Late last year, we found out that one of our favourite authors, and possibly The-
Most-Famous-Author-Noone-Has-Ever-Heard-Of, Neil Gaiman, was coming to little old Wellington to do some readings. Not knowing what a reading even consists of, but knowing from his blog that they are very popular and almost always sell out, I snapped up some tickets.
On Saturday, we finally went to the reading, part of the International Arts Festival, at Wellington’s Town Hall. We were surprised by the diversity of the audience – I was expecting goths, emo-kids and lots of young women who own cats. Not sure why he appeals to cat-women, but they seem to like him (as do white Alsation fans and beekeepers). But there were people from all walks of life, young, old and many like us – slightly geeky but not obviously so (I hope)!
For future reference, Writer Readings consist of some important person from the arts festival/world interviewing said-Writer, then Writer reading a passage from their body of work (often something requested at their fiancee’s concert by a random fan the night before). So they might read something old, something new, something borrowed- wait no, that’s a different kind of event. In this case, Gaiman did read something old, followed by two new pieces. One for the first time, the other something about to be published. Both were good short stories, very typical of his Edwardian-tribute-style shorts. The audience was pleased.
So, it turns out that an author reading also seems to be a place where aspiring authors gather to interrogate their hero about how to write. Neil Gaiman’s answer, although seemingly obvious, was something many of them needed to hear: You just write.
The best, least pretentious, question from the audience though, came from a young lad who asked what Gaiman’s favourite mythological creature was. The Basilisk, it turns out.
Finally Gaiman, wrapped up with one of my favourite passages from American Gods, and a firm-fan-favourite (buy it here, printed on a tshirt). It does need an intro, but I’ll forfeit the intro, and suggest instead, you read the entire book.
The other readings were (from memory – the last two aren’t published so I can’t check titles):
1. Locks (from collection ‘Fragile Things’)
2. My Last Landlady (for a collection of ‘dark’ English seaside stories – recent)
3. Saint Oran & Saint Columba (not sure of actual title – it’s brand spanking new)
And here is, from American Gods, the ‘I Believe’ passage:
I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen–I believe that people are perfectible, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones who look like wrinkledy lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women. I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone’s ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline of good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state. I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste. I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we’ll all be wiped out by the common cold like the Martians in War of The Worlds. I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman. I believe that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself. I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anyone who says that sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies too. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system. I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.