Journal

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Art and Climate

I really ought to blog about making Good Omens (we're in week 4 of shooting) and making Anansi Boys (starts shooting next week), and about the astonishing Ocean at the End of the Lane play at the Duke of York's Theatre in London (and now that I've said this, I know I will) but yesterday I spoke (via Zoom, because of Covid Protocols) at COP26, the Conference of the Parties on Climate Action, and I thought I ought to just put what I said up here. So it doesn't get lost.






Art is how we communicate. Art began when we left marks to say we were here. 

The oldest art we have is the 200,000 year old handprints of Neanderthal or Denisovan children, on the Tibetan Plateau, making marks with their hands because it was fun, because they could, and because it told the world they had been there.

The human family tree has been around for millions of years, Homo Sapiens for a much shorter time. We are not a successful branch of the tree, because, unless we use our mighty brains to think our way out of this one, we don't have a very long time left.

We need to use everything at our disposal to change the world, and show that we can compete with the ones who were here before us. And by compete I mean, not make the world uninhabitable by humans. The world will be fine, in the long run. There have been extinction events before us, and there will be extinction events after we’ve gone.

When I was young I wrote a short comics story about the use of the planet Earth as a decorative ornament. It was about our tendency to destroy ourselves. Back then, I worried about nuclear war: one huge event that would end everything. Now I'm worried that we are messing things up a little at a time, until everything tips.

We who explore futures need to build fictional futures that inspire and make us carry on. When I was a kid, it was going to the stars that was the dream. Now it has to be fixing the mess that we've left behind, and not just walking away, leaving the Earth a midden.

We need to change the world back again. And that will take science, but it will also take art. To convince to inspire and to build a future.

We need to reach people's hearts, not just their minds. Reach the part of their hearts that believes it's good to plant trees for our grandchildren to sit beneath. Reach hearts to make people want to change, and to react to people and organisations despoiling the planet and the climate in the same way you would react to someone trying to burn down your house, while you are living in it.

So that 200,000 years from now, children can leave handprints in clay, to show us that they were here, and because making handprints and footprints is fun.


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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Other Half of the Secret

I mentioned that making Good Omens two is half of what I've been working on, and will be working on for next eighteen months, and I said I'd tell you soon enough what the other secret project I've been working on is.


It's this.





And I cannot tell you how happy I am to be making it, and making it in the way that we're making it.


Anansi Boys started in about 1996. I was working on the original Neverwhere TV series for Lenny Henry's film company, Crucial Films.


I loved a lot of what we were doing in Neverwhere. 25 years ago, it felt like we were doing something ahead of its time. 




Lenny and I went for a walk. Lenny grumbled about horror films. “You'll never get people who look like me starring in horror films,” he said. “We're the hero's friend who dies third.”


And I thought and blinked. He was right. “I'll write you a horror movie you could star in,” I told him.


I plotted one. I tried writing the first half-dozen pages of the movie, but it didn't seem to be right as a movie. And I was beginning to suspect that the story I was imagining, about two brothers whose father had been a God, wasn't really horror, either.


I borrowed Mr Nancy from the story I had not yet told and I put him, or a version of him, into AMERICAN GODS. 


In 2002 I was having lunch with my editor, and I told her the story of Anansi Boys, and said it was probably a novella. She waved her fork at me. “That is a novel,” she said, very certain. I was impressed enough with her certainty that I wrote the novel.


The creation and publishing of the novel is documented here on this very blog. Here's a useful bit, explaining its relationship to American Gods, and also explaining what Anansi Boys is:


https://journal.neilgaiman.com/2005/05/anansi-boys-question-of-day.asp


(For those of you who don't want to click, I talked about describing it thus:


My new novel is a scary, funny sort of story, which isn't exactly a thriller, and isn't really horror, and doesn't quite qualify as a ghost story (although it has at least one ghost in it), or a romantic comedy (although there are several romances in there, and it's certainly a comedy, except for the scary bits). If you have to classify it, it's probably a magical-horror-thriller-ghost-romantic-comedy-family-epic, although that leaves out the detective bits and much of the food. 


Which, oddly enough, is still a pretty good description.)


The book came out and was my first New York Times Number One Bestseller. 

https://journal.neilgaiman.com/2005/09/theres-first-time-for-everything.html 


(This is the Ukranian cover.)








A top Hollywood director wanted to buy the rights to Anansi Boys, but when he told me that he planned to make all the characters white, I declined to sell it. It was going to be done properly or not at all.


And then, about ten years ago, two things happened at the same time. Hilary Bevan Jones, a producer who had made a short film I had directed (called Statuesque) mentioned she'd love to make Anansi Boys as a TV series, and a man named Richard Fee, who worked for a company called RED, spotted me eating noodles in a London noodle bar, waited outside so he didn't seem like a stalker, and told me how much he loved Anansi Boys and that he'd love to make it into television.


I loved the TV that RED had made, loved Hilary and her team at Endor, and, unable to decide between them, suggested that they might be willing to work together. They both thought this was a good idea. 


Work started. Somewhere around 2016 I agreed to work on it to help it get made, but we all knew that we would have to be patient as I was writing and making Good Omens. And when Good Omens was in post production we began to move forward.  Amazon had loved making Good Omens, and were blown away by the viewing figures and reaction to it, and wanted to make more things with me, so Endor and Red now had a place to make it for. We put together a fabulous team of writers -- Kara Smith and Racheal Ofori and Arvind Ethan David, not to mention Sir Lenny Henry, who came on board both as a writer and as an Executive Producer to make sure that the soul stayed in it. (I'm writing the first and the last episode). 


Douglas Mackinnon agreed to co-showrun it with me, because I knew I never wanted to be the sole showrunner of anything again and after the Good Omens experience I would trust Douglas with my life and (which actually may be more important) with my stories. We planned to shoot it all around the world...


Paul Frift had been the producer of Good Omens during the South African leg of the shoot, and was indomitable, so we were very happy when he agreed to come on board as our producer.


And then in 2020 Covid happened. The Prime Directive of making Big Budget International television suddenly became “Don't Travel and Especially Don't Travel All Around The World. We Mean It.”


Douglas came up with a Plan to bring Anansi Boys to the screen that was audacious, creative and brilliant. All we needed to make it work was the Biggest Studio in Europe and access to an awful lot of cutting edge technology. 


The biggest Studio in Europe happens to be in Leith, outside Edinburgh. 


Before Covid, the plan had been first to make Anansi Boys, then immediately to make Good Omens 2. (Good Omens 2 was going to be shot in Bathgate, outside Glasgow.) That was the plan we were working on through most of 2020. Then, in September 2020, Douglas and I got a call from Amazon. “We've got good news and complicated news for you,” they said. “The good news is we are greenlighting both Good Omens and Anansi Boys. The complicated news is... well, how do you feel about making them both at the same time?”


So...


Anansi Boys is coming.


Hang on. I want to do that again in a bigger font.


Anansi Boys is coming.


I'd loved the pilot episode of Star Trek Picard, and talked to Michael Chabon about the director, Hanelle M. Culpepper, and he gave her a rave recommendation as someone who could tell a story and stay in control of the technology. We reached out to her, sent her the scripts and the novel, and she loved the project. Hanelle is going to be our lead director, and will direct two episodes.


Hanelle, Sir Lenny Henry, Hilary Bevan Jones and Richard Fee are executive producers, as are Douglas and I.  Hanelle,  Jermain Julien and Azhur Saleem are our three directors.


We will start to announce the cast soon (it's thrilling).  (The crew are, to me, just as thrilling.)


(But I'll give you one clue: one of our cast members was on a public event with me at some point in the last five years. The first thing she said when we met backstage was that her favourite book was the audiobook of Anansi Boys, read by Lenny Henry. And when I told her that there was a part in the book I'd originally written with her in mind, she was overjoyed. So when it became a reality, she was the first person I asked, and the first to agree.)


(The Anansi Boys image above is by Michael Ralph, our amazing production designer.)










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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Really bloody excellent omens...

Many, many years ago (it was Hallowe'en 1989, for the curious, the year before Good Omens was published) Terry Pratchett and I were sharing a room at the World Fantasy Convention in Seattle, to keep the costs down, because we were both young authors, and taking ourselves to America and conventions were expensive. It was a wonderful convention. I remember a huge Seattle second-hand bookstore in which I found a dozen or so green-bound Storisende Edition James Branch Cabell books, each signed so neatly by the author that the bookshop people assured me that the signatures were printed, and really ten dollars a book was the correct price. 

I could afford books. Good Omens had just been sold to UK publishers and then to US publishers for more money than Terry or I had ever received for anything. (Terry had been incredibly worried about this, certain that receiving a healthy advance would mean the end of his career. When his career didn't end, Terry suggested to his agent that perhaps he ought to be getting that kind of advance for every book from now on, and his life changed, and he stopped having to share a hotel room to save money. But I digress.) Advance reading copies of Good Omens had not yet gone out, but a few editors had read it (ones who had bid for it but failed to buy it) and they all seemed very excited about it, and thrilled for us.


On the Saturday evening Terry left the bar quite early and headed off to bed. I stayed up talking to people and having a marvelous time, hung in there until the small hours of the morning when they closed the hotel bar and all the people went away, and then headed up to the hotel room room. 


I opened the door as quietly as I could and tiptoed in the dark across the room to where my bed was located.


I'd just reached the bed when, from the far side of the room, a voice said, “What time of the night do you call this then? Your mother and I have been worried sick about you.”


Terry was wide awake. Jet lag had taken its toll.


And I was wide awake too. So we lay in our respective beds and having nothing else to do, we plotted the sequel to Good Omens. It was a good one, too. We fully intended to write it, whenever we next had three or four months free. Only I went to live in America and Terry stayed in the UK, and after Good Omens was published Sandman became SANDMAN and Discworld became DISCWORLD and there wasn't ever a good time.


But we never forgot it.


It's been thirty-one years since Good Omens was published, which means it's thirty-two years since Terry Pratchett and I lay in our respective beds in a Seattle hotel room at a World Fantasy Convention, and plotted the sequel. (I got to use bits of the sequel in the TV series version of Good Omens -- that's where our angels came from.)


Terry and I, in Cardiff in 2010, on the night we decided that Good Omens should become a television series.


Terry was clear on what he wanted from Good Omens on the telly. He wanted the story told, and if that worked, he wanted the rest of the story told.


So in September 2017 I sat down in St James' Park, beside the director, Douglas Mackinnon, on a chair with my name on it, as Showrunner of Good Omens. The chair slowly and elegantly lowered itself to the ground underneath me and fell apart, and I thought, that's not really a good omen. Fortunately, under Douglas's leadership, that chair was the only thing that collapsed. 




The crumbled chair.



So, once Good Omens the TV series had been released by Amazon and the BBC, to global acclaim, many awards and joy,  Rob Wilkins (Terry's representative on Earth) and I had the conversation with the BBC and Amazon about doing some more. And they got very excited. We talked to Michael Sheen and David Tennant about doing some more. They also got very excited. We told them a little about the plot. They got even more excited.


Rob Wilkins and David Tennant on the second day of shooting.

Me and Michael and Ash aged nearly 2.
What it was mostly like shooting Good Omens: peering into screens while something happened round the corner.



I'd been a fan of John Finnemore's for years, and had had the joy of working with him on a radio show called With Great Pleasure, where I picked passages I loved, had amazing readers read them aloud and talked about them.


(Here's a clip from that show of me talking about working with Terry Pratchett, and reading a poem by Terry: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p06x3syv. Here's the whole show from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7OsS_JWbzQ with John Finnemore's bits too.)




L to R: With Great Pleasure. John Finnemore, me all beardy, Nina Sosanya (Sister Mary in Good Omens) Peter Capaldi (he played Islington in the original BBC series of Neverwhere).

I asked John if he'd be willing to work with me on writing the next round of Good Omens, and was overjoyed when he said yes. We have some surprise guest collaborators too. And Douglas Mackinnon is returning to oversee the whole thing with me.


So that's the plan. We've been keeping it secret for a long time (mostly because otherwise my mail and Twitter feeds would have turned into gushing torrents of What Can You Tell Us About It? long ago) but we are now at the point where sets are being built in Scotland (which is where we're shooting, and more about filming things in Scotland soon), and we can't really keep it secret any longer.


There are so many questions people have asked about what happened next (and also, what happened before) to our favourite Angel and Demon. Here are, perhaps, some of the answers you've been hoping for. 


As Good Omens continues, we will be back in Soho, and all through time and space, solving a mystery which starts with one of the angels wandering through a Soho street market with no memory of who they might be, on their way to Aziraphale's bookshop. 


(Although our story actually begins about five minutes before anyone had got around to saying “Let there be Light”.)






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Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Excellent Portents

 I'm still in New Zealand, and life is weird but good. 

Amanda and I are raising our small boy, and I love being swept along in his enthusiasms. Zombies was mostly replaced by Star Wars while I was away. Since I've been back, Star Wars has mostly been replaced by Tintin and Dinosaurs and Sea Monsters, and Tintin and Dinosaurs and Sea Monsters appear to be slowly transmuting into Greek Mythology and Asterix and Obelix. This morning he ate breakfast in character as Obelix, complaining about the lack of Roast Boar, and then lecturing me on all the Greek Heroes who battled monsters (his list consisted of Theseus, Perseus and Herakles. He got very excited when I told him about Odysseus.)


Hair prior to recent haircut. I look like a bush.

Hair after haircut. I look less like a bush. Ash and I are poring over The Seven Crystal Balls. Photo by Amanda


I've done one public event since I've been here -- the Auckland Writers Festival. Here's the video of the first event, in which Lucy Lawless interviewed me and Amanda.


I did another talk -- just me -- and a six hour long signing the following day. It was wonderful to meet the people, but I'm definitely out of practice at doing marathon signings. I kept thinking about the nine months I spent on Skye, during which time I probably interacted with a dozen people who were there, and that includes trips to the little shop in Uig and socially distanced walks with archaeologists on the hills. New Zealand has definitely done right by its people, and that just makes the losses around the world even harder.

Amanda's already vaccinated. I'm due to get vaccinated in a couple of weeks.

The Netflix Sandman is taking up a lot of my time right now.  (Today I received a first cut of episode 9, and a finished-except for music and VFX cut of episode 4 to watch.)

Here's the Sandman First Look Behind the Scenes release from Netflix. 



(I saw an earlier version of this in which I could be seen marvelling at a copy of The Sun newspaper with the headline TUG OF LOVE BABY EATEN BY COWS, because the determination of the team to make it Sandman is astonishing -- to the point where I sent an email to Allan Heinberg, showrunning, last week, while I was watching the Dailies, and I told him of an error I'd spotted. He pointed out right back that the error was in the panel in Sandman 10 they'd used as their reference. I told them not to fix it. That kind of fidelity can only be applauded.)




And in the meantime, all of the writing time, and a lot of the meeting time (because the people I am meeting are in countries on the other side of the world it's either early in my morning or very late at night), has been taken up by two other projects I haven't talked about yet, although they've been 90% of what I've been doing for the last 18 months. But let's leave them for the next blog entry. It'll give me an incentive to write one.



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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Reunited (and it feels so good)

 


It took a lot of work, but I'm happy to say that, after 9 months of missing each other, Ash and I are reunited. Lots of happy tears. I'm humbled and grateful to be here.  Photo by Amanda Palmer

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Thursday, December 31, 2020

A New Year's Thoughts, and the old ones gathered.

It's 2021 in some places already, creeping around the planet. Pretty soon it will have reached Hawaii, and it'll be 2021 everywhere, and 2020 will be done.

Well, that was a year. Kind of a year, anyway.

When my Cousin Helen and her two sisters reached a displaced persons camp at the end of WW2, having survived the Holocaust by luck and bravery and the skin of their teeth, they had no documents, and the people who gave them their papers suggested to them that they put down their ages as five years younger than they were, because the Nazis had stolen five years from them, and this was their only chance to take it back. They didn't count the war years as part of their life.

I could almost do that with 2020. Just not count it as one of the years of my life. But I'd hate to throw the magic out with the bathwater: there were good things, some of them amazing, in with the awful.

The hardest moments, in retrospect, were the deaths, of friends or of family, because they simply happened. I'd hear about them, by text or by phone, and then they'd be in the past. Funerals I would have flown a long way to be at didn't happen and nobody went anywhere: the goodbyes and the mutual support,  the hugs and the tears and the trading stories about the deceased, none of that occurred.

The hardest moments personally were walking further into the darkness than I'd ever walked before, and knowing that I was alone, and that I had no option but to get through it all, a day at a time, or an hour at a time, or a minute at a time.

The best moments were moments of friendship, most of them from very far away, and a slow appreciation of land and sky and space and time. In February 2020 I'd been regretting that I knew where I would be and what I would be doing every day for the next three years. Now I'd been forced to embrace chaos and unpredictability, while at the same time, learning to appreciate the slow day to day transition that happens when you stay in the same place as the seasons change. I was seeing a different sunset every night.  I hadn't managed to be in the same place, or even the same country, for nine months since... well, probably when I was writing American Gods in 2000. And now I was, most definitely, in one place.

I had conversations with people I treasure. Some of them were over Zoom and were recorded. Here are the two conversations that I felt I learned the most from, and I put them up here because they may also teach you something or give you comfort. The first is a conversation with Nuclear Physicist and author Carlo Rovelli, moderated by Erica Wagner, about art and science, literature and life and death:




The second was organised by the University of Kent. It's called Contemporary Portraiture and the Medieval Imagination: An Artist in Conversation with Her Sitters, and it's about art, I think, but it's a conversation between former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and artist Lorna May Wadsworth and me, moderated by Dr Emily Guerry, that goes to so many places. I think it's a conversation about portraits, but it feels like it addresses so much along the way.


Each of the conversations is about an hour long, and, as I say, I learned so much from both of them.

At the end of April, on Skye, I had ordered a telescope, and then discovered that "astronomical twilight" -- when it's dark enough to see stars -- wasn't due until the end of July. The sun didn't set until ten or ten thirty.  And even once the sun had set, it didn't get dark. It would be late August before I saw a sky filled with stars.

My daughter Maddy came to stay with me for November, and was amused by my reaction to the things that now fascinated me: stones, especially ones that people had moved hundred or thousands of years ago, skies and clouds, and, finally in the long, cold Skye Winter nights, I had the stars I had missed in the summer. There's no streetlights where I live, no lights for many miles. It can get as dark in the winter as it was light all night in the summer. But then you look up...





(All these photos were taken on a Pixel 5 phone in Astrophotography mode. It knew what it was doing.)


I wouldn't want to give back the stars, or the sunsets, or the stones, in order not to count 2020 as a real year. I wouldn't give back the deaths, either: each life was precious, and every friend or family member lost diminishes us all. But each of the deaths made me realise how much I cared for someone, how interconnected our lives are. Each of the deaths made me grieve, and I knew that I was joined in my grieving by so many other humans, people I knew and people I didn't, who had lost someone they cared about. 

I'd swap out the walk into the dark, but then, there's nobody in 2020 who hasn't been hurt by something in it. Our stories may be unique to us, but none of us is unique in our misery or our pain. 

If there was a lesson that I took from 2020, it's that this whole thing -- civilisation, people, the world -- is even more fragile than I had dreamed. And that each of us is going to get through it by being part of something bigger than we are. We're part of humanity. We've been around for a few million years -- our particular species has been here for at least two hundred thousand years. We're really smart, and capable of getting ourselves out of trouble. And we're really thoughtless and able to get ourselves into trouble that we may not be able to get ourselves out of. We can tease out patterns from huge complicated pictures, and we can imagine patterns where there is only randomness and accident.

And here, let's gather together all the New Year's Messages I've ever written on this site:

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.

...


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.

Last year, sick and alone on a New Year's Eve in Melbourne, I wrote:

I hope in the year to come you won't burn. And I hope you won't freeze. I hope you and your family will be safe, and walk freely in the world and that the place you live, if you have one, will  be there when you get back. I hope that, for all of us, in the year ahead, kindness will prevail and that gentleness and humanity and forgiveness will be there for us if and when we need them.

And may your New Year be happy, and may you be happy in it.

I hope you make something in the year to come you've always dreamed of making, and didn't know if you could or not. But I bet you can. And I'm sure you will.

...


For this year... I hope we all get to walk freely in the world once more. To see our loved ones, and hold them once again.

I hope the year ahead is kind to us, and that we will be kind to each other, even if the year isn't. 

Small acts of generosity, of speech, of reaching out, can mean more to those receiving them than the people doing them can ever know. Do what you can. Receive the kindnesses of others with grace.

Hold on. Hang on, by the skin of your teeth if you have to. Make art -- or whatever you make -- if you can make it. But if all you can manage is to get out of bed in the morning, then do that and be proud of what you've managed, not frustrated by what you haven't.

Remember, you aren't alone, no matter how much it feels like it some times.

And never forget that, sometimes, it's only when it gets really dark that we can see the stars.

  



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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:




This. 
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.)

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