The husband and I had an interesting chat over the weekend. During this particular conversation we were talking about the wonder that is book signings, where an utterly calm and controlled reader (ahem) gets the chance to meet, shake hands (possibly) and say ‘hello’ to an author whose work they adore. I haven’t had a chance to do this for many a long year, but I do appreciate book signings as one of the high points of modern culture.
‘I met Neil Gaiman at a book signing once,’ mused The Husband, in the course of our discussion. ‘I thought he was creepy.’
‘Creepy?’ I responded, barely keeping the aghast in. ‘How on earth could you think he was creepy?’
‘Well, you know,’ responded my beloved. ‘He wears all that black. And he got up and read out stuff about death, and weirdness like that.’
(I suppose I should say at this point that my husband is more of a book collector than a book reader; he owns a lot of Neil Gaiman books, but I’m not sure he’s read very many. So, perhaps we can forgive him for not really knowing that death and weirdness and dark stuff are, quite possibly, the main building blocks of nearly all Neil Gaiman books.)
‘But,’ I spluttered in reply. ‘Didn’t you perhaps think that all that was an act, you know, like he was performing, in order to get the audience interested in the book?’
‘Maybe,’ sniffed my love. ‘But even so. Creepy.’
And he wouldn’t be convinced otherwise.
I, too, have had the pleasure of meeting Neil Gaiman at a book signing, many years ago. He was promoting the then newly-published ‘Graveyard Book’ at the time, and I – along with several hundred other fans – were crowded into the basement of a large Dublin bookshop, waiting impatiently for our hero to appear. When he did, a massive wave of excited applause greeted him, which he almost seemed embarrassed by.
He stood before us and read, at length, from his work. I had bought the book a few hours before, in preparation for having it signed, and already had it half-digested, so I was already familiar with the section its author chose to read, but that didn’t matter. It was like having an award-winning actor take to the stage – the huge room, filled to the brim with people, was silent as a tomb as Neil Gaiman read, and the book came to life before our eyes. Anyone who has ever been to a public event in Ireland will know how impressive it is to keep a huge crowd of Irish people quiet, by the way: we are the worst audiences in the world, in my humble opinion. I’ve been to hundreds of gigs and other events where the act performing can’t be heard over the clamour of conversation from the gathered crowd. I’ve lost count of the amount of musicians whose live act has been spoiled because some buffoon beside me can’t shut up talking about his weekend out on the tiles or his granny’s infected toe or the ‘eejit’ he has to sit beside at work – and yelling ‘Shut Up!’ just makes it worse. Believe me, I’ve tried it.
So, Mr Gaiman held the audience spellbound on this occasion. When the reading was complete he took questions – some inane, some rather good – and answered them with charm and wit, and not a little self-deprecation. He spoke for hours without any appearance of fatigue. Then, the signing began.
Time was taken with every attendee; everyone was asked to write their name on a piece of paper to aid proceedings (always a necessity in Ireland, where people can have names that go on for a week or two, and are full of unlikely-seeming letters), and as I queued I saw people walking away from Neil Gaiman’s desk like they’d just been at a religious service, clutching their freshly signed copies of ‘The Graveyard Book’ to their chests with fervent glee. Gradually, slowly but inexorably, my place in the queue grew closer and closer to the Great Signing Table.
And then – like a dream – it was my turn.
‘Omigod Mr Gaiman I’ve been a fan for so long, like years and I’ve read everything you’ve ever written and you’re omigod amazing and I love you so much you’re just an absolute and utter genius,’ I may have said, in a voice like a hamster on helium.
‘My dear,’ purred Neil Gaiman, with a smile. ‘You’re too kind.’
And so, my book was signed. I was told what a lovely name I had. I was thanked for coming. I was thanked for being a fan, and for buying the books, and – in short – rewarded for my devotion. And all of that was fantastic.
But then, Neil Gaiman did an even more awesome thing.
I attended this particular book signing with a good friend of mine, a woman who has impaired vision, speech and mobility, and who is also hard of hearing. She is one of the cleverest and best-read people I know, and she is also a huge fan of Neil Gaiman. I introduced her to Neil, telling him her first name, and then I stepped back so as not to interfere with her moment with her hero – and he could not have been more kind. My friend’s difficulties were unmistakeable, and because of that he spoke to her slowly and clearly, looking her right in the eye, and he spent longer with her than he did with anyone else. He asked her about her favourite of his books, and which characters she liked and disliked, and then he did a special, unique doodle in her book along with his signature and a message designed just for her.
My friend – and me, I have to admit – came away from that experience walking on air.
So – sure. Neil Gaiman dresses in black. He talks about death a lot – but then, she’s one of his best-loved characters, right?
His books tend to be a little odd – but brilliant with it. I can sort of see what my husband meant by saying he came across as ‘creepy’ – but I think that’s a stage presence, something he does for effect.
All I know is, my experience of meeting Neil Gaiman showed me a kind, patient, caring person who took the time to talk to a devoted fan, a fan who came away from his signing table with a grin that didn’t fade for weeks. That’s the mark of a good human being, in my book.
Have you ever met any of your heroes? Did you have a good or bad experience? I’d love to hear all about it.