Journal

Thursday, July 30, 2015

“Behind the Trees”



 I love my wife so much. This is an animation by animator Avi Ofer that uses a voice memo from Amanda's phone of a conversation she had with me while I was asleep. 

(I can have conversations while I am asleep, I am told). 

She found the message she had left on her phone for herself, whispered in a bathroom while I slept,  a year or so after she’d left it, and played it to me. I said it sounded like an animated film, and she agreed, and used her Patreon to make it happen…

Only watch it if you want to know what the inside of my head is probably like while I am asleep.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

After the Pause

And now, the exhale. Then quiet: only birdsong and the wind in the leaves.








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Monday, June 22, 2015

Existing in the pause

I was meant to be in the UK for another ten days. It was the ten days I was most looking forward to: a long-overdue trip to Scotland, to St Andrews (where I would be receiving a doctorate) and to Edinburgh and on to Skye. My friend Polly's 21st birthday party. A Masterclass in story writing I was going to teach.

I was walking in to a meeting with TV execs from around the world, along with my American Gods TV posse (the people from Fremantle Media, and Bryan Fuller and Michael Green) when Amanda texted to tell me she was on a train into London from Hornchurch, our friend Anthony was dying, and we were on a plane that was leaving in three hours from Heathrow. I explained what American Gods was to the TV people, and then I ran for it.

Somehow (well, with the aid of Clara Benn) we were packed and on that plane, in the last two seats in the back. (I am not pregnant: I took the middle seat.)

We made it to the hospital while Anthony was still conscious and more or less able to communicate. I told him about the umbrella cane I had discovered for him (I get him canes, with stories, from all over the world). He put his hand on Amanda's baby-bulge, and we talked to him about the baby's name, and he smiled.




We were in the hospital with him for two days and it seemed like a lifetime. On the third day the doctors said he could go home: he would get no better, and he was slipping away.

Amanda and I have moved next door to Laura and Anthony, moved to Amanda's old family home, as we wait.

It's the morning of day four now, a beautiful sunny fresh day. It rained in the night, and the grass was covered with webs that held the raindrops, and the morning sunlight slanted in at an angle that made everything look clean and magical and whole.

Anthony's dying fast. He communicates sometimes, if he's thirsty, or hungry, or needs to pee. He groans, and rolls, and does not want to be in his bed and does not have the strength to be anywhere else. There's nothing more. He hurts, his body is failing, and the leukemia and all that goes with it is draining him away. His wife, Laura, is being remarkable: saintly and brave and helpful and a rock for all the people around. His family and his friends are here sometimes. People are around the bed, and then they move away and talk, and then they are around the bed once more.

I keep making food, and feeding people. It helps.

Amanda is here, with me, with Anthony. So pregnant,  a beam of life and light in the darkness of the dying.

We won't be waiting long.

It doesn't feel like real time. Normally, we breathe in and we breathe out, and we never notice the beat between the breath. Right now we are living in the place between the inhalation and the exhalation, existing in the pause.

Do you want to know who Anthony is? Read this:  http://www.neilgaiman.com/Cool_Stuff/Essays/Introductions/Eight_Views_of_Mount_Fuji
It's the introduction I wrote to Anthony's book Beloved Demons, in November 2013, when his cancer was in remission. It stayed in remission for a long time, but not long enough.

It starts:


I had known Amanda Palmer for six months, and we were going on our first date. Our first date was four days long, because it was all the free time we had at the beginning of 2009 and we were giving it to each other. I had not yet met her family. I barely knew her friends.
"I want you to meet Anthony," she said.
It was January. If I'd really known who Anthony was in her life then, if I'd known how much he'd played his part in raising her, I think I would have been nervous. I wasn't nervous. I was just pleased that she wanted to introduce me to someone that she knew.
Anthony, she told me, was her next door neighbour. He had known her since she was a child.
He turned up in the restaurant: a tall, good-looking man who looked a decade younger than his age. He had a walking cane, an easy comfortable manner, and we talked all that evening. Anthony told me about the nine-year-old Amanda who had thrown snowballs at his window, and about the teenage Amanda who had come next door when she needed to vent, and about the college-age Amanda who had called him from Germany when she was lonely and knew nobody, and about rockstar Amanda (it was Anthony who had named the Dresden Dolls). He asked me about me, and I answered him as honestly as I could.
Later, Amanda told me that Anthony liked me, and had told her he thought I would make a good boyfriend for her.
I had no idea how important this was, or what Anthony's approval meant at the time...
And here is a song Amanda played for him at the end of a tour, three years ago, before she ended the tour early to help get him through that first round of chemo.




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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Drawing the Undrawable: An Explanation from Neil and Amanda.


So that, as they say, was a thing.

The Neil and Amanda guest-edited New Statesman came out a couple of days ago. It's what we wanted it to be – an issue about saying the unsayable, filled with writers saying stuff. We are in it too. Everything is perfect...

Except the cover isn't the Art Spiegelman cover it was meant to be, the one that went up online at the New Statesman site and then vanished again. It's an Allan Amato photo of Neil and Amanda instead. A beautiful photo, with text over it. But it's not the cover we told people we were putting out, the cover that people have been asking us about.

This is what it looks like with the flap covering the left of it:







We owe you an explanation for why this is, especially as it gets into strangely self-reflexive territory: an issue about saying the unsayable that loses its cover for reasons of, among other things, freedom of speech, human error, and whether or not you can say the unsayable. Or show the unshowable.

And the short tl:dr version of this is:

We loved Art's cover. (So did the New Statesman.) We are really sorry that the cover wasn't used. Art pulled it because he felt that agreements with the NS weren't being kept, specifically, he had done a comic that he wanted in the issue, and as Guest Editors we'd assured him that wouldn't be a problem. Communications between Art and the NS were not good: they didn't get back to him on his questions, or, we think, understand that they were meant to include the comic. When the NS editors learned about the comic it was already too late to put it in the magazine, and when the Amanda-and-Neil-put-it-online solution failed, Art, with enormous regret, pulled his cover.

Amanda:

Of all the things we were excited to attack with this "Saying the Unsayable" issue, the cover was at the top of the list, because it posed such a great braintwister: how do you draw what can't be said? Neil and I spent a few weeks chatting through all the various options - one of the nice things about being a musician and graphic novelist who have both been collaborating with artists for years is that we had a list of art-geniuses a mile long. Art Spiegelman won, in the end, because he was perfect for the theme. I remember seeing, in a newstand the week after Sept. 11, 2001, the cover of the New Yorker - thinking, at first, that it was a solid black image. And then, as the issue caught the light and revealed two magically disappearing towers, painted in ghostly gloss with a single antenna thrusting through The New Yoker masthead, I knew I was looking at the work of artistic emotional genius.

Art's been a fighter for visual free speech for ages: his seminal graphic novel "Maus", a profound commentary on family and nazism, has recently been banned from sale in Russia because it featured a swastika on the cover (though one could argue it was hardly "nazi memorablia - not to mention Art has already won the argument in Germany that Maus was culturally significant enough material to allow it onto shelves). Art's also let us crash at his apartment. So we were gleeful when Art agreed to do the cover, even though he had his grumpy doubts about the British press (we'll get to that in a second), and I traipsed over to Soho to have a long chat with him about what we might do for an image.

For three hours, over two walks and three locations (one cafe, Art's studio, and we stopped by to visit the artist JR: you'll note that that gave accidental birth to the use of JR and Art's Ellis Island graffitti/drawing collaboration in the issue), we discussed the potential for the cover, and I told Art about the fantastic writers we had on board, writing about the unsayable. I wound up getting a three hour crash-course in banned comic history, including the life and times of Fredric Wertham, Comics-burning, and the Comics Code.

In his studio, Art showed me some of his recent covers and comics following the Charlie Hebdo massacre. We batted some ideas around. An image of Me and Neil? Only if it was a really strong idea, I said. I didn't want this being about our egos - and we had balked at the idea of just using a nice photo of us on the cover. There's certainly nothing Unsayable about that.

Art showed me a comic he'd drawn about what you can and cannot say as a cartoonist, which I found smart and hilarious, and hardly controversial: Notes from a First Amendment Fundamentalist. It pictured Art, shown as the mouse-headed narrator, explaining what images were for, and why editors were scared of them, preferring to show smiley faces with “Have a Nice Day” on them instead. The comic had run in The Nation in the US, in many European countries and on the cover of a german paper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine. It hadn't been run in the UK, Art said, so we could have it as an exclusive. Brilliant, I said. Art told me the New Statesman had already passed on running it, back when Charlie Hedbo happened, not - they'd told him - on the grounds that it was controversial, but on the grounds that they'd felt they had enough Charlie Hebdo coverage. Art had been in China when the massacre happened and didn't get cracking on this drawing until a few weeks after the main news explosion. The London Review of Books had passed on it because “they disagreed with what Art said in it”.

It was something he felt really strongly about, and he was disappointed that it hadn't been seen in the UK. Would we run the comic as part of the issue? Neil and I both loved it -- it was a comic about saying the unsayable. We let the New Statesman know, Art sent over the image of the comic, and we got to work on what we thought was the hard part, the cover itself.


(Click on it to read it at full size.)

...

NEIL:

The phone buzzed and Art and Amanda were together in New York. We talked ideas for covers.

Art is a cartoonist: he writes beautifully and well, but his medium is pictoral, or that combination of words and pictures that become more than either alone.

“I don't think you need me,” he said. “They could do it with just a photo of you guys on the cover.”

“We need you,” we told him.

We wanted an image as powerful as some of his iconic New Yorker covers. Art retired from New Yorker covers, mostly because he didn't like having to negotiate or deal with magazine people, but he was willing to do it for us.

“The problem is,” he warned us, “that you can write about the unsayable, and nobody will mind. But if you draw the undrawable, you're in trouble.”

We tell him we are game for trouble.

Ideas are discussed: Me and Amanda as Paper Dolls surrounded by the costumes we could wear, all of them evoking things different groups would find offensive. Amanda and me about to be burned at the stake, with other burnable things. The see-no-evil monkeys.

We settled on me and Amanda drowning in our own word balloons, and got Art photoreference of us.

He called the next week. The word bubbles cover wasn't working. But he had an idea: a man drowning in shit, unable to talk about what he was drowning in.

The man would be calling out baby names for shit, loudly...

Art sent us a rough of the image.



It was great, except, it wasn't right. I showed it to Amanda.

It was a powerful image. And some days it feels like we are drowning in shit.

But...

I talked to Art after the Pen Gala, and explained my problem.

“It doesn't say Saying the Unsayable to me,” I told him. “It says, We Are Drowning in Shit. It's the cover to the Drowning in Shit issue.”

Art had already had another idea. He showed it to me. I took a photo of it and sent it to Amanda. She said “YES!” and we had our cover.

A week later, Art sent us this:



And it was perfect. Amanda was concerned people would look at it and see only a disempowered woman, not an angry woman. The New Statesmen people liked it (some of them loved it) but they were also concerned it might be misinterpreted.

We wrote a piece that was meant to go into the New Statesman talking about it:

We actually can discuss the unsayable. We are doing it here, in this issue. In that sense, “unsayable” is almost an oxymoron.

We can talk about something without actually showing it. We can discuss “drawing Mohammed”, we can write entire books if we wish about the traditions involved in representing Mohammed, the problems inherent in it, the issues of power, offense and violence involved, and nobody will try to kill us for writing it.

Once you draw the picture, it’s a different story: when you “draw the undrawable”. The moment that you draw a picture that shows something transgressive, even if you are simply commenting on it, you have drawn it. (In 2010 Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris attempted to satirise and comment on the issues involved in representing the prophet in a humourous way, by drawing a cotton reel, a cup, a domino, a purse, a cherry and a pasta box, each claiming to be an image of Mohammed. She was placed on an Al-Quaida deathlist, and has been in hiding for four years.*)
* This is a simplification. At the top of the cartoon, it talked about a fictional Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, it went viral, and Molly was put on the death list. Here's one of the last cartoons she did before going into hiding.




Images that shock or repulse us have power, in a way that words will not.

 Amanda walked with artist Art Spiegelman through downtown New York for an afternoon, getting schooled in the long history of banned drawings, comics and the wake of the Charlie Hebdo assassinations.  She and Art got Neil on the phone and for an hour discussed "see no evil” monkeys, people and stereotypes being burned at the stake, and how to represent offensive images without actually offending people. We wound up with the idea of Neil and Amanda trapped and drowning in their own speech bubbles. But Art wasn't happy with it.

The first cover design he actually showed us was a glorious depiction of a man drowning in a sea of shit, unable to say the word. It almost worked, but not quite. (We worried that people would think, not unreasonably, that this was the “we are all drowning in a sea of shit” issue.)

When he sent over the sketch of an angry woman bound, “see no evil” blindfolded, but still trying to swear through the happy-face on her ball gag, we knew we had our cover.

And we stopped worrying about the cover.

….


Amanda:

Putting together the contents of the issue was a blast, and a tsumani of emails flooded between me, neil, the new statesman folks, and the various writers we were hoping would write for the issues. Some people got their pieces in within days of being asked, some people wrote thousand-word pieces only to spill tea on their computers at the last minute, missing the deadline. Some interview questions went unanswered, some people called in sick.

Some incoming material led to new inspirations, which was where we really felt the beautiful synchonicity of concocting a magazine in realtime, on a deadline. JR's haunting Ellis Island graffiti images seemed to hunger for context about today's heated immigration issues; we pondered who could write about that, and the new statesman suggested we bring in Khaled Hosseini (whose work I'd read, but it would have never occured to me). We ran into Laurie Penny in a cambridge coffee shop and she offered to work with a writer of a piece we liked but felt wasn't there yet. We emailed with our friend Stoya to see what her take was on the unsayable issues in her workplace, porn. I happened to be talking with two different friends on the phone when it occured to me that they should write about what were were chatting about: both of those moments found their way into the "Vox Populi" sections. It was a lot of fun. The New Statesman folks were incredible - they caught the balls as fast as we were batting them and worked tirelessly on laying out the perfect issues. Everybody was really excited.

Two nights before the launch of the issue - the night before the final pieces of the magazine were to go to the printer so the magazine could hit the stands on time - we got a distressed email from Art. He was going to have to pull his cover, because he'd gotten an email from the magazine saying they they wouldn't run his comic.

Because of timing, or because of the content? Timing, probably. My brain did a few frantic calculations. Had we sent it over? Had we missed it in the master list? Oh shit. Maybe. I admitted to Art that we hadn't been the most organized editors - but we'd call the magazine right away. The worst thing that would happen was that it would miss the print deadline, but it would make it into the online version, which was, hopefully, going to see even more traffic than the printed issue, anyway. Art sighed and said he'd be happy enough with that, but he needed a promise from The New Statesman. It was 7 pm, We phoned the New Statesman. It was too late for the comic to get into print, they said. Could we run it online? They froze. Apparently, there had been a New Statesman-wide meeting and consensus that the magazine wouldn't print any images of the prophet mohammed. Art's comic showed two magazine covers, the one that was not a problem (a happy smily face saying have a nice day) and  one that was a problem (a happy smily face with a turban, and the word Mohammed pointing to it) and in a final panel, it depicted Art tearing off his mouse mask and revealing a turban-wearing happy smily face, saying Have a Nice Day. 

Neil and I sighed. We hung up the phone. We looked at each other, glumly. This sucked.

"Okay. What if...." I said, "you write about the evolution of the cover for the online version of the magazine, and in there, just put a thumbnail of the comic which linkes to the full-size version of the comic which is already up online? You could interview Art about censorship. That way the comic gets the attention it needs, the new statesman doesn't have to actually run it, Art will get his way, and we won't have to lose our beautiful cover. Because honestly, the heavy irony of the fact that we're sitting around here discussing losing the cover of our 'Saying the Unsayable' issue because we can't run a smiley face with a turban on it..."

Neil furrowed.

"We can try."

We called The New Statesman. They said they could live with that.

We called Art. He said he'd go for that.

We breathed a massive sigh of relief. Neil called Art and did an interview with him about pictures and art and censorship and why artists need to be able to do art to communicate, for the blog. Neil couldn't work out why the Skype calls kept failing. (I was in bed on the internet, downloading things.)

But after three calls, he came to bed. We were saved.

The next morning, at 10 am, I had voicemails and texts to call the New Statesman. I gulped. We called. The peace treaty had broken down overnight. Art's agent had put The New Statesman's promise to run the thumbnail, with the link, in a blog written by Neil, into a contract and sent it over. They wouldn't sign it, as they explained, if they failed to do as Art requested, he could have the whole issue pulped. They said they'd rather pull the cover. It was 11 am, and Neil and I were on a train to go and visit his family in the countryside, with phone service coming and going. We spent the train ride on the phone convinced that we could re-assemble the agreement we'd managed to put together the night before. The absolute deadline for printing the cover was 12pm.

We couldn't do it.

By 11:45pm, it became clear that Art's cover was going to be pulled. We started discussing, reluctantly, what could possibly replace it. The New Statesman mocked up a simple cover using the press photo by Allan Amato that was taken four years ago, with the words "Saying the Unsayable" printed across our faces. We sat in a cafe in the English Countryside that happened to have wireless and downloaded it.

"This is fucked. This is an issue about censorship, and it looks like the cover of GQ." I said.

"We could just go all black...." said Neil. (Of course).

We sent some half-hearted remarks to The New Statesman to improve the size and placement of the text, but we didn't have any further time to discuss it. The cover went to press.



Neil:

It was a complete cock-up. Art's ironic prediction of a photograph of me and Amanda on the cover proved correct.

Art's frustration is that the British press can write about freedom of speech while at the same time having blanket policies which mean that an image like this one becomes unshowable. (In context:, Art shows us a magazine with a smiley face and turban, labelled Mohammad to show us what is a problem, and what is not. The New Statesman took it as showing an image of the Prophet, something that they had agreed amongst themselves they would never do.)



I suspect that if the New Statesman had had longer to talk amongst themselves and to think about the Art's comic it would have made it in, but I could be wrong.

The night before the New Statesman went to press, when the agreement was that I would blog about it on the New Statesman site, I interviewed Art for the blog. He said a number of cogent things about image and cartoons, about why the UK press wouldn't show images, like his comic, which had been on the front covers of newspapers in Germany and prominently published elsewhere in Europe. On why, in a secular society, it is vital not to bait, but to debate – and that people who use pictures to communicate needed to be able to use their pictures, as those of us who use words use their words. That there cannot be a "Kalashnikov veto" on what is published.

(The blog didn't run, and as Art says, he gave the interview being still kindly disposed to the New Statesman, and he doesn't feel that way any longer, so I'm not going to quote from it.)

Art feels angry: angry for the wasted work, and primarily angry because he wants people in the UK to be able to see his comic.

The New Statesman editors felt aggrieved, trapped between the rock of having to show an image that might, conceivably, have been interpreted as showing Mohammed in order not to lose their cover, and the hard place of their discomfort with the Wylie Agency.

Amanda and I are sad and disappointed. I'm mostly disappointed because I thought that the proposed solution (of blogging about it on the NS site, with a thumbnail of the comic that you could click on to take you to a larger image, so the comic could be seen, and in the blog Art and I could talk about the issues involved) was something that worked. I'm still sad that the New Statesman backed away from it, when it was put in writing.

It's obvious, going back in the email chains, to see the breakdowns in communication between Art and the New Statesman and vice versa, while Amanda and I were riding the magazine guest-editor whirlwind (writers dropping out and coming back in, pieces coming to us or going directly to the NS, people we waited on for articles or think pieces or interviews until the last moment, while still trying to keep our lives and our real, paying work going). It was our cock-up as much as anyone's: we knew he wanted the comic in and had sent it over, and didn't actually think of it again until the end.


Neil and Amanda:

So that's what happened, and why Art's cover isn't there on the cover of the New Statesman.

Running a magazine is insanely hard work, and having to deal with the crisis at the last minute was no fun for the New Statesman team, who have been supportive of us all the way, and who wound up, at the end, face to face with, and having to deal with, what is and isn't unsayable. (And from their perspective, as they expressed it to us, it was also a freedom of speech issue: they didn't want to run the comic, and couldn't be pushed into it.)

But...

This is how we get into this mess in the first place. "We would, but...." "We should, but...." "We believe in freedom of the press, but...." It's death by a thousand buts. We wanted to say the unsayable, and draw the undrawable. We ended up feeling like we'd tried, and, due to human error on our parts and on the magazine's, failed.

We're really, really proud of this issue, and we're honored that the New Statesman gave us a chance to gather all these artists and writers together. We have the former Archbishop of Canterbury writing about why religion needs blasphemy and Stoya on porn, and Michael Sheen and Hayley Campbell and Kazuo Ishiguro and Roz Kaveney and Nick Cave and...

We just wish we were as proud of the cover as we were of the content.

Have a nice day.

Neil and Amanda





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Thursday, April 09, 2015

Ursula at 85

I was thrilled to be interviewed for a documentary on Ursula K. Le Guin on BBC Radio -- who are also going to be broadcasting their adaptations of The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea Trilogy. I was even more thrilled to hear the finished programme -- not because it has me in it, and David Mitchell, and Karen Joy Fowler, and lovely Naomi Alderman asking the questions and doing the talking, but because it has so much Ursula K Le Guin in it. She reads from an essay. She answers questions. She explains how you balance a writing life with having a family. She talks about gender and about writing and about humanity.

For the next few weeks you can listen to it here, wherever you are in the world:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05pkmyg

(If you are on a phone or tablet you'll need an app like TuneIn Radio to listen.)

Allegra, the producer, told me that the success on BBC Radio of Neverwhere and Good Omens were what gave the people who wanted to make Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness the clout they needed to get Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra to agree to make them. I've never been happier for an unintended consequence.

Here's a great recent interview with Ursula: http://www.denofgeek.us/books-comics/ursula-le-guin/245224/ursula-le-guin-talks-sci-fi-snobbery-adaptations-troublemaking
And here's a clip:

...

To honour Terry Pratchett, the BBC is rebroadcasting their adaptation of GOOD OMENS, too:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04knt4h is the BBC's Good Omens site, with lots of goodies, and links to the programs. If you are in the UK, it's going out at about 11:30pm each night, and the final episode will be on Saturday at 2:30 pm.

There's a new book by me out, with pictures by the amazing Mr Adam Rex: Chu's Day at the Beach


It's intended for readers a little older than the first Chu books (who are mostly 1-3). This one is for 4 and 5 year olds. It has a plot. It even has merpandas.





I'm really proud of it. It's my favourite of the Chu books, and once you look at it, you'll know why.




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Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Facts of Death



It is not a wise or a sensible thing to do, to fly from the US to the UK, getting in late on the Tuesday night, and flying back early on the Thursday morning, in order to go to a funeral on the Wednesday, but sometimes you do the wrong thing because it's the only right thing you can do, and because you have to say goodbye to a friend properly, and that was true this week.

We didn't always look like this. 24 years ago, on tour for Good Omens, we looked more like this:

It's a bookshop signing photo, which is a nice change. Back then, every newspaper interview we did they'd drive us to a graveyard. I'm not 100% certain why. But in ancient crumbling newspaper picture archives, there should be a host of photos of Terry and me holding Good Omens and looking not very scary at all.

It accompanies this:  http://www.locusmag.com/2006/Issues/1991_Gaiman_Pratchett.html --  an interview with us both from 1991, in Locus Magazine, from back when we were very young and prone to finishing each other's sentences.

BBC Radio 4 is going to repeat GOOD OMENS as a tribute to Terry: it starts Monday the 6th, at 22:30 UK time. Details at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04knt4h If you missed it, you can listen to it from anywhere in the world, using the internet, or an app (if you have only a phone/tablet).



And Terry's death makes me think of Douglas Adams' death (I missed the memorial: it was the first day that planes were flying again after 9/11, and I gave my seat on the plane up so that someone could get home). 

On March 3rd I was in the UK to deliver the Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture, to help Save the Rhinos. You can watch the talk I gave here:





(The blog title is borrowed from a poem Terry wrote for an anthology called NOW WE ARE SICK, which I edited with Steve Jones in 1985. His poem began...


They don’t teach you the facts of death,

Your Mum and Dad. They give you pets.

We had a dog which went astray.

Got laminated to the motorway.

I cried. We had to post him to the vet’s.



You have to work it out yourself,

This dying thing. Death’s always due.

A goldfish swimming on a stall,

Two weeks later: cotton wool,

And sent to meet its Maker down the loo.)

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Terry Pratchett

I woke up and my email was all condolences from friends, and requests for statements from journalists, and I knew it had happened. I'd been warned.

Thirty years and a month ago, a beginning author met a young journalist in a Chinese Restaurant, and the two men became friends, and they wrote a book, and they managed to stay friends despite everything. Last night, the author died.

There was nobody like him. I was fortunate to have written a book with him, when we were younger, which taught me so much.

This was the last thing I wrote about Terry. I knew his death was coming and it made it no easier:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/24/terry-pratchett-angry-not-jolly-neil-gaiman

I'll miss you, Terry.

I'm not up to writing anything yet. Maybe one day.


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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Edging back to blogging

I really am out of the habit of blogging, aren't I? Some of it's from travelling too much, and most of it is probably from using Twitter and Facebook in places and ways that I would have blogged in the past.

Last year's social media sabbatical was really pleasant and rewarding, though, and I'm thinking about doing another, longer one, at the end of this year. Which will probably mean I'll return to blogging again then.

I'm writing this from a hotel in Dublin, where I was today receiving the James Joyce Award. Now off to the UK, where I'll be delivering the Douglas Adams memorial lecture, as a benefit for Save the Rhinos. (Almost all tickets are gone. A few VIP tickets are up on ebay.) The Lecture is called Immortality and Douglas Adams. I know that. Now I just have to write it.

A new book is out: it's called Trigger Warning: Short Stories and Disturbances.

I learned when Smoke and Mirrors came out what people say in reviews of short story collections, and learned it again when Fragile Things came out, a decade later. The reviews say "A good collection of stories, let down by (the weak stories) and redeemed by (the strong stories)" But nobody ever seems to agree on what the weak and the strong stories are, so I never feel I have learned very much from the reviews, but am always happy that people found stories that they did like in there.

So that's what most of the reviews say.

Then there's Frank Cottrell Boyce writing in the New Statesman, about Trigger Warning, short stories, what they are and how we read them, and it's an essay I'd love even if I weren't in there:

It is interesting that Saint Columba makes an appearance. Columba began his exile on Iona in penance for his part in the 6th-century Battle of the Book, a conflict that had its origin in his secret copying of Saint Finnian’s psalter: a kind of medieval illegal download. The subsequent ruling – “To every cow its calf, to every book its copy” – marks an important moment in the history of books. Were they beautiful, magical objects, to be carried into battle as charms (as the psalter was)? Or were they a means to disseminate information? Should their magic stay locked inside or should it be shared? Trigger Warning seems to grow out of a similar rift – the alternating currents of struggle and synergy that flow between the page and the electronic media.

I'm pleased that most readers seem to enjoy most of Trigger Warning, especially pleased and relieved that "Black Dog", the second of the American Gods stories of Shadow in the UK, seems to be well-received. I'm nervously caracoling towards the next novel, and suspect I'll start it in a few months, when the current giant jobs are done...

Amanda and I went to Sarasota to see my 97 year old cousin Helen, and seeing we were there and it was Valentine's Day, we did an event at the beautiful historic Tampa Theatre. This, at the end of a VERY long evening, is me singing "I Google You".



And the beautiful P. Craig Russell limited edition print we did for it is up for sale at Neverwear:

Ah. That was my return to blogging and it wasn't funny at all, was it? Bugger.



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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Wishes and gifts

An old year ends, and takes with it people and sorrows and joys and memories, and a new one is on it way.

A New Year's Gift, for anyone who missed it:

The BBC Radio 4 GOOD OMENS Website, with all six episodes of the Radio Series available to listened to over the next 2-3 weeks.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04knt4h

And a reminder, over at http://acalendaroftales.com/ you can read and listen to all the stories I wrote for the  A Calendar of Tales. January's Tale takes place in the moments between the first and the last chime of twelve midnight, when the Old Year is over and the New Year not yet begun.


May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.


...I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you'll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you'll make something that didn't exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.


And for this year, my wish for each of us is small and very simple.

And it's this.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.


And here, from 2012 the last wish I posted, terrified but trying to be brave, from backstage at a concert:

It's a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world. 

So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we're faking them. 

And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it's joy we're looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation. 

So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.

...

I meant, and mean them all. I wasn't going to write a new one this year. But...

Be kind to yourself in the year ahead. 

Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It's too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand.

Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.

Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them. 

Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.



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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Radio shows are like Buses...

Radio shows in which I answer quiz questions, sing, and tell the story of how I wrote OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE for Amanda are like buses.  You wait for such a long time, and then two come along at once.

I love that two shows, recorded many weeks apart, went out at the same time. Quite literally. And many Public Radio stations put them out back to back. So it must have seemed to listeners that this writer they had never heard of had just taken over their radios. Probably they were disappointed when I wasn't then to be heard singing something on the News from Washington.

The first one I recorded was ASK ME ANOTHER, at the 92nd st Y. Ophira Eisenberg and Jonathan Coulton tormented me with their evil questions and singing tests. It was amazing.



You can listen to selected bits and to the whole of it at http://www.npr.org/programs/ask-me-another/

And you can watch this bit. I had told their interviewer that I won tickets to see Patience from the local paper's Gilbert & Sullivan competition when I was 9. So they did a Gilbert & Sullivan competition for me, with the assistance of Jonathan Coulton playing things on guitar that were never meant to be played on guitar.




Then last week I flew to Minneapolis to be on WITS, with musical guest Shara Worden AKA My Brightest Diamond (whoa, can that lady sing). 

I found myself in comedic sketches, including one where I show people around an extremely unusual house. And I read out people's Bad Gaiman submissions. And I sang a verse of FEVER.

They recorded enough material to make two shows, and you can listen to the first of them here:


I cannot find a photo from that night, so here is a video clip from the last time I was in WITS, in 2011. It features Adam Savage's performance of "I Will Survive" in the character of Gollum...


...

And Hachette and Amazon have finally buried the, um, small axe-like thing, and are friends again. So in a gesture of celebration I will put up an Amazon link here for the first time in a long time. Heck, I will put up two:




and (out on Feb 3rd 2015)




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