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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Princess, and some thoughts on writing

Princess, my old, old old cat, is coming to the end of her life. She's somewhere over 20, but we do not know how much over 20 she is, as she was living wild in the woods for at least a year before she decided to live in our house instead. Right now she's in the bathroom in the attic, beside the space heater, sleeping most of the time.

This is her on my lap last night. (From WhoSay.)



Because she is in the attic I went into the attic last night, and while I was there I looked in some tubs of papers. I found one marked Poems, and found myself flicking through sheafs of discolouring papers with poems or drawings or prose on them, including the first ever description of Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar by Neil Gaiman aged 17 (only I spelled it Kroop then), with a drawing of each of them.

And what amazed me was that there was almost nothing there that was written by me.  I'd sound like e.e.cummings one moment and an awkward mash-up of Moorcock and Zelazny the next. You can tell exactly when I've been reading the complete poems of Rudyard Kipling...  I could point to every poem, every unfinished fragment of prose in that folder, and tell you who I'd been reading, what I was thinking at the time. Everything read like a bad imitation of somebody else. There wasn't anything in there that indicated that I was going to be a writer, a real writer, with something to say, except for one thing, and it was this:

I was writing. There was lots of writing going on.

And that made up for so much. I never knew how to finish anything longer than a couple of pages, but I was writing.

When SHARED WORLDS asked me (and other writers) to write some writing advice on our hands (it's at http://www.wofford.edu/sharedworlds/handinhand.aspx - go and look), I wrote this:


You want to be a writer? 

Keep writing.

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

A big post with a ridiculous amount of cool or important stuff in it

I should have blogged this week. I kept meaning too. But it was always that or sleep, and sleep always won.

So there are lots of backed up things to tell you and show you. I will put them up here in the order that they are backed up....

...

The first thing is, John Hodgman's recording of the audiobook of Robert Sheckley's DIMENSION OF MIRACLES is coming out from Audible on the 26th. It was recorded a while ago, and it's been my favourite audiobook since I first heard it, 14 months ago, but it's been delayed because once Audible heard it they got all excited too, and have been waiting for the right time and the right way to release it in order to make a fuss about it.


It's been one of my favourite books for years, and I remember Douglas Adams telling me how shaken he was to read Dimension of Miracles and watch someone doing something a lot like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy a decade before he did. Hodgman's narration is very dry and very funny, and the content is brilliant.

The Audible.com reviews editor says,

With audiobook narration, there are certain voices that fit perfectly with a genre. John Hodgman may now be the go-to guy for the droll-everyman-navigating-his-way-through-the-universe story.... Hand-picked by Neil Gaiman (whose charming audio introduction perfectly sets the stage for what’s to come) Hodgman lends the right amount of nerd-cred to this adventure, which was originally published in 1968 and is a clear forerunner to Douglas Adams’ classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve had a chance to hear an advance excerpt of the audio, and I just have to know how Carmody, the unsuspecting winner of a Galactic Lottery, makes his way back to Earth in one piece.


To promote it, Audible are doing a sweepstake, to send someone and their person to the New York Comic Con: www.audible.com/ComicCon_NYCTrip is the link.  www.audible.com/ComicCon_NYCTrip_FAQ  is the link to the FAQs about the sweepstake.



Mostly they want to draw attention to the book, to what John Hodgman is doing and to get the world to listen. I am delighted. It's amazing.

Here's a link to a tumblr post I did where you can listen to a recording of me talking to John Hodgman about the book. (I do not know why you can't put up an audio recording directly on Blogger any more.)

...

NEXT: Please watch, and share, this very short video. It's the most beautiful of all the BlackBerry Keep Moving videos: it was filmed last week, in Cambridge and London. I look a lot like I'd flown from LA to the UK and had not got enough sleep at any point on my travels, but I also look like I am having an amazing time. And I was.




There will be more on the BlackBerry project later in this blog...

...

I flew in to South By SouthWest in Austin, Texas. I was in conversation with Chuck Lorre, and it was ridiculously fun. (Here's a write-up.) I liked him a lot: in an alternate world in which I'd decided to make American sitcoms instead of making everything-but-sitcoms, I suspect I would have wound up a lot like Chuck.

The royalties to his book go to help fund a free clinic in Venice, Ca. Here's an Amazon link. His observations, grumbles, screams and howls about LA, entertainment and television should be compulsory reading for people interested in how television is made. This is the book cover (the book is HUGE - an art object, the kind of coffee table book that just needs four legs):


The next day I went into the recording studio, Tequila Mockingbird, where recording engineer Shayna Brown and I huddled down in our little studio and I recorded THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE and then recorded SMOKE AND MIRRORS.

I had memories of the Sussex accent that I used to hear as a boy, especially from the old local farmers, and had written some of the characters in the book with that accent, and then had a panic attack before we started. Had I imagined the accent? And why are the Sussex R's in my memory so much like West Country R's? What if I started going West Country?

I appealed to Twitter, and people sent me links to http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/sounds/text-only/england/milland/, where I listened and  also learned that the R  in all these words would at one time have been a feature of speech across the UK and it remains very much a part of the English spoken in Scotland and Ireland. In present-day England, however, it is increasingly restricted to the West Country, the far South West and an area of Lancashire to the north of Manchester. 

Recording Ocean was hard and beautiful.  Recording Smoke and Mirrors was alternately a joy and a nightmare -- there were so many accents and voices of so many kinds, and I did them all as best I could and cursed the long-ago-me who had thought it was a good idea to have characters in my short stories who did not speak exactly like me.

Shayna was an absolute dream - just someone who makes it easy for you to do your best work - and I am so grateful to her and to Page, who made my life work.

...

At night I would go and have adventures with Amanda. The most fun we had was probably the People of Letters event, where we wrote letters to the thing we wished we had written, and we read the letters out. There were seven of us, and the letters were funny, sad, brilliant, strange, heartfelt, and always different. (Here's a review. And yes, Amanda killed it.)



At one point Amanda decided it would be fun to put on a Ninja event for Austin people who did not have South by Southwest badges. She went onto Twitter, and that evening she had a full theatre, four bands and a documentary crew: she performed for them, and interviewed the bands and documentarians. It was remarkable. I loved it.

Actually, it is quite possible that my favourite moment of SXSW was Amanda and Billy Bragg. That was glorious -- they performed the folk song The World Turned Upside Down together, and then Amanda did the best of all Ukulele Anthems.

...

Shayna and Page also had to cope with the arrival of Cat Mihos, who flew in from LA to work on the BlackBerry Keep Moving art with me. If you've been to the http://keepmoving.blackberry.com/desktop/en/us/ambassador/neil-gaiman.html site and looked at the art, you'll have seen, well, a lot of art. A lot of really good art. Over 5,200 pieces of really good art.

I had to pick a shortlist, from which we will pick 20 pieces for each month to go on the upcoming CALENDAR OF TALES website. And because of various website-building schedules, I had to do it NOW. Cat had thought to make my life easier by drawing up her long list, but I had to explain to her that I couldn't do it like that: I wanted to see all of them. Everything that had come in.

So in any downtime, Cat would produce her computer and I would look at images and drag any that I thought did something special or interesting or unique over to another folder. This was done instead of sleeping. This was done instead of eating....

And you know what?

I'd do it again. So many amazing images. So many people creating as a group. It made me so happy.

(This one is my very favourite one that didn't somehow get uploaded successfully, so I am determined to share it with the world. It's by Tim Baker, who has it up at http://timbakerfx.deviantart.com/art/Neil-Gaiman-Story-Illustration-358995452 and is for the July tale.)




...

The morning I left Austin, Neverwhere suddenly became a trending topic on Twitter. The first part of the BBC Radio 4/ Radio 4 Extra series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, James MaCavoy, Natalie Dormer and Bernard Cribbins and David Harewood and Anthony Stuart Head and lots of other people had been broadcast on Radio 4 in the UK.

The reviews are amazing.

And not just because Benedict Cumberbatch sings in it.

Episode 1 went out on BBC Radio 4, and was an hour long. Episodes 2-6

You can listen to Neverwhere from ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD using the BBC's iPlayer. (It's region-blocked for TV, not for radio.) 

You can't use iPlayer on mobile platforms, but you can use apps like TuneIn Radio to listen, replay or record it. 

From March 22nd, you'll be able to download the first part as the BBC Weekly Drama podcast.

The whole thing -- all 6 episodes -- will be available to be listened to until the 29th.

OR you can go here (and you should anyway) to the Neverwhere page, and listen to it there. And look at the amazing amount of stuff they've put up -- interviews, images, the works...
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01r522y

...

There's more. But it can wait until perhaps tomorrow....

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Friday, March 08, 2013

Lives on Planes, Dances on Tables

Someone on Twitter just asked if I live on planes, and right now it feels like it.

I slept in my own bed in Cambridge MA last night, but I leave in a couple of hours (if the roads are cleared of snow) for Austin TX, for the South by Southwest festival, where I will be In Conversation with Chuck Lorre about What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Bitter, and will be one of Marieke Hardy's People of Letters, and I will mostly spend long days recording the audiobook of THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE and the unrecorded stories of SMOKE AND MIRRORS.

Let's see: This is a beautiful thing. It's the third of the BlackBerry Keep Moving videos -- it begins with me reading the end of the February tale. It has a special guest star in artist Amadea Bailey (we were in her beautiful studio) and lots of beautiful shots of Santa Monica beach at sunset, and a recording session.



The film I'm excited about is the next one, filmed in London and Cambridge (the UK one) last week.   Well, earlier this week. Argh. They just sent it to me, and it's gorgeous.

Go and look at the amazing artwork that's coming in for the Calendar of Tales (and read/listen to them too) at http://blck.by/XXjEYE.

I was a guest at the Cambridge Watersprite International Student Film Festival last weekend -- here's a great write up of what it was like...



Other things I did in London included:

A press conference for Neverwhere. I slept through my alarm and had to race through Soho to get there not-too-late. The concerned lady at the bottom of the stairs who calmed me down and got me a much-needed cup of tea turned out to be the Controller of Radio Four. I met BERNARD CRIBBINS ( he plays Old Bailey).

Here is a photograph of Benedict Cumberbatch. He plays the angel Islington. Many of my friends strongly believe that photographs of Mr Cumberbatch and amusing photographs of kittens were what the internet was created for.


Here is a link to the absolutely wonderful BBC NEVERWHERE website.

I bumped into Stephen Fry in a Soho basement last week -- we were both there to see the Lady Rizo being amazing -- and when he found out I was doing stuff with BlackBerry & had a Z10 he sent me this essay from his blog.

I worked on a secret project with Nick Harkaway and Tom Abba.

I planned lots of things with Headline (for THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE) and with Bloomsbury (for FORTUNATELY, THE MILK). I signed some advanced reading copies of OCEAN for Headline...


I was interviewed about FORTUNATELY, THE MILK and the forthcoming UNNATURAL CREATURES anthology by Bloomsbury - a benefit book I edited, with the assistance of the remarkable Maria Dahvana Headley, for 826 DC.

Here is the AMERICAN cover of UNNATURAL CREATURES (the UK cover is not up yet):



I met several people who want me to Use whatever influence I have to Do Good, including the fabulous Other Neil and Josie Long from emerging benevolent entity Arts Emergency.

I met Alison, a representative of the UN High Commission on Refugees: the day I met her the millionth refugee  from Syria had crossed the border, fleeing the conflict. Alison told me what was happening, about the refugees, mostly mothers and children leaving their lives with only what they could carry, and what the UNHCR is doing; and I agreed, without hesitation, to come on board and help however I can. For now, that consists of telling people what's going on on the Syrian borders, and of pointing people at this website: http://goo.gl/KlLZW.

I saw Lenny Henry and Tanya (Hunter from the TV Neverwhere) Moodie starring in August Wilson's FENCES. It was huge and moving, and Lenny's performance is epic (better, in my opinion, than his award-winning Othello). I assume it's heading for London's West End, because it's the kind of thing that you know is going to wind up there. That level of quality and power. I got to hug Tanya for the first time since 1997.

I had a bunch of other meetings about things that are wonderful, or will be, and that I am not allowed to talk about yet. And then I flew home.

Somewhere in there I failed to get enough sleep.

I do not actually live on planes. I did not dance on any tables either.

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Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Art of Asking





In a day and a half over half a million people have watched this talk, at the TED website and on YouTube.

 I am so proud of her. Really: I've never been happier than when I watched her get a standing ovation, and watching this video go viral is an absolute joy.

It was hard, sometimes, over the last six weeks, while she worked on her speech. Genuinely rough, sometimes: it was like having a third person in the marriage. There was me, Amanda, and there was Amanda's TED speech, and she was spending a lot more time with her TED speech than she was with me.

Initially I was grumpy and jealous and I felt left out, and then, once I heard her give an early version of the speech, I got caught up in the fun of watching her craft it (and watching her figure out how to get it down to 12 minutes), and toward the end I was loving the process of watching her give her speech to college kids and to our friends and just to me and Anthony, and when I got a cold I even banished her from the house for a few days, because I didn't want her speech being derailed by sickness...

Then we went to TED, and it was all worth it. She went on between Sergei Brin and Larry Lessig and she gave her speech. The people who came up and congratulated her over the next few days were people you've heard of, the ones who make the world different.

And when someone came up to me that afternoon and said "You must be Mr Palmer", I said, Yes, I supposed I must be, and I beamed like a madman.

Watch the speech.

It's called The Art of Asking.

When she was working on it, I thought it was about her Kickstarter, and probably applicable to musicians,  but hearing people talk to her about it, and watching it go viral, I realised that it's about so much more than that.

...

(I'm in the UK right now for a couple of days. I've just been the Keynote Speaker at the Cambridge WATERSPRITE Student Film Festival.  Today I'm going to be in London with the BlackBerry film crew looking at paper stock and such things for the Calendar of Tales. Tomorrow morning is the NEVERWHERE Radio 4/Radio 4 Extra Press Conference and I get to meet BERNARD CRIBBINS. Proper Blog entry SOON.)

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