In 2005 I got to interview Neil Gaiman ahead of his visit to Australia as a guest of the Continuum 3 convention. Here’s an edited version of the copy that ran in The Courier-Mail.
HOW many irons can one man have in one fire, and more to the point, how fair is it that said man can be so good with all of them?
British-born writer Neil Gaiman, now resident in the USA, is a playwright and songwriter, former journalist, and award-winning writer of short stories, novels for children and adults, and comic books.
He received an early lesson in the mantra of writing what you love to read with his first publication _ a 1985 biography of pop group Duran Duran _ and the philosophy has carried him along nicely since.
“I was approached by a music publisher to write a band book. I said great, and suggested Velvet Underground and a list of others I was interested in. They said they knew who they wanted but had no one to write them. They offered me Barry Manilow, Def Leppard and Duran Duran.
“I chose Duran Duran on the basis that they had done the least. I didn’t fancy going through the whole Manilow oeuvre. Later I happened to be on a yacht in the Mediterranean and (Duran Duran singer) Simon Le Bon was on the crew. We got on quite well and finally I told him I wrote a book about Duran Duran. And he said, `Which one?’ I said, `The Proteus one’. He said, `Is that the one with the grey cover?’ And I said yes. He said that was the best of all of them. I still get a faint warm feeling about Duran Duran because I wrote a book about them.”
Gaiman says the first run of Duran Duran: The Book sold out in a week, and then the publisher went into involuntary liquidation.
“I never got paid after the initial advance. The advance bought me an electric typewriter, which puts it into perspective. But I decided then to never write a book about something I didn’t want to read.”
Which is what led him to write the Sandman comics, which kickstarted an underground following and helped put the illustrated narrative into the realms of respectable reading once more. It was the first comic book to win a World Fantasy Award (Sandman #19, 1991 award for best short story).
“I was trying to write a comic I liked to read. Fifteen years after Sandman was first published, it’s still in print and selling more than ever. I only expected it not to be cancelled. It was never meant to open doors. I already a had a career as a journalist and author of non-fiction books. People forget that Good Omens was written about the same time as Sandman: The Dolls House.”
Good Omens, co-written with Terry Pratchett, outlines the coming of the apocalypse in an updated, satiric way, and heralded the arrival not just of the four bikers of the apocalypse but Gaiman the novelist.
Collections of short stories and novels Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods and Coraline followed, garnering awards and places on best sellers lists, with TV series and films following.
He says he faced no bias from publishers due to his background in comics; they were largely ignorant of it, in fact.
“In the US and to a lesser degree in England I am known as a novelist; the novels have sold about half a million copies. It’s trying to persuade people who like the novels that they might like my comic books as well.”