Friday, September 19, 2008

In which the author goes for a walk and then tries to answer some of the things in the mailbag

So I got home yesterday at sunrise. Slept all day. Was up all night but not good for much. (This is what sunrise looks like when you get close to my house.)

Today I slept until early afternoon. Then got up and walked the dog. I got very used to using the camera as a diary while I was in China (as a back up for a notebook, and sometimes a substitute), so took the camera along on the walk.

G. K Chesterton observed that one of the best things about being away is that you get to see what you come back to with different eyes.

Found myself amazed by the size of my house, for example. There are a lot of people in China, and they live, on the whole, in much smaller places than mine. (Actually, that's probably true of most of the world: it takes a certain idiocy to want to live in an Addams Family House in the first place). But having, over the last month, met a number of families in which several generations lived in one apartment, spread over -- or squeezed into -- a couple of rooms, it seems really strange to have so much space.

I saw many vegetables growing, pumpkins even, while I was in China, where I also learned that pumpkin vine tips make a great stir-fry-vegetable (if you peel off the fuzzy stuff first). And was happy to see that I had a few pumpkins in my garden. Not many, but enough.

Was pleased to observe, on my walk, that the falling-down barn has not yet fallen down.

Astonished and delighted to see blackberries. I planted the one blackberry bush about five years ago, and people would always decide it was a weed and mow it or cut it. Finally, earlier this year, we put big metal rods up to persuade people not to mow over it, and now I'm home and, gosh, blackberries. Not as nice as the ones in my grandma's back garden, when I was a boy, mind.

Also a grape-trellis covered with grapes. Really yummy ones.

Lorraine tells me that Cabal was depressed while I was away, and he went off his food and moped. He's been extremely happy since I've been back. I have not the heart to tell him I'm going off on tour soon. (Maddy knows, but she assures me that as manager of the volleyball team she will probably not have time to really miss me. She is probably just telling me this to make me feel better.) (I just read that to her and she says, "Say 'PS Maddy will totally miss me', so they don't get any wrong ideas.")

A tree in front of my writing gazebo has been cut down, I notice. It was a sapling when the gazebo was built, but had grown and was cutting off the light.

Brightly coloured fungus on the side of trees. Tomorrow, when I walk, I may look for giant puffballs in the woods, but without enthusiasm, as they are my least favourite of the edible mushrooms. (Which reminds me -- when I was in China I was fed something called both Bamboo Pith and Bamboo Fungus, also known, less appetisingly, as the Stinkhorn. I googled and wound up learning all about the unexpected but, for ladies at least, gratifying qualities of the fresh stinkhorn. Dried and reconstituted with bamboo shoots, it would not have the same effect.)

And also, while I was gone, the remarkable Hans put in an electric fence. There have been more and more sightings of bears in this region, and we've been assured that an electric fence will keep bears out of the beehives, as long as the bears don't get to them in the first place. (Which is to say, if you have a beehive and a bear gets into it and then you put up an electric fence, the bear will cheerfully go through the fence to get to the honey.)

And because, not unreasonably, the last time I posted dog photos, many people asked for pictures of cats, and because I don't think Coconut (who was, long ago, Maddy's kitten) has ever been photographed in this blog, here are Princess (sitting) and Coconut, in the front hall, where the dog is not allowed to go.

I went to the Humane Society today and picked up their list of Things They Need, and gave it to Lorraine. She went out and bought bleach and cat food and peanut butter and so on, then went up to the Humane Society to drop the stuff off.

She returned much later carrying a cardboard box containing a calico kitten with whom she had fallen in love, and was last seen taking the kitten home to introduce to her Bengals. This is Princess glaring at the calico kitten...

And this is Lorraine's new kitten, puffed up and halloweeny in order to persuade everyone that she is in fact a very big cat indeed.


There's an interview with me over at Goodreads --

and lots and lots of Coraline movie information out there, probably too much to link to without it being overwhelming, but is a terrific photo gallery at the LA Times, and there's a really good article about Laika studios and Henry and the Coraline team from the Oregonian at

Several people wrote to ask what I thought about Eoin Colfer writing a new Hitchhiker's book -- for example,
In regard to the above, did they ask you to do it, and would you have accepted if they had?

Nobody asked me to do it, but then, when Douglas asked me if I'd like to adapt Life, The Universe and Everything for radio I said no, and that was with Douglas alive and asking. (Dirk Maggs did it, and did an excellent job.) It seemed a thankless task.

I like Eoin very much, and wish him well with the book. He'll probably write a sixth Hitchhiker's book with more enthusiasm, and certainly faster, than Douglas would have done. But it won't be a Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's book.

For the record, if I don't get around to writing a sequel to something while I'm alive, I'd very much rather that nobody else does it once I'm dead. It should exist in your head or in Lucien's library, or in fanfic. But that's me, and not every author feels the same way.

Hello Neil,

This is almost a dangerous question to ask you, because it is about something John Byrne has said. But as a large proponent of libraries, I was curious as to your thoughts on something he recently stated regarding trade paperbacks in libraries:
"Ever since I started writing for a living, I have found myself viewing libraries somewhat differently than once I did. I think we are all in agreement that libraries are A Good Thing -- but are they A Good Thing right across the board? When we have niche products like comics, is it really a good idea for them to be available in libraries?"

I don't think it's a dangerous question, and it has a remarkably easy and straighforward answer, which is, Yes, it's a very good idea for them to be in libraries.

Hello Neil,

First off, I hope this email finds you well.

I've planned to attend the Library of Congress book festival and just wanted to know if there are any general rules of etiquette for your signings.

Is there a book limit for signing?

Can a say a few words about how much I enjoy your work in person? I promise it won't last longer than 15 nervous seconds.

Most importantly, how early should I arrive before the likely rush of other frothing fans?

These questions constantly roll in my mind. I'd hate to add extra weariness to a likely hot, humid, noisy,(yet still awesome) festival.

Thanks for coming to the southeast!


The book limit will depend on how many people there are, and how many people I can get through in the time I've got. It'll be announced at the signing, but it won't be more than three books, and it may well be only one.

And of course you can talk to me. Most people seem to use the signing line as an opportunity to say thank you, and most authors are pleased to hear that they've made a difference, or just to be thanked. We like it if you say hello, honest.

How early you should get there? I don't know. Each time I've signed at the LoC Book Festival it's been different. According to the website this time it's:

Teens & Children Pavilion

11:45-12:15 pm (This is a short reading from The Graveyard Book, and a Q&A).

Book Signing

1-3 pm (and it'll probably go longer if they don't need the space, but may be cut off if they don't have anywhere to move it to, or have something else planned for me at 3.00pm).

We may wind up with people who would like to be at the reading/Q&A who skip it in order to be early in the signing line. But that's if the book festival has actually told people where to line up for the signing, which they may or may not do.

Last time people were in the signing line before dawn. I don't think that would work this time, as I'm not doing a morning signing. So we'll see.

Hey Neil,
I would love to know what time the Columbia University reading is taking place on September 30th. I am very excited t go but don't know what time to arrive. Thanks.


The details are now up at -- according to which it starts at 7.00pm.

I see in "Where's Neil" that you'll be doing a signing in New York City and Philadelphia. With New Jersey right in between, why not a stop here?

Because the people who aren't on the East Coast, some of whom are travelling hundreds of miles to get to the readings, would rise up as one person in their anger at the unfairness of it all, and destroy New Jersey in their rage. Which would be sad, because there are lots of bits of New Jersey that are actually quite nice.

When Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, she (allegedly) attempted to get books she didn't approve of out of the public library. This is scary. Are free speech organizations like the CBLDF and the First Amendment Project going to take this issue on?

No. They are too busy fighting actual cases of censorship from all the way across the political spectrum, to bother with partisan silliness. (Here's the Snopes report on Palin's non-existent Bookbanning.)

What you fight is specifics: bad laws, bad arrests and the like. People trying to ban books and comics and people trying to stop other people selling or publishing or creating comics and books and suchlike.

You don't fight "alleged attempts to get books out of a public library" ten years ago. To "take this issue on" I suspect would consist, Father Ted-like, of people walking around Sarah Palin with placards saying "Down with This sort of Thing" and "Careful Now", which would probably not result in increased freedom of speech. Although it might be funny.

Hi Neil! This Andrew Drilon (I was the creator "Lines and Spaces", the Alex NiƱo tribute comic which won the Philippine Graphic/Fiction Award last year). I've been making lots of short comics since then, under the banner title Kare-Kare Komiks, and they've gotten nice comments from people like Emma Bull and Warren Ellis, so I thought you might be interested:

Anyway, I'll be posting "Lines and Spaces" there tomorrow, for those who are planning to enter the contest this year (the deadline's at the end of the month), and I'm hoping you can help spread the word.

Consider it posted.

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