Sunday, October 18, 2020

Two New Books and a tawny owl in a pear tree

 It's a beautiful day in mid-Autumn on Skye and I'm not sure where the year went. This house came with an enormous walled meadow, which my neighbours use to keep their sheep in, and an ancient orchard. About seven years ago the orchard was flooded, and we lost all the redcurrants and gooseberries and rhubarb and such, but most of the trees survived, and there are apples and plums and pears still growing on them.

I'm very aware that on Skye, beautiful weather can be replaced by weeks of rain and gale-force winds, so I went down to the orchard and clambered up a ladder, and picked all the pears I could reach, disturbing a tawny owl, who flapped off somewhere it wouldn't bothered by people randomly climbing its trees.

And now I'm sitting and writing this outside. It's too chilly really to write outside, but it's possible, and it won't be possible soon, and that means a lot.

There are two new books out -- one came out last week, one comes out this week.

PIRATE STEW was published first, illustrated by the genius Chris Riddell. Here's me reading the opening and talking about how the book came into existence...

It's only published in the UK and UK-related territories (like Australia and New Zealand) right now. (It comes out in the US in December. This is, oddly enough, because of Covid.)

This is Amanda with Pirate Ash (she read Pirate Stew to his school for today's Dress Like a Pirate Day). After many months of trying to be able to return, it's looking like I'm going to be able to get back to New Zealand to be with them. If it happens, it's still many weeks away. Fingers and everything crossed.

And the other book (to published on Tuesday) is:

And this

The UK edition is the blue one, the US is the grey one. Both are beautiful books, and otherwise the same.

The nights are getting longer, here on Skye, and the sun sets noticeably earlier, week to week. I've been here since April, and things are finally looking hopeful for getting back to my family (Amanda and Ash are still in New Zealand. I wasn't able to get back to them, as only New Zealanders are allowed in. That's loosening up, and the New Zealand Immigration authorities are starting to permit families to reunite.)

It was a friend's birthday the other day, and I asked what they wanted, and was told, a voice message about "Something that makes you feel better when you're down".

And after I sent it I thought, well, there are a lot of us who need cheering up right now, so, with their permission, I'm putting it up here too. 

This may work, although I'm still blogging with Blogger, which these days is a lot like blogging with a charred stick and a hank of bearskin, for all the functionality it gives one, so it may not.

(Lots of behind the scenes jiggery-pokery happens that only sort-of works. Eventually I give up and go over to Soundcloud files, and attempt to embed them.)

(These are audio files.  Play them both, one after the other, and perhaps they'll cheer you up too...)

   This was the first that I recorded...

And when I'd recorded that, I went outside and recorded this:

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Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Susan Ellison - RIP and love

I met Harlan Ellison the day before his wife, Susan, met him, in 1985, in Glasgow. I interviewed him.  I didn't get to meet Susan until 1989, when I went to see Harlan in LA. She and I became friends incredibly fast. She was the most direct person I knew. Our first actual conversation, while Harlan was answering a phone, began with her saying, "So. I know you're a writer. I don't know anything else about you. Gay or straight? Married or unmarried? Children or no children? Who are you?" and so I told her everything I could think of, and I kept answering her questions for the next 31 years.

We were the same age. We did the thing of being two English People In America together. She would Big Sister me whenever I would go over there, and was one of the few people I'd allow to boss me around for my own good, mostly because I had no other choice.

And now Susan's dead. 

I'm not processing that properly. I'm writing this blog to try and get my head around it, because I don't believe it. I just opened my email, and read her email from a week ago.  It's variations on a theme: how are you? How can I help? Anything you need, I will help.

In 2016 I went to see Harlan and Susan. He was at his lowest ebb after the stroke. I gave him a photo of my new son Ash, and he just stared at it for half an hour. Patton Oswalt came by to see how Harlan was doing. Harlan began an anecdote about the Marx Brothers but got confused and couldn't finish it.  I'd never seen him like that.

This is the photo of me and Susan taken immediately after that. She is indomitably holding it together, and I'm so sad.

We last spoke a month ago. She was worried about me, and I told her I would make it through it all just fine and promised her that when the world was less crazy, and travel was a thing again, I'd come to Sherman Oaks and we'd finally have the dinner we had promised each other that we would have ever since Harlan died, and we'd talk about Harlan and life and we'd set the world to rights.

I'm still in shock. 

This is the announcement from the Harlan Ellison Books website, with the story Harlan wrote for her. It's a beautiful story. Go and read it.

I didn't reply to her very last email, which wasn't the  "The message is ANYTHING YOU NEED I WILL HELP. " one.  I replied to that.  But her last email of all.

It said,
Fair sized earthquake (I thought) this morning.  4.2., but everyone breezed about it.  I'm in the middle of Coy Drive shouting ARMAGEDDON.  30 seconds later...perhaps not.  It was an 8 toy event.  This is how I measure, the relationship of the shaking to how many toys fall over.  Everyone else on the block slept through it.  

Yours in cowardly fear.--Susan  
Which made me smile when I got it, and makes me smile now, because Susan was braver than lions.  She made it through so much.


(Cat Mihos took the photo above, and also told me that Susan was gone. Cat runs my film and TV world, the Blank Corporation, but for the last four or five years she also had an extra job, which was to go and see Susan, and take her out for food if she'd go, because I wasn't there. It was an actual job only because it was something she would have done anyway, and that way I hoped they were letting me pay for the lunches. Thank you, Cat.)


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Sandman Audio Day

Today is the day that the first adaptation of Sandman is released. 

It's the first three graphic novels, PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES, THE DOLL'S HOUSE and DREAM COUNTRY, released, as  full-cast audio drama, on Audible. The adaptation was written and directed by audio genius Dirk Maggs, and only it's taken 28 years to happen -- since Dirk first pitched Sandman to BBC Radio 4 in 1992. (They said no.)

For years, blind and partially sighted people, or people who for whatever reason couldn't read comics but wanted to still get access to the stories, have asked me if there would ever be an audiobook of the Sandman books. It took a long time, but this is the closest we could come to giving the world the original graphic novels, bumps and all. You don't have the art, alas, but I hope that the performances and the music give you something that translates it to another place.

It should be out now on all the English-language versions of Audible. There should be versions in other languages coming relatively soon.

(It will be out in a few months on CD --  -- and I like that they begin their entry: This content is not for kids. It is for mature audiences only. Just like the original graphic novels, this audio adaptation contains explicit language and graphic violence, as well as strong sexual content and themes. Discretion is advised.

Sandman was always "For Mature Readers" and this is no different.

Here's an interview with me (and an extract from "The Sound of Her Wings") at the EW site:

So many talented actors and voices are involved. 

I'm the narrator -- often reading descriptions of places or characters I wrote in the original scripts long ago for artists to draw, which Dirk has cunningly snuck into the script.

There are hundreds of characters in these eleven hours, brought to you by 68 actors (well, 67 actors and me):

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Monday, July 06, 2020

Sandman Audio Adaptation

In 9 days, on the 15th of July, Audible will release the first of the SANDMAN audio adaptations. These are, well, full cast audiobooks of the first three SANDMAN graphic novels: Dirk Maggs gave me the role of the narrator, and I gave him the original scripts, so often what I'm saying as narrator is what I asked the artists to draw, over thirty years ago.

These are very straightforward adaptations. For the upcoming Netflix TV series, we're starting from now, and doing it as if it was being written, for the first time, in 2020. The audio adaptations are much closer to the original graphic novels, each episode being a comic in the original. Eleven hours of drama. The cast is amazing. The production and the music are glorious. I'm not sure about the narrator, but everything else is sparkling and exciting. I hope you all enjoy it...

For people who need it in a more tangible form, it will also be for sale as CDs.

Click on this, and you will hear James McAvoy as Morpheus...


Saturday, July 04, 2020

Remembering Earl Cameron (1917-2020)

I'm taking a Social Media Holiday right now. It seems to be helping. But I couldn't let this pass...

In 1996 we filmed the original Neverwhere television series (which I wrote for Lenny Henry's company Crucial Films who made it for the BBC). One of the most inspiring moments for me was when Earl Cameron came in and auditioned to play the Abbot of the Black Friars. He was a legend back then, 25 years ago. Watching him audition at an age when most people were already long into retirement was an honour and a treat. He got the part, not because he was a legend, not because he was an icon, but because he was so good, and his interpretation of the character became, for me, definitive. It was the one I put into the novel.

Earl had been a trailblazer as a performer on film and on television in the 1950s and 1960s. He had come to the UK from Bermuda during the Second World War, as a sailor, and had stayed, and become an actor. He was one of the first UK actors to "break the colour bar", one of the first black actors in Doctor Who, a mainstay of cinema and television, always acting with grace and moral authority. Now we were fortunate enough to have him and his compassion and his gentle humour, acting away in monkish robes in muddy cellars, chilly vaults, and deserted churches, all over London.

In 2017, BBC Radio 4 (in the shape of Dirk Maggs and Heather Larmour) did a glorious audio adaptation of Anansi Boys, and it did my heart so much good to see Earl Cameron over 20 years on, and to catch up and to reminisce about the Neverwhere cold and the mud. He played a dragon in Anansi Boys. He was 100 years old then. (That's us, in the studio hallway, in the photo above. It was taken by Dirk.)

He died, yesterday, aged 102, nearly 103. The world is a lesser place without him in it. 

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Sunday, May 31, 2020

An Acceptance, in rough times

Last night, starting at at 1:00 in the morning, my time, was the Nebula Awards ceremony, held by the SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The first award they gave out was the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and it meant the world that it went to episode 3 of Good Omens, "Hard Times".

Exactly one year ago, Good Omens was released to the world, on Amazon's Prime Video service. Thirty years ago this month, Good Omens was published as a novel. It seems amazing that it still has so much life, and still feels so relevant to people's own lives. Especially now.

Here's the complete list of all the nominees and of the awards given out at the Nebulas last night. Congratulations to everyone nominated!

The entire proceedings existed in virtual space, via the magic of Zoom and other technological things.
This is what it looked like on my screen, just before we went live...

Here is the speech I gave. I wore a hat, because, even though Terry Pratchett loved pointing out that he was a hat person and I wasn't, not really, I thought it would have amused him.

I didn't intend to write the television adaptation of Good Omens. I did it because as he knew his own immeasurable light was dimming, Terry Pratchett wrote to me, telling me I had to do it. That no-one else had the passion for the “old girl” that the two of us had. And I was the one of us who had to make it happen, so he could see it before the lights went out.

I'm used to dealing with the problems of fictional people.  Now I found myself dealing with much harder problems, of real people and immutable budgets.  But I was even more determined to make something Terry would have been proud of. And I was part of an amazing team – Douglas Mackinnon, our director, Rob Wilkins, Chris Sussman and Simon Winstone and the folk from BBC Studios, the Amazon Studios team, and above us all the cast and the crew, who united and went over and above what anyone asked of them to tell, together, a kind of love story about protecting the world, about an angel who isn't as angelic as he ought to be, and a demon who likes people. And for them, I want to thank Michael Sheen and David Tennant.

Terry and I had written a book about averting the end of the world, about the power of not going to war, about an armageddon that didn't have to happen.

When I was a boy, I was told that there was a curse, “May you live in interesting times”. And that made me sad, because I wanted to live in interesting times. I thought I did.

And now, we are all of us living in Interesting Times. The Horsepeople are riding out, as they have ridden so many times before, and the world still needs saving – from plague, from racism, from foolishness and selfishness and pain. It says in Good Omens that we have to save ourselves, because nobody else is going to sort it out for us. And we do. 

It feels almost indecent to be accepting an award while so many people are hurting, but thank you, from me and from Douglas, who took the words and made them so brilliantly come to life. This is for Terry Pratchett.

You can watch the whole ceremony at: 

or at this YouTube link:

(The Good Omens bit starts around 22:30)

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Monday, May 18, 2020

An extremely apologetic post

So. I did something stupid. I'm really sorry. 

The last blog I wrote, about how I had been here for almost three weeks, turned into news - and not in a good way. Man Flies 12000 Miles to Defy Lockdown sort of news. And I've managed to mess things up in Skye, which is the place I love most in the world.

So, to answer the questions I'm being asked most often right now:

What were you thinking? Why come back to the UK?

Because like so many other people, my homelife and work had been turned upside-down by the COVID-19 lockdowns. I was panicked, more than a little overwhelmed and stuck in New Zealand. I went to the UK government website (, trying to figure out what to do, and read:
I've been living in the UK since 2017, and all of my upcoming work is here - so 'you are strongly advised to return now' looked like the most important message. I waited until New Zealand was done with its strict lockdown, and took the first flight out. (And yes, the flights and airports were socially distanced, and, for the most part, deserted.)

Why go to Skye? Why not go somewhere else?

When I landed the whole of the UK was under lockdown rules.  I drove directly to my home in the UK, which is on Skye. I came straight here, and I've been in isolation here ever since.

What were you THINKING?

I wasn't, not clearly. I just wanted to go home.

Would you leave New Zealand again, knowing what you know now?

I got to chat to some local police officers yesterday, who said all things considered I should have stayed where I was safe in New Zealand, and I agreed that yes, all things considered, I should. Mostly they wanted to be sure I was all right, and had been isolating, and that I would keep isolating here until the lockdown ends, and to make sure I knew the rules. Like all the locals who have reached out to me, they've been astonishingly kind.

Since I got here Skye has had its own tragic COVID outbreak – ten deaths in a local care home. It's not set up to handle things like this, and all the local resources are needed to look after the local community. So, yes. I made a mistake. Don't do what I did. Don't come to the Highlands and Islands unless you have to.

I want to apologize to everyone on the island for creating such a fuss. I also want to thank and apologise to the local police, who had better things to do than check up on me. I'm sure I've done sillier things in my life, but this is the most foolish thing I've done in quite a while.


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Where I am, what I'm doing, how I'm doing and how I got here

Hullo from Scotland, where I am in rural lockdown on my own.  I'm half a world away from Amanda and Ash, and missing both of them a lot. We check in on screens and phones twice a day, when I get up and before I sleep (which is when they go to sleep and when they get up) but it's not the same.

I was in New Zealand with them until two weeks ago, when New Zealand went from the Level 4 lockdown it had been on for the previous 5 weeks down to Level 3. I flew, masked and gloved, from empty Auckland airport to LAX, an empty international terminal with only one check in counter open -- the one for the BA flight from LAX to London. Both flights were surreal, especially the flight to London. Empty airports, mostly empty planes. It reminded me of flying a week after 9/11: everything's changed.

I landed in London about ten in the morning, got a masked car service to a friend's house. He had a spare car (bought many years ago as a birthday present for his daughter, but she had never learned to drive), with some groceries for me in a box in the back, waiting in the drive, with the key in the lock. I drove north, on empty motorways and then on empty roads, and got in about midnight, and I've been here ever since.

The journey was, as I said,  surreal. It was also emotionally hard. Amanda and I had found ourselves in a rough place immediately before I left (my fault, I'm afraid, I'd hurt her feelings very badly, and... actually beyond that it's none of anyone else's business). We agreed that we needed to give each other some space, which had been in very short supply in lockdown in New Zealand. So it was a sad sort of flight, even without the world in lockdown, and a sad sort of drive.

(You can read all about how we got to New Zealand and why we were there at all at And, for the curious, the song that's currently stuck in my head is mostly Al Stewart's “Warren Gamaliel Harding”.) 

I needed to be somewhere I could talk to people in the UK while they and I were awake, not just before breakfast and after dinner. And I needed to be somewhere I could continue to isolate easily, which definitely isn't our house in Woodstock, currently at capacity with five families who have fled Manhattan and Brooklyn and Boston. 

Once the world opens up and travel gets easier Amanda and Ash and I are looking forward to being together again in Woodstock. (Yes, I've seen the newsfeed headlines saying I've moved to the UK, and even that we're divorcing. No, I haven't moved the UK, and yes, Amanda and I are still very much together, even with half a world between us.) 

Thank you to everyone who's been kind and nice and helpful, while Amanda and my problems got rather more public than either of us is comfortable with. We love each other, and we love Ash, and we will sort ourselves out, in private, which is much the best place for things like this.

It's rough for almost everyone right now – some people are crammed together and wish they weren't, some are alone and crave companionship, pretty much all of us are hurting in one way or another. So be kind. Be kind to each other, be kind to Amanda (who is getting a huge amount of undeserved internet flack for this, some of it really cruel),  and if you ever meet him (he will tell you very seriously everything he thinks about zombies, or his latest zombie-supplanting discovery, Richard Scarry's detectives), be kind to Ash.


PS: Amanda and I wrote a letter together, for the curious and for the bits of the world that is wondering what's going on, and whether they should worry about it. Feel free to send anyone who wants to know how we are and what's happening to read it.

Dear Everybody.

This has been a hard few weeks for us.  We are not getting divorced. It’s not that exciting.

We love each other very deeply. As sometimes happens during the course of a long marriage, we have hurt each other. We have lived our lives individually, and then as a couple, very publicly (and right now, too publicly).  

We have been trying to figure out how best to love each other for twelve years.  It is fair to say that this relationship has been the hardest, but also the most rewarding, collaboration of our lives. 

Living in lockdown is hard. Working on a marriage, as everyone married knows, is also hard. And we are very aware there are thousands, probably millions of people who have been dealing with their own versions of problems like ours over the last few months – and many face situations that are far worse.

We will sort out our marriage in private, which is where things like this are best sorted. We're working together to try and do this better. We care about  each other so much, and we have a small boy we love and delight in, and those are reasons enough to work together to fix things. 

So that's what's going on. It's not as much fun or as interesting as the newsfeed headlines made it seem.

For anyone who felt the urge to choose sides on this, trust us, there really aren't any sides to be  taken: we are on our side, and we're on Ash's side, and we hope you are too.

None of us know what the future is going to look and feel like, right now, and that's scary. We need to be able to have each other’s backs.  So please, if you can, have our backs, and we will do our best to have yours. 

And to the vast majority of people out there who have been kind and sane and supportive to both of us, and to each other,  thank you, we love you and appreciate it, and you, so very much.

Peace, and definitely love,

Neil and Amanda

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A Quick Useful Blog about the Sandman Audio Project

Today, the news releases went out and now the world knows that James McAvoy is starring as Morpheus in the adaptation of the first three volumes of Sandman, Preludes & Nocturnes, The Doll's House and Dream Country

And the rest of the cast is just as impressive. Look:

That's 68 remarkable actors, playing a lot more than 68 parts. And I'm narrating it...

It will be released on the 15th of July 2020.

The US preorder page (with a lot more information on it)  is at

The UK page is at

The Canadian page is at

I've listened to the final mixes of about ten out of the twenty parts so far, and they are glorious and magical things. Dirk Maggs and I first approached the BBC about doing an audio adaptation of Sandman in 1992. They said no. I'm so glad they did, because if they had said yes we wouldn't have this...

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

On the Beach

I have an odd habit of humming songs that, later, I realise, have something to do with the situation I'm in. I first noticed it when, as a teenage boy, I realised I was both lost on the Paris Metro, and singing the Beatles song "Help".

These days I keep noticing that I'm singing something that begins, "The man from the television walked onto the train, I wondered who he's going to stick it in this time..." and it only just occurred to me that it's an Elvis Costello song called "Waiting For the End of the World".


Life in Melbourne over the last couple months was pretty quiet, once the bush fires were done and the air became breathable. I was being a dad to a four year old (while his mother was on tour), and reading, and writing. I went to Perth and did a reading, I went to Adelaide and drank Penfolds Grange Hermitage 2008, saw my dog Lola and was given a Doctorate by the University of South Australia.

I was waiting for Amanda to return from New Zealand, when we would have a short end-of-Amanda's-14-month-long tour holiday and then go home to Woodstock. Amanda would rest after tour and I would ramp up and go back to work.

Then I got a phone call from Amanda, asking me to pack up the Melbourne house and fly out early the following morning, in order to get to Wellington before midnight the following night. If we got there after midnight, compulsory 14 day isolation would be needed.  We flew to New Zealand (Marissa our nanny flew home to Woodstock, but fortunately Xanthea, who had been assisting me and Amanda, volunteered to come out with us -- an enormous relief as I had, with Amanda's bags, too many bags  to get easily into and out of an airport with a small boy).

So we landed in Wellington.

Amanda did the final gig of her tour to an empty church, and I popped in and read The Masque of the Red Death from the pulpit and, later, Goodnight Moon. (The venue, St Peter's in Wellington, was really wonderful and the people were so kind and helpful.) (You can watch it all here.)

We drove to the house Amanda had rented (it was meant to be just her, and her old friend Kya and Kya's three daughters for a couple of days while Ash and I were in Melbourne. Now it was all of us for a week.) And then the request came in from the NZ government to self isolate if you'd flown in from abroad. So we've been isolating for the last five days. It's not hard: we are in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes we walk on the beach, keeping our distance from people if we see them.

In a couple of days Amanda and Ash and Xanthea and I move somewhere more houselike and continue to isolate, and Kya and her daughters go home and isolate there.

And I feel so lucky that I'm with my family and that the three of us (and Xanthea) are together.  I had thought if I stayed in Melbourne, Amanda would be able to come back after her tour, but that wouldn't have happened. Countries are locking down borders and planes are being cancelled. So coming to New Zealand with Ash was indeed the wisest thing I could have done.

I'm not sure how long we are going to be here in New Zealand. I know I'm doing a lot of conference calls, and having a lot of Zoom conversations. I'm watching some things get delayed, and many of the readings or talks I was meant to be doing in the next few months are getting cancelled or postponed.

I'm worried about my friends -- the ones who aren't writers are all in jobs where they need to interact with large groups of people, which means they are all out of work now, with jobs suspended or cancelled, with income that's gone away. Amanda and I are putting four or five families up in our place in Woodstock -- mostly refugees from New York, with some refugees from Boston. I hope they are all right.

I've said that anyone who wants can use my books right now -- read them online, or post them, or entertain children or loved ones with them. It seems like a sensible thing.

And I think I may actually get some writing done.

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