that I would do a second Graveyard Book.
There’s a sense of melancholy running through the book. I think it would make a fantastic series.
There are things that I want to know the answer to. There are so many things we don’t know!
Well, hurry up and write it!
I have other things to write, but that one’s calling me back like a little siren song. It makes me happy. There was a happiness involved with those characters. They say that writing, when you’re doing it well, never feels like work, and the truth actually is that it really does feel like work – if it wasn’t for my blog, I wouldn’t remember the bad days now! But mostly it was just a joy to write.
So which aspect of the book do you think you’re most proud of, then? Is it the characters, or the concept?
I don’t particularly think that it’s the concept. You know, there was an article a few years ago in some Scottish paper which basically presented my entire life as a tragedy because I had come up with Tim Hunter… the way they presented it was that I came up with Harry Potter first and didn’t get to do it properly or whatever and here’s what happened. And I thought, the idea is the tiniest, littlest thing! Coming up with a Tim Hunter or a Harry Potter – I wouldn’t say it’s something everybody could do, but that’s not the hard bit. The hard bit is everything else. The stories that happen; it’s the world it’s in; it’s everything that goes along with it that people respond to. From my perspective Tim Hunter was an incredibly minor thing that I created for fun and I’ve never believed that Rowling had stolen Potter and never felt like it was something that I’d done anything more with than my original assignment, which was “Could I do a history and a who’s who of interesting magical characters?” And as with Sandman, it’s something I’m very proud of. Again, it’s not the idea, which is ‘pasty-faced bloke lives in dreams’, it’s everything else that comes along with it. Even now I love the idea of ‘boy in graveyard brought up by ghosts’. You could have handed that idea to a hundred writers and got a hundred different books back. I’m proud of the one I did – kids love it and adults love it. They love it in different ways and I’m just starting to figure that one out. With Coraline, the only other time I’ve done this, I had a book which adults responded to with horror and kids responded to as an adventure. With this, it’s much more that adults seem to respond to it as a tale of growing up. The fan letters I’m getting from children who are early readers are about how much they wished that they were Bod.
That’s lovely! Whereas nobody would want to be Coraline, as she really did have a horrible time. How’s the Coraline movie coming along, by the way?
It’s astonishing! I think it’s a really interesting thing because technically it’s the most advanced stop-motion film anybody has ever made.
Henry Selick is a genius.
He really is. And he’s doing it all in stop-motion. I had problems with Corpse Bride, which was stop-motion but was so cleaned up that it could have been CGI and nobody would have been any the wiser. This is stop motion and it’s an entire stop-motion universe. Now I’ve seen beyond the first 45 minutes, some of the sequences in the latter half of the movie are really scary! And Teri Hatcher as the Other Mother is amazing. When she was cast I had no idea what I thought, and then you see and hear the performance and it’s gorgeous! Teri Hatcher basically has four different roles; she plays Coraline’s normal, grumpy mother, the Other Mother the first way she is, where she’s like an idealised supermum, sweeter and nicer and funnier. And then she starts getting more and more insectile and thinner and then the final version, which so far I’ve only seen stills of, looks absolutely, pants-wettingly terrifying!
I think children have a great capacity to be scared at the cinema. They absolutely love it! I was talking to a nine year old today who loves Jaws, even though it’s not really for kids.
It’s that thing about where kids get their nightmares from. For every kid who gets nightmares from having sat down in front of a film that may be a bit early for them, you get a kid who gets a nightmare from a TV advert about a Hoover! Nobody ever says, “Let’s ban those ads.” When I was a kid I remember being absolutely terrifed by one of those Kia-Ora adverts with the dog and the crow bouncing along, and nobody ever proposed banning them! We take our nightmares where we can find them. [changing subject] Listen, could you thank everybody at SFX for me for bringing me in at number three in that favourite authors poll you ran? I’ve never been so thrilled about anything ever! I went down the top 100 going, “He’s better than I am… she’s better than I am… She should be higher…” It was one of these things when you get to number three and think, a) I’m so glad I’m not number one and b) in a world in which Terry and Tolkien are number one and number two, I loved being number three.
I’ll let everybody know your thoughts!
Also it’s one of these things with SFX… I’m one of these strange creatures anyway where I’ll go off and do movies or TV or comics and things, and it was nice making it onto a best author list as well. Normally when I’m in SFX it’s because I’m being interviewed for something I’m doing.
I’m sure you’re in there for American Gods; that’s kind of your signature piece, really.
I don’t think I know what my signature piece is! I just did an interview this morning about 20 years of Sandman where they said, “Well, you’re obviously Neil ‘Sandman’ Gaiman…” And I thought, “I’m Neil ‘Sandman’ Gaiman unless you found me through something else! Neil ‘American Gods’ Gaiman or Neil ‘Coraline’ Gaiman or Neil ‘Neverwhere’ Gaiman.”
Or Neil ‘Stardust’ Gaiman, because the movie must have brought in so many new fans…
That one’s funny, though, because for the first time ever I’m getting people saying, “Wow, I loved the movie! But I didn’t like the book…”
It’s a difficult crowd out there, I don’t envy you!
For the concluding part of SFX’s exclusive Neil Gaiman interview, where he shares his thoughts on the possibility of writing Doctor Who, head here.