National Book Festival: Novelist and Comics Author Neil Gaiman
Science Fiction, Fantasy, Film and More

Neil Gaiman
Novelist and Comics Author
Wednesday, September 24, 2008 12:00 PM

Nearly 70 authors will be on the National Mall Saturday, September 27 for the 2008 Library of Congress National Book Festival.

Among them will be Neil Gaiman, best-selling author of many science fiction and fantasy novels and comics, including the just-published young adult novel "The Graveyard Book." He was online Wednesday, Sept. 24 to talk about his books and his work in other media, such as film and music.

A transcript follows.

Gaiman's works include the award-winning "Sandman" series of comics, the novels "Good Omens" (with Terry Pratchett) "American Gods," and "Ananansi Boys"; the children's book "Coraline" (with artist and "Sandman" collaborator Dave McKean) and the just-published young adult novel "The Graveyard Book." He also wrote the screenplays for the films "Stardust" and "Beowulf."


Neil Gaiman: Hullo. This is Neil Gaiman. I write stuff. This month I'm going to be at the National Book Festival with my book for all ages "The Graveyard Book". (Which means I wrote it as a children's book, but adults like it too, so in the US it's being published for everyone and in the UK it's being published twice, once for adults and once for children.) I've just got back from China, and a sprained finger means I'm typing three-fingered right now, so expect interesting typos. ANd I look forward to your questions...


Whitehall, Pa.: Eoin Colfer ("Artemis Fowl") was recently announced as the author of a new Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book. Considering your long connection to (and love for) the series, I'm curious firstly if by any chance you were contacted about such an assignment, and secondly if you have any choice words about the selection, or indeed about the idea of ANYone doing a new HHGG title?

Neil Gaiman: No, I wasn't contacted. When Douglas was still alive he asked me to adapt the third book, "Life, The Universe and Everything" into a radio series, and I thought about it for five minutes and then said no. If I had been asked to write another Hitchhiker's book I would have said no, because... well, the joy of Hitchhkiker's wasn't ever the plot or even the characters: it was Douglas's point of view and the way he expressed it. I think Eoin is a really nice, very funny man, I wish him the best, and I am certain, as I said on my blog, that he will write the book with more enjoyment and enthusiasm, and definitely faster, than Douglas ever would have done. But whatever he does, no matter how good it is, it won't be a Douglas Adams Hitchhiker book.


Arlington, Va.: What age do you think a kid should be before reading your Sandman series? Or do you not think about that sort of thing when you write -- whether a book is appropriate for a certain age level?

Neil Gaiman: I don't think about age groups when I write, although I think if I know I'm writing for Children I'll be a bit more ambitious, and think more about every word, because I know that they pay closer attention when they read than adults do.

Sandman was always written with a "for mature readers" label, to indicate it wasn't a children's comic. It has violence in it, nudity, even some swearing; and more than that, it's filled with ideas and situations that aren't intended for child readers, in the sense that most people who pick up Sandman before they're ready for it aren't traumatised by it, they simply think it's boring.

The youngest Sandman readers I've encountered have been nine. Most people don't start reading until they're in their late teens.


Purcellville, Va.: Love your books, and liked the "Stardust" movie. Are any other books of yours going be movies soon?

Neil Gaiman: The next one is CORALINE, being filmed right now by Henry Selick (who directed The Nightmare Before Christmas)and a team of stop-motion animators. It comes out in February 2009. What I've seen of it so far is wonderful.

If you go to

you can see five small features on Coraline.

I'm now writing the script for an ANANSI BOYS film, for Warner Brothers.


Round Hill, Va.: Neil, you mentioned starting work on a "travel" book. Will it be based on the China trip?

Neil Gaiman: I think the next big book (some of which will be about China) is going to be primarily non-fiction, although it will have some big fictional strands in it. It will, I hope, allow me to do some travel writing (which was one reason why I stopped blogging while traveling across China, otherwise every time I got to a really good story people would have gone "but we read about this on his blog already"). It's more than a travel book, though: there are parts about the seventh century, and parts about the sixteenth century, and parts about now. And a lot of myth. And that's about all I'm willing to say until I actually start writing.


Annapolis, Md.: Hi, Neil,

My 9-year-old daughter and I have read and reread "Coraline" for several years now. (We heard your audio version first--fantastic!) When does the new book come out and does it have the delicious macabre sensibility that "Coraline" has?

(Thanks for all your wonderful work!)

Neil Gaiman: The new book comes out on the 30th of September -- Tuesday week. Although by special dispensation there will be copies available at the National Book Festival on Saturday.

It's very different to Coraline, but I think that if you like Coraline you'd like this. It's called THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, and it's the story of a toddler who, when his family are killed, takes refuge in a graveyard, and is adopted by the inhabitants, who bring him up in the graveyard, teaching him all the things that dead people know. It's eight chapters long, and each chapter takes place two years after the one before, so we follow him from 18 months old, to about 16 years old.

I think it certainly has a macabre sensibility, but I'm mostly enjoying how much people who thought a novel about dead people, ghouls, and the other inhabitants of a graveyard, might be morbid or depressing, are writing about how much it has to say about life. And about Life.


British Museum Station, London: Sorry to hear about the sprained finger. Does that mean -- gasp -- no signing Saturday?

Neil Gaiman: It's the middle finger on the right hand. So I'll be signing, but I don't guarantee anything about either the quality of the handwriting or of the signature.


Daytona Beach, Fla.: You've mentioned you're working on a non-fiction travel book. Can you tell us more about it? Will it be your impressions of the places you've been, or the best places to get sushi in Aberdeen, or a look at local mythologies, or something else entirely?

Neil Gaiman: Something else entirely.

_______________________ Coraline Preview Videos


Alexandria, Va.: I don't fit the stereotypical scifi/fantasy reader. I've been reading sci-fi like a junkie and adore your work that is more fantasy. However, I can't seem to get past my fear of the graphic novel. Considering I've gobbled up everything else you've done, I really want to pick up Sandman. Should I start with Sandman or is their a graphic novel-lite that would perhaps be better before jumping headstrong into your work?

Neil Gaiman: Why don't you start at your library?

Serious answer. Libraries these days tend to have really good Graphic Novel sections, and if you want to dip your toe into the panels-and-word-balloons water, that might be a gentle way to do it.

I think these days if someone was going to ask about where they should start with Sandman, I'd point them to the ABSOLUTE SANDMAN collections, because if you read the first volume (which is the first 20 issues) and you aren't enjoying it, I don't think you'll enjoy the next three volumes either.

But if you are a first-time-person and you like my prose but aren't sure about the graphic novels, I'd suggest SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS, in the version illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano, and STARDUST, in the version illustrated by Charles Vess, both published by DC Comics. They're prose books, with lots of illustrations, and might be a soft and inviting slope down into the world of hardcore comic-books.

_______________________ Coraline Trailer


Takoma Park, Md: Did we ever find out what made Dream so weak that he could be captured in Sandman No. 1? If no, when do we find out? Thanks!

Neil Gaiman: We never did. I was hoping to tell that story in a book DC Comics would publish this year, for Sandman's Twentieth Anniversary (20! Years! Unimaginable!) but we weren't able to come to an agreement. Maybe for Sandman's thirtieth anniversary...?

In the meantime, I'm writing the last Batman story for DC, for Andy Kubert to draw. I've seen the first eleven pages of pencils and they are things of beauty that make me feel guilty for having written words that will, when lettered, cover bits of the artwork up.


Bloomingdale, D.C.: Has any of your work been adapted for the stage? If not, are there any plans to do so in the future?

Neil Gaiman: "The Wolves in the Walls" was done by the National Theatre of Scotland and Improbable theatre company as a "musical pandemonium" (we thought that sounded better than "children's opera"). I helped on that, and wrote extra lyrics. "Coraline" is being turned into a musical by Stephin Merritt (my favourite living songwriter who isn't Stephen Sondheim) which will debut in New York in May 2009. "Mister Punch" has been on in Los Angeles, to rave reviews, this summer, and I am sad that I never got to see it. And there have been others...

I'd love to write an original work for the stage, and as soon as I can either arrange for longer weeks, or more bodies, I will. Otherwise it will have to wait until I get more time. (Mitch Benn and I have plans for a musical-sort-of-thing.)


Round Hill, Va.: Neil -

I'd like to thank you for your blog. It got me interesting in science fiction again, in various media, including your work in prose and graphic novels, classic stuff, and even led me to rediscover Doctor Who.

With the recent changes in publishers, your grueling schedule, etc., do you anticipate your blog continuing for the foreseeable future?

Neil Gaiman: I don't know.

It will be eight years old in February, and I never planned to keep it beyond eight months.

It's astoundingly useful -- I love the immediacy of it, and I love the way that it frees me up from having to worry about whether publishers or bookshops or whoever will promote things well: that can become almost irrelevant, because the people who need to know something hear it directly or indirectly through the blog.

When asked before I've said that, like Mary Poppins, I'll stay until the wind changes. I've been doing it a lot longer than I've ever expected, and it's possible that in five years time I'll still be blogging.

But every now and again I feel small gusts of wind, and see the leaves bobbing, and I remember that nothing good lasts forever. So we'll see.


Washington, D.C.: You seem to be incredibly busy doing a wide array of things over the last year including working with movie studios and of course your new book. Do you prefer one over the other (scripts, books, graphic novels)?

Neil Gaiman: I think what I prefer most is having the choice. I'm really lucky, in that I love being able to move from field to field and from medium to medium, and I'm actually permitted to do so.


Buenos Aires, Argentina.: Hello Neil! This is my question: What you expect about you participation in "Who killed Amanda Palmer"? An "All new rockstar Neil" is born?

Neil Gaiman: I'm afraid I'm too old to be a rockstar, and besides, I will not sing in public. But I get the next best thing -- every few years I get to work on projects with rockstars. First Alice Cooper, then Tori Amos, and most recently Amanda Palmer.

As for my participation, I wrote the back of the record copy for her -- she made something that looked like it was from the 1960s, so I wrote her a 1960s record jacket -- and about a dozen short stories that will accompany the hundreds of "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" photographs in the book she's bringing out (many of the photographs are by an incredible photographer named Kyle Cassidy).

And very late one night I sang her a Kyle a song, which she then astonished me by performing live on her last tour. You can watch her singing it at


Chicago, IL: At the risk of making you sprain something, is there anything new regarding Miracleman?

Neil Gaiman: As far as I can tell right now, all the rights to Miracleman/Marvelman are actually held and controlled by Mick Anglo, the creator of the character, which is as it should be. What that means for future Miraclemarvelman stuff, I don't know.

Last question coming up.


North Little Rock, Ark.: What three books by other authors do you wish you had written, and why?

Neil Gaiman: Nothing really. Because if I'd written them, I wouldn't be able to enjoy them -- I wouldn't really even be able to read them, not really. So if I listed three books I loved -- say ARCHER'S GOON by Diana Wynne Jones, A CHILD ACROSS THE SKY by Jonathan Carroll and say Don Marquis's ARCHY AND MEHITABEL poems -- it would just remove three books I take joy in from the world.

There. Out of time. And thank you all for great questions.Sorry about the ones that weren't answered (here are some answers for some of them: I hope so, Yes, I hope I will come to that country and sign books there within the next year or two, if I live long enough I will write a sequel to it, he's in good health, it's very nice, pigs, and several times but I don't any longer, and no but I am hoping to learn).

And that was fun.


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