Journal

Thursday, November 28, 2019

An Ocean of Story


It was three years ago that I went for my first meeting at the National Theatre, with Mel Kenyon, my redoubtable Theatrical Agent. I met Katy Rudd and Joel Horwood in an office at the back of the action. Katy was a director, Joel a writer. They wanted to adapt my novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. They wanted to make it a play.

I really liked them, and they seemed to have responded to the right sort of things in the book.

I said yes.

(Saying yes also meant that I soon had to say no to something else that the National Theatre wanted to do. Something much bigger, and probably more of a crowd pleaser. They couldn't do both, and they knew they couldn't. But I have a special love for Ocean: it's smaller and more delicate. Sooner or later the big crowd pleaser would happen anyway. Ocean was small and personal.)

Six months later, there was a “proof of concept workshop” at the National Theatre studios beside the Old Vic. I saw a flapping canvas puppet. Actors said words. There wasn't a script yet, but there was a point of view. I told them what I liked, what I didn't. They were the same things that Joel and Katy liked and didn't.

A year after that, more or less, there was a semi-acted read through of the script, put on for me and for the National Theatre. It had potential, wasn't there yet, but was enough of a thing that I said yes to it continuing (I could have stopped it there) and the National Theatre powers that be said Yes to putting it on at the National.

And a year after that, a table read. Many of the cast had been with the production since that first workshop. I had a few big notes, but found it intensely moving. I managed not to cry at the end.


And two days ago I was in a rehearsal room in the National Theatre, watching a run-through of the whole play, with sound cues, puppetry, and drama. I was holding my breath, hoping it would work. And as it came to an end, with a tear streaming down my cheek (I flicked it away discreetly, a gesture I've only ever seen in films before now) I was thrilled with what Katy and Joel have built.
They've built it with remarkable actors and with technicians and with craftspeople and lighting designers and the best of the talent that the National Theatre has. They've built it with Jherek Bischoff's music.

They've built it with love, and with an understanding of what the book's about, which taught them what you can lose to fit the book into something the size of a play and what you have to keep.
They've built it with the three ladies of the Hempstock family, with Ursula Monkton in all her forms, with Hunger Birds, with real theatrical magic.



(Movement/Choreographer Steven Hoggett (Left) and Director Katy Rudd (seated). I first worked with Steven with the National Theatre of Scotland's 2006 version of The Wolves in the Walls.)


The production has almost sold out already: it's already lots of people's favourite of my books, and the word on the street is good. It's also at the Dorfman, the smallest of the National Theatre's venues, which fits about 350 people a night. The show runs from previews on December 3rd until January 25th. There are still a few tickets, but not many.

The opening night is December 11th, the day before the UK General Election. I wonder what the mood will be in the theatre that night. I hope the critics like it, but mostly I hope the people who go to the theatre like it.

On December the 18th, Sir Lenny Henry will be interviewing me about Ocean at the End of the Lane, play and book, on the big Olivier Stage at the National. Tickets are £31/£26 for Students and Under 18s, and the ticket price includes a pre-signed copy of the illustrated edition of Ocean at the End of the Lane. (Which normally go for £20 except I believe they've now all sold out.) And you can also buy just a ticket without the book, for those of you going as families, or who already have the book.

Here's the link: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/neil-gaiman-on-the-ocean-at-the-end-of-the-lane

And if you want to look for the last few tickets, https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-ocean-at-the-end-of-the-lane/dates-listing


It's Thanksgiving in the US now. It feels odd to not be sweating in a tiny kitchen, cooking huge turkeys and a whole salmon or two and making the stuffed mushrooms for a host of family and friends. Instead I'm off on my own for the first time since the Autumn of 2016, to try and caught up on writing. 

I miss my family, but it feels very good to be concentrating on what needs to be written. I'm lucky having Amanda there, who encouraged me to go and write. 

I'm thankful there are people out there who read what I write and who like what I make. I'm very lucky, and I know it.

(And I blew out a tyre on a country road a long way from anywhere last night, in a rented car. The What3words app was invaluable in letting the roadside assistance I was put through to know where I was. Huge thumbs up from me, and thank you What3words.)

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Monday, November 25, 2019

Radio Secrets

In the winter of 1983, I was alone in my parents' house. Even they weren't there. I was 22 going on 23, and writing things nobody wanted to buy, or even read, and feeling very lonely indeed. I was about to move up to a bedroom in Edgware at the start of 1984.

The nearest thing I had to company was BBC Radio 4. (I remember listening to an audio sequel to Cold Comfort Farm. Also that it was the only time I have ever managed to actually follow The Archers for long enough to know who was actually who and what they all wanted.) I would sit in my parents' empty dining room with the radio on while I wrote short stories nobody would ever read and nobody would ever buy.

But the radio helped. The radio really helped.

It's nice, and odd, to feel that I'm now part of the thing that kept me going then.

My short story "Chivalry" will be broadcast at 4:00pm to 4:30pm on the 25th of December. It's about an old woman who buys the Holy Grail in a charity shop.

There's a generation gap vast as an ocean between people who are excited that Glenda Jackson is both our narrator and Mrs Whitaker, and those who have no idea who Glenda Jackson is and why she matters (wasn't she a British politician once?) but are very excited about Kit Harington.



And as if that wasn't enough...

Playing in the Dark will be broadcast on Radio 3 on the 23rd of December from 7:30pm until 10 pm.  That's me and some guests reading things aloud, and also the BBC Symphony Orchestra (and some of the guests) making music.

Here's a video of me introducing our final reader, who read a chunk of GOOD OMENS...

(If the video below doesn't work for you, as I hear it's region-locked, you can watch it on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bbcpress/status/1198926119388565504?s=20)




Playing in the Dark will also, in edited form, be going out really early on the morning of the 25th, on BBC Radio 4 from 6 am - 7 am.

If you are somewhere in the world where you cannot turn on the radio and hear Radio 3 or 4, you can still livestream it, and once it has been broadcast it will be up for a month. ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD YOU CAN ACCESS THE INTERNET, YOU CAN LISTEN TO THEM. FOR FREE.

This is a true thing.

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Friday, November 22, 2019

Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Now Dead Again

Gahan Wilson is dead.





I'd make a joke about it, but nobody joked ever about Death as well as Gahan, or, I suspect, for as long.

His stepson describes him, in his death announcement, as "one of the very best cartoonists ever to pick up a pen" and he was.

He was a gentle, funny, charming man. One of the most perfect evenings I've ever had was the night that Peter Straub and Gahan Wilson and I wound up after an event in the little lobby bar at the Royalton Hotel, back when it was a Philippe Starck-designed place, and the three of us, in our uncomfortable tuxedos, talked about art and puppets and humour and horror and Sherlock Holmes and and what we were trying to make until late into the night.

Ten years ago, I had the honour of writing an introduction to Gahan's book, 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons.

This is what I wrote:


GAHAN WILSON INTRODUCTION


I have an embarrassing admission to make: when I was a barely pubertal schoolboy I did not look at Playboy for the articles. I did not actually care about the articles. Interviews with American politicians or movie stars left me unmoved, reviews of stereo equipment or sports cars or cocktails meant nothing to me. No, I went to Playboy for the pictures.

I was not old enough to buy it, nor brave enough to steal it, so each month I would head into my High Street W.H. Smiths, and go up on tiptoes, and reach up to and take Playboy down from the topmost shelf. Then I would slick through it as rapidly as possible, past the Playboy Advisor, past the naked ladies (pneumatic, terrifying creatures, quite unlike the girls at local schools I would stare at awkwardly and with longing when I passed them on the street), past the short stories (even if I wanted to read them there would not be time before a shop assistant spotted me), until I found it. It was always there: the Gahan Wilson cartoon. And I would stare at it, at the strange, squashed Plasticene-faced people, at the vampires and the people building monsters, at the enormous aliens and raggedy mummies and acts of unspeakable cruelty and nightmare (“What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?” asked one spouse of another. And under the seat was the cat, and it had.)

In a magazine devoted to sex and aspirational lifestyle accoutrements, Gahan Wilson was about something else – a cock-eyed, dangerously weird way of looking at the world. Even when sex entered the picture it did so strangely and awkwardly (Superman, his back to us, flashes an old lady, who, unimpressed, retorts “You're not so super.” Vampires view sleeping nubiles as snacks. Werewolves... ah, you'll find out.)

And, strangely, the knowledge that each Playboy had a Gahan Wilson cartoon in it somehow, for me, made Playboy cool in a way that the cars and the cocktails never could, just as the knowledge that Charles Addams was forbidden to draw the Addams Family characters in the pages on the New Yorker made that respectable magazine significantly less remarkable in my eyes.

Over the last two decades I have had the good fortune of encountering Gahan Wilson in the flesh: initially, oddly, as a book reviewer who said nice things about what I did. I wrote him a fan-letter, got a wonderful letter back from him with a drawing of Mister Punch on it, and finally got to spend time in his company at a variety of conventions and meetings across America. Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly teamed us up for their Little Lit book, and I wrote a story for Gahan to draw that meant that I found myself interviewed when they made a documentary about him (Born Dead, Still Weird) and that the comic we did was beautifully animated for the movie: it had ghouls in it, and small children, and dead people, all of which traditionally show up in Gahan Wilson's work.

In person, Gahan is tall. His face might possibly have been made out of Plasticine, but he is – and I doubt he will mind me telling you this – significantly better looking than many of the people, some of the monsters, and all of the aliens that he draws. He is, in person, a funny man, not with the compulsive joke-making look-at-me funny of comedians, but with a comfortably wry view of the world that he communicates with ease. He is affable and intelligent. He does not seem like a cartoonist – were I to pick a profession for him based on his looks it would be that of successful small-town mortician, I think, or owner of a backwoods motel. Or an alien, squished uncomfortably into a Gahan Wilson-shaped humanoid body suit, here to observe our ways and taste our wine and despoil our women.

He operates in no tradition, although, on occasion I have seen people and line in nineteenth Japanese prints and, in one case, a five-hundred year old graffitied drawing of a monk and a dragon on the side of a Chinese temple that I could have sworn were made by Gahan Wilson's pen. He draws on horror movies, on popular culture, on his own strange view of the world and of the permeability of language – not punning, but playing with words and popular expressions in ways that flex and stretch them, like a morbid poet. (“Is Nothing sacred?” asked a man in a place where they worship Nothing. “How are they selling?” is asked of a sad-looking man with piles and piles of unsold hot cakes.)

Until now it was hard to be a real fan of Gahan Wilson's Playboy work. I do not read every issue of Playboy, for a start, and these days the magazine is too often sold wrapped in plastic. And when Gahan Wilson's cartoons have been collected in the past, the Playboy cartoons were often black and white reproductions of the colour originals. This book made me happy and excited when the publisher told me it would exist, and it makes me happy and excited now – the idea of getting to see the Gahan Wilson Playboy cartoons as they were meant to have been seen, all of them collected together chronologically is one that I find intrinsically wonderful. The world is a better place for having this book in it. No kidding, no hyperbole (well, maybe a little. But I mean it, so that makes it all right).

I'll shut up now and get out of the way. You have pictures to look at that will make your world more interesting. I don't know if these cartoons will taste the same without me having to do that nervous top-shelf dash. Possibly they will be better.

I trust these volumes will sell like hot cakes.


Neil Gaiman

They were cartoons like this...
I got to reprint one of his short stories in the book Unnatural Creatures, a benefit book for the Washington DC literacy program 826 DC. It was not actually called


although sometimes it's called (Inksplot).


Here's the animated film I talk about above.

It's a short film that was made for the documentary BORN DEAD, STILL WEIRD, as an adaptation of the short story we did together for Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman's IT WAS A DARK AND SILLY NIGHT book.






I really really liked Gahan. He was one of the people you admire before you meet them who live up to your expectations and hopes when you do. I'm deeply sorry he's gone.

It seems like last week that I bought a drawing from him, the cover art for a book I wrote with Gene Wolfe, A Walking Tour of the Shambles.


We used to talk (half-joking, but only half) about doing another volume of Little Walks For Sightseers, but 2019 took Gene and now it's taken Gahan, and I miss their conversations and I wouldn't want do it on my own.

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Monday, September 09, 2019

A long catch up (and go and see Amanda Palmer's show)

I stopped blogging in April when my friend Gene Wolfe died. I wanted to write a blog about Gene, who he was, how we were friends, and it just made me too sad.

So I stopped writing that blog, and then felt bad writing about the other things that have happened, like Good Omens coming out as a TV series when I hadn't yet written about Gene.


I miss him still, and kept wanting to send him postcards over the last few months, just as I usually did when I travelled. And then I remember I can't send Gene things any longer.

So Gene went, before I could show him the TV adaptation we made of Good Omens, which had been a book he loved.

It came out on Prime Video May 31st, and people loved it. It broke several records for Amazon, in the US and the UK and around the world, which made me happy. We got three Emmy Nominations, and already started being nominated for and winning awards. Everyone wants us to make some more, and while Terry Pratchett and I had long ago plotted out a whole novel's worth of More, I'm still figuring out whether or not and if so how it could happen.

Then it was announced that Netflix had won the bidding war to be the company that brought Sandman to television. I'm Very Involved in making it -- I'll be cowriting the pilot episode, and working closely with Exec Producer David Goyer and Showrunner Allan Heinberg to make sure it's always Sandman, the one that people who read and loved the comics will recognise and love.

Meanwhile, I had stopped being a Good Omens showrunner, and started becoming a writer who stayed at home and looked after a small boy and also wrote, while his wife went off on tour.

And then we crossed the ocean, and are now based in the UK until the end of the year and are doing the same thing again.

I'm at home, Amanda is (mostly) on tour.

I get Ash dressed in the correct school uniform (PE or Formal) and onto the bus (we always go straight up to the top floor of the bus and he always tells me the rules of traffic lights), and I take him to school.

Occasionally I'll be doing things in public this year, and I'll try and announce them here:

The National Theatre's adaptation of The Ocean at the End of the Lane begins on Dec 3rd and runs until the 25th of January:



It's recommended for people aged 12 and over. Tickets are available here: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-ocean-at-the-end-of-the-lane

And in one of those nice coincidences that make it look like I actually know what I'm doing, this year also brings the illustrated edition of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Elise Hurst is an Australian illustrator who passed me some of her work to look at after an event, and I was immediately impressed. Her work looks (or can look) like mid-20th century children's book illustration, but with a strange edge to it that seemed perfect for Ocean.

She and I will be in conversation on the 14th of November: here's the details, and how to get tickets -- https://membership.theguardian.com/event/an-evening-with-neil-gaiman-and-elise-hurst-69018926467

Here's a photo Amanda took of me telling a children's story that won't be published for about a year, at an event in Camden for her Patrons (from Patreon). Douglas Mackinnon, director of Good Omens, made it black and white and haunting. Ash is the one looking up at me at the front...


....

If you are in the UK, or Germany or Austria (Graz!), Paris or Prague, Luxembourg, Ireland or Denmark, I wanted to urge you to go and see Amanda in concert on this tour. (https://nointermission.amandapalmer.net/)  The show list: http://amandapalmer.net/shows/

This is a very special show. It's about life and otherwise. It contains a friend's illness and death. It contains three abortions (one on health grounds) and a Christmas Day miscarriage. It contains the arrival of Ash.

It's called There Will Be No Intermission. And normally, there's an intermission, because it's a long night.

It's important, it's beautiful, it's powerful, and it's even funny.




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Monday, April 22, 2019

Fox in Socks

Back in May 2017, I agreed to read the Cheesecake Factory Menu to raise money for refugees. They had to get to $500,000. It was the idea of Sara J Benincasa, comedian, writer and activist. People started donating. We all hoped that Cheesecake Factory would come in and donate enough at the end to get us up to the total, but they didn't seem very interested. So, given that enough money had been donated to reach the intermediate goal of me reading Dr Seuss's Fox in Socks, I agreed cheerfully to read Fox in Socks.  But the question was... when?

Because almost immediately I went off to work on Good Omens. And my life was put on hold for two years.

When I came back from making Good Omens, it was top of the list of things I needed to do. Fortunately, I'd been practising for two years, or at least, reading Fox in Socks to Ash. Here you go...


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Saturday, April 13, 2019

It's been a while...

I finished the process of making Good Omens into television at the end of January 2019.  It's been ten weeks since then and I'm only just just starting to feel human again. And not yet a laughing running tapdancing human, more a sort of baffled, awkward vague human who only remembers the word he was searching for about five minutes after he no longer needs it. Like Charlie on the last page of "Flowers For Algernon". I'll probably arrive back at normal humanity-with-a-brain somewhere in June.

Amanda is on tour 3 or 4 days a week, and home the other 3 or 4 days. (Here's her tour schedule: http://amandapalmer.net/shows/) I'm a home-husband, trying to remember how that writing thing I used to do went, and getting the Ash time I missed in December and January as I finished Good Omens.

Ash is keeping me amused and delighted. Mostly by talking, sometimes by singing. He fell in love with christmas songs at Christmas, and they are only just now starting to be supplanted. Which is good for those of us who feared that the reign of Frosty the Snowman and Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer would never end. Currently his favourite songs are Harry Nilsson's "Coconut" and Harry Belafonte's 'Banana Boat Song', which quite often means an unusually large voice coming out of a small boy at unexpected moments, belting out "Day-o! DAAAAAY-O! Daylight Come an' mi Want To Go Hooome!"

Me: Perhaps you could use your quiet inside voice for that, Ash?

Ash (very politely, as if explaining something to someone a bit slow): No, Dadda. I need to be very loud. Do you understand? DAAAAAAAY-O!

This is Ash today, singing (quietly) this morning:



The squawking noise in the background is guinea fowl... 

This is because we have a very small flock of guinea fowl here.  And they squawk.

They also remind me a little of a flock of small dinosaurs, and they make me smile. We had twelve last summer, and then one day we had eight, and we had eight all through the autumn and the winter.

The collective noun for guinea fowl is a confusion, and this is both apt and accurate.

Our neighbour Caroline (she's a potter, and she recently made me a Perfect TeaCupMug -- it's enormous!) does all of the looking after the guinea fowl, and I look proudly and fondly on because they spend their days wandering around eating ticks and thus, I hope, decreasing everyone's chances of getting Lyme disease here in prime Lyme disease country.

I worry about mysterious predators, so I automatically count the guinea fowl when I see them.

A couple of weeks ago the number dropped to seven. I was sad, assuming that the fowl in question had been eaten by something local with teeth or talons.

I mentioned this to Caroline. She took me a little way into the woods and she pointed out the missing guinea fowl, who believed herself to be perfectly camouflaged, sitting quietly on an awful lot of eggs.






We pretended we hadn't seen her and walked away, then immediately googled how long it takes guinea fowl eggs to hatch (about 28 days). Fingers crossed that in another two weeks we will have keets (which is what you call baby guinea fowl).

It's been years since I've blogged regularly. Let's see if I start again now. (I might. It's a good warm-up for writing and I'm looking forward to being a writer again.)


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Monday, December 31, 2018

That Was The 2018 That Was

It's been a strange year. I've only blogged a couple of times, mostly because I've not had anything to write about except one thing, the hugeness of making Good Omens. We wrapped the shooting part mostly in March, and so everything we've been doing since is "post-production".

This means we (and when I say "we" in this blog it's normally Douglas Mackinnon the director and me) edited the six episodes. Sometimes this was simple, but mostly it wasn't. Good Omens is complicated.  Episode 1 in its original shape was 75 minutes long and very confusing for people. Episode 1 now is about 52 minutes long and nobody watching it gets lost at all, even during the baby swap. Episode 5 wound up too short and episode 6 wound up too long, but that was okay, because we'd long ago realised that the only way to make something of this scale was a 6 hour long movie, so so we moved bits of Episode 6 earlier. Each episode was tightened and experimented with and worked on until it gleamed. (The editors we were working with were Will Oswald for the first three episodes and Emma Oxley for the second three)

And once it was edited and "locked", then the music could be written by David Arnold and recorded, then the team at MILK could begin to work on the Visual Effects, the big obvious ones like the M25 London orbital motorway turning into a flaming ring around London, or the huge floating head of Derek Jacobi filling Aziraphale's bookshop, and the less obvious ones, like the missing details of our Soho street.

And while this was happening the Sound Wizards at Bang! listened to the sound and told us what they could use and what they needed a back-up of, and where we would need the actors to dub their voices (a process called ADR). Not to mention the technical challenges of the different voices that will be coming out of Miranda Richardson's mouth (she plays Madame Tracy, the medium): Johnny Vegas and Michael Sheen also provide voices that we will hear Miranda utter...

We have over 200 speaking parts. That's a lot of ADR.

And then there's Gareth Spensely at Molinare, who is credited as colourist, and who is a Warlock who makes it look even more beautiful than Gavin Finney did when he shot it, and sometimes makes scenes shot in the morning become scenes that happen at dusk, and does other things equally as odd. And there's Beren Croll doing the "online", working his own visual magic, and placing the astonishing visuals and the peculiarly handmade graphics that Peter Anderson Studios have made for us where they need to be...

And in all that, the last nine months have flown by. Here's the trailer we did, if you haven't seen it, or just want to see it again.


We aren't done yet. There's about a month to go before it's all wrapped up. We were hoping to have been done earlier, which is why my wife and small son and retiring nanny are off on our "Hurrah! Neil has finished Good Omens!" holiday in the Caribbean and I am rather obviously not on that holiday. I am on my way back to back to the UK (dividing my time between London's Soho, where our various post production studios are, and Cardiff, where Bang! are) and am stopping off in the friends' house where I wrote much of American Gods and Anansi Boys, and short stories like A Study In Emerald.  So many memories.

Two days ago we went to Sarasota, to visit my Cousin Helen. She will be 101 years old in a few weeks. She is as smart as she ever was. (This is a link to a recent piece about her on Brainpickings, and a letter she wrote about a story that helped:  https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/12/18/a-velocity-of-being-helen-fagin/ )

Helen is nearly 101. Ash is 3 and a 1/4. Amanda and I are somewhere in the middle.



It will be the first night in a long time that I haven't kissed my wife at midnight on New Year's Eve. The first year we won't get to celebrate our wedding anniversary together. I will miss them so very much.

My goals for 2019 are to get Good Omens finished, to send it out into the world, and then to retire from full-time showrunning and, in my retirement, to start writing again. I miss it.

If you enjoy Radio, you should check out:

With Great Pleasure: I pick some prose, poems and songs I love. Peter Capaldi, John Finnemore and Nina Sosanya read them, Mitch Benn and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain sing.

The Wild Wood -- one of the many things recorded for With Great Pleasure that didn't make it onto the air. But, as read by Mr Capaldi, too good to lose.

Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology -- a dramatisation by starring Diana Rigg and Derek Jacobi, Natalie Dormer and Colin Morgan. Lucy Catherine did the adaptation, and Allegra McIlroy directed it and made it happen.

You can listen to all of these anywhere in the world for the next 3 weeks...


If you have come here for New Year's Wishes, I don't have a new one.  But here are the ones that already exist. This is from 2014:


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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Friday, June 29, 2018

Harlan Ellison



I was in LA two weeks ago, to record the person who is playing the actual Voice of God in Good Omens. I had hoped for a long enough trip to see old friends and catch up with the world, but the trip was immediately truncated, as I was needed in Toronto where they were having press days for the next season of American Gods. I had just enough time, between leaving the airport and getting to my hotel, to see a friend.

I went to see Harlan and Susan Ellison. Harlan's been my friend for 33 years. We met in 1985, in the Central hotel in Glasgow, where he was Guest of Honour at the Eastercon. I was there as a young journalist to do an interview with him for a magazine that went out of business between me handing in the interview and them printing it. They were closed down by the publisher after printing the black and white pages of the magazine but before they printed the colour pages (which cost more). I sold the interview to another magazine, and the editor was immediately fired and everything he had bought spiked. And then I put the article away, convinced it was a Jonah.

A couple of years later, when I had just started writing comics, Harlan phoned me up to shout at me about having Batman break the law by entering a hotel room without a warrant ("But that's why he wears a mask," I said. "So he can break the law.").  That wound up with me turning up at his house, the next time I was in LA for a signing,  bringing with french fries, the kind he liked. And after that we were friends.

A phone call from Harlan was still like a phone call from a tropical storm that's about to turn hurricane. My assistant Lorraine dreaded them.

I've written about Harlan a few times over the years. I wrote the introduction to his collection The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World.

A few quotes from it:

It has, from time to time, occurred to me that Harlan Ellison is engaged on a Gutzon Borglum–sized work of performance art—something huge and enduring. It’s called Harlan Ellison: a corpus of anecdotes and tales and adversaries and performances and friends and articles and opinions and rumors and explosions and treasures and echoes and downright lies. People talk about Harlan Ellison, and they write about Harlan, and some of them would burn him at the stake if they could do it without getting into too much trouble and some of them would probably worship at his feet if it weren’t for the fact he’d say something that would make them feel very small and very stupid. People tell stories in Harlan’s wake, and some of them are true and some of them aren’t, and some of them are to his credit and some of them aren’t . . . 
That was true until he died. (Gutzon Borglum was the man who carved the faces into Mount Rushmore.)   I also wrote in the introduction about me and Harlan. This is part of what I wrote:

I’ve had a personal relationship with Harlan Ellison for much longer than I’ve known him. Which is the scariest thing about being a writer, because you make up stories and write stuff down and that’s what you do. But people read it and it affects them or it whiles away your train journey, whatever, and they wind up moved or changed or comforted by the author, whatever the strange process is, the one-way communication from the stuff they read. And it’s not why the stories were written. But it is true and it happens.  
I was eleven when my father gave me two of the Carr-Wollheim Best SF anthologies and I read “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” and discovered Harlan. Over the next few years I bought everything of his I could find. I still have most of those books. 
When I was twenty-one I had the worst day of my life. (Up to then, anyway. There have been two pretty bad days since. But this was worse than them.) And there was nothing in the airport to read but Shatterday, which I bought. I got onto the plane, and read it crossing the Atlantic. (How bad a day was it? It was so bad I was slightly disappointed when the plane touched down gently at Heathrow without bursting into flames. That’s how bad it was.) 
And on the plane I read Shatterday, which is a collection of mostly kick-ass stories—and introductions to stories—about the relationship between writers and stories. Harlan told me about wasting time (in “Count the Clock That Tells the Time”), and I thought, fuck it, I could be a writer. And he told me that anything more than twelve minutes of personal pain was self-indulgence, which did more to jerk me out of the state of complete numbness I was in than anything else could have done. And when I got home I took all the pain and the fear and the grief, and all the conviction that maybe I was a writer, damn it, and I began to write. And I haven’t stopped yet.  
Shatterday, more or less, made me what I am today. Your fault, Ellison.

And it's true too. The urging voice in the back of my head, when I was a young writer, the one that drove me forward, that voice was Harlan's from his introductions and essays: fierce, unapologetic, self-shaped and determined. I wasn't that person, but Harlan's voice lit a fuse that kept burning. And Harlan demystified writing. The way he described it, it was something you could do. It was within your reach. And you could get better.

He was his own worst enemy, and that's even more impressive when you stop to think that he is the only person I know to have actually had an official Enemy group (for a while they actually called themselves the Enemies of Ellison). He inspired great loyalties and great enmities, and thought it a huge character failing in me that I really liked most people (including several of the Enemies of Ellison) and that most people seemed to like me.

Harlan and I stayed real friends, through ups and through downs.  The most recent down was his stroke, three years ago. He went to bed and didn't get up again. He had been a fighter, but he stopped fighting. Was not always there: lost memories, was sometimes confused, was still Harlan.

I was very aware that each time I saw him could be the last. We were painfully honest with each other. You try not to leave things unsaid, when death's in the air.

The last time I saw him he was more himself than at any time in the last few years. But a milder version of himself. He wanted me to tell him the set-up to a joke I had told him 15 years ago that, he said, was the funniest joke he'd ever heard, but he had forgotten how to tell it, and I did, and he laughed again.  I told him about the Mermaid Parade, and Amanda and Ash. (I took Amanda to meet Harlan, when we first started dating, in the way you take someone to meet the family.) He said he had learned from Susan how to be at peace with things, and that she had learned, in the 32 years they had been together, how to be angry.

Yesterday, I left the Good Omens edit, and saw that I had missed several calls. I called Susan Ellison, and she told me the news, that Harlan had died in his sleep.

I am glad he went peacefully.

I loved him. He was family, and I will miss him very much.

He left behind a lot of stories. But it seems to me, from the number of people reaching out to me and explaining that he inspired them, that they became writers from reading him or from listening to him on the radio or from seeing him talk (sometimes it feels like 90% of the people who came to see Harlan and Peter David and me talk after 911 at MIT have gone on to become writers) and that his real legacy was of writers and storytellers and people who were changed by his stories.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Another talk with Laurie Anderson

One of the people I love talking to most in the world is Laurie Anderson.

Laurie Anderson is an experimental musician, avant-garde composer, storyteller, film director, writer and genius. I owned a copy of her album Big Science when I was a wee pup, and was very puzzled when I learned that that one of the most haunting and least commercial songs on there, “Oh Superman” had actually entered the charts. I played her music, but it never occurred to me to see her live.

Amanda finally took me to see Laurie perform in Boston when we first started dating, and I remember my utter delight in the way Laurie owned a stage, and the honesty of the art and music she made. Laurie and I met for the first time at New York's Rubin Museum and we talked about Ignorance, we talked again in 2015 on the stage at Bard College about childhood and technology and so many other things. Each conversation was magical and fascinating: we each learned things about the other, and the audience learned things about both of us, along with things about art and comics, music and film, digital and analog, emotions and truth. She's a polymath in the best sense. Now we are continuing the conversation, on stage at the 92nd St Y. I'm looking forward to it so much. 

It's tomorrow night, Tuesday the 17th. There are still tickets left.

I promise the conversation will be more than interesting.

Here's the link to buy tickets: https://www.92y.org/event/laurie-anderson




Photo by Michael Palma from the Rubin Museum talk. He has lots of other great photos at his website too.

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Wedding thoughts: All I know about love

My friends Sxip Shirey and Coco Karol were married yesterday.  I wrote and read something for them at the wedding party.


Afterwards a few people found me and asked me what I'd read and where they could find it, and I explained I had written it for Sxip and Coco that morning, and then they asked if they could read it again.

"I have a blog," I told them. "And it is dusty there and really, I should put it up. So look on my blog." (And now I'm blogging I realise I need to do blog about the TV series we are making of Good Omens.)

This is what I read.

...

This is everything I have to tell you about love: nothing.
This is everything I've learned about marriage: nothing.

Only that the world out there is complicated,
and there are beasts in the night, and delight and pain,
and the only thing that makes it okay, sometimes,
is to reach out a hand in the darkness and find another hand to squeeze,
and not to be alone.

It's not the kisses, or never just the kisses: it's what they mean.
Somebody's got your back.
Somebody knows your worst self and somehow doesn't want to rescue you
or send for the army to rescue them.

It's not two broken halves becoming one.
It's the light from a distant lighthouse bringing you both safely home
because home is wherever you are both together.

So this is everything I have to tell you about love and marriage: nothing,
like a book without pages or a forest without trees.

Because there are things you cannot know before you experience them.
Because no study can prepare you for the joys or the trials.
Because nobody else's love, nobody else's marriage, is like yours,
and it's a road you can only learn by walking it,
a dance you cannot be taught,
a song that did not exist before you began, together, to sing.

And because in the darkness you will reach out a hand,
not knowing for certain if someone else is even there.
And your hands will meet, 
and then neither of you will ever need to be alone again.


And that's all I know about love.

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