Friday, July 31, 2009

friday night and all's quiet

Let's see:

It's a bit quiet. Maddy and Holly and their mum are in the UK for a few weeks, Amanda's in Boston preparing to head off to Russia, and I'm home quite alone if you don't count a large white dog, working very late into the night trying to finish things for people before I go to Worldcon.

I just went to Amazon to buy a DVD of Coraline (studios are, alas, notoriously stingy with things like that -- I've got one and that seems to be all that's coming) and noticed that there's a wonderful Henry Selick article up on their blog -- forthright and funny. It's at

It's filled with genuine insider stuff, including this, which made me smile:
I’ve always thought of Neil Gaiman as the cat in Coraline. He’s very wise, dryly humorous, and superior in a cat-like way. He has a great voice and I considered early on having him voice the cat. In re-setting the story in the U.S., I felt I needed more ethnic range in the characters leading me to the marvelous Keith David. Sorry, Neil.
(I did the cat on the audio book. It was enough.)

I wanted to start keeping bees, but my dad, whose yard I would have to use, says that keeping bees is too stinky. My grandfather says they don't smell at all (his father kept bees). As a person currently keeping bees, can you tell me if they/their hives smell bad?

Healthy hives smell like honey, mostly, when they're opened: a thick, deep, sweet smell. (They don't smell like anything when they aren't opened.)

The only occasion you're going to get a bad-smelling hive is if it's diseased or dead; and the same is true of people.

Had a quick look at the belljar-of-honey photo's as well. Looks like it needs an airvent hole on the top....

Didn't spot it in your photo, nor read about the signing hand being full of glass-splinters.


I don't think it does. The bees climb and fly in from the open bell-bottom (there's a hole in the wood beneath them), and leave the same way.

Neil, I think the foundations strips in the BELL JAR were glued in PERPENDICULAR to the jar in the original photos you shared. Glue the edge of each foundation piece onto the inside of the jar.

This may make no difference at all (IANABK), but just an observation of a difference between your jar and the one that inspired you.


Yup. I know. We'll see what they do. My assumption is that the little bits of foundation are there to give them some wax and a starting point and the idea, and, seeing it's wild comb, they will do what they want anyway, like bees mostly do, but really, it was for ease of gluing. But if I get back from Worldcon in Montreal and nothing's happened, I'll do it the other way. Photos will be posted, whatever happens.

Also, to put the bell-jar back into the dark and to stop it getting blown away or stolen by passing wood-trolls, I put a broodbox around it (the one in the photo here).

Hello Mr. Gaiman, you posted about the "pre-paid Neverwhere from the now-as-far-as-I-can-gather extremely defunct Hill House" and stated "You should have received an email from Harpers letting you know this edition was on the way". I pre-paid for it and I have not received an e-mail from Harpers. I'm sure others have not been e-mailed as well. Can you post something about how we can contact them about it. I did not know about this until you posted about it and I and others I'm sure don't want to miss this. Thank you so much for getting this book to happen and please continue to help all of us finally get it. Thanks again.

There may well be people who didn't get the email (I know some of Hill House's email addresses were long out of date). If you prepaid for a limited Neverwhere (and some of you may have done so as far back as November 2003) and you want to make sure that you're on the list, write to Jennifer is my editor at William Morrow, and the person organising this: be nice to her, she's a hardworking, fulltime editor who has taken this on as an extra task, helping to discharge Hill House's karmic debt, and if she doesn't get back to you immediately, she will soon.

Glad to hear that people who payed for the Hill House Neverwhere will be getting a book after all. I am writing to inquire if anything was being done for booksellers that had taken orders for the Hill House subscription. My understanding is that they'd pre-payed HH just as individuals had, but the one I'd ordered mine from ( hadn't heard anything about the Harper Collins edition. I've already been given a refund for my copy, but I feel really sorry for the store which is just out the money. Thanks for all you do.

If they prepaid for the book, they should get in touch with Jennifer, whether they are stores or individuals. She'll let them know what's happening (I assume they'll simply get their books, just as individual customers would have done).


A few small ones: I'm still not sure how to get the balance of personal to not-personal right in this blog, at present. For the curious, the lovely Ms Palmer talks about our relationship over in The Skinny.

The Batman story I did, collected as WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER was reviewed in the New York Times today, along with books by Darwyn Cooke and David Mazzuchelli. And that I can blithely type that shows how astonishingly far comics have come in the last twenty years.

I had a long conversation with Christina Amoroso at Entertainment Weekly last month about Vampires in popular culture, from Varney the Vampire until now: she's managed somehow to make it a 400 word interview over at

(And note that I'm not saying there's anything bad about vampires, quite the opposite. Just that in a world in which a dozen people immediately write to me on Twitter to point out that I've got it wrong, as they are all writing Vampire stories, in which Vampires are now everywhere, is a world in which High Vampire Season is coming to an end). You shouldn't be glutted with vampires: they should be a spice, not a food group.

And finally, it looks like the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab limited edition Sunbird scent and booklet went live, and has not quite sold out yet, so I shall link to it here. It smells like deserts and woodsmoke and spices and resins, warm where Snow Glass Apples was cold. Like all the BPAL scents of my stuff, it is a benefit for the CBLDF.

Edit to add: I just noticed, there's a couple of "imp" assortments at the CBLDF site, that even BPAL doesn't sell, for those who want to try out the scents. An American Gods/Anansi Boys set, and a Graveyard Book assortment.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

BELLJAR Postscript

The Birdchick had looked at the photos of the belljar I'd linked to in the last post more closely than I had, and she asked whether I should have put some kind of foundation in, to get the bees started. On Twitter Teresa Neves pointed me to where we learn explicitly that, yes, strips of foundation were used.

So I cut some foundation into strips. (It looks like this.)

And I glued strips of foundation onto the inside of the bell jar.

Then I took it back down to the hive and put it back.

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Who Bells The Bees? With photos...

The day just got away from me, and I decided that I needed to do something to get back on top of it. So I got a bell-jar....

And put on my beekeeping veil...

And I put the bell-jar on top of a hive.

The bees do not seem to mind.

And the red hive looks a bit like a 1960s TV robot from a distance.

I do not know if this will happen here. But I love the idea of finding out...

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Doing a gloomy bear and other noises

The best bit of today was reading ODD AND THE FROST GIANTS aloud for the audio book. (It's short enough that I could do it in an afternoon, and it will be about 90 minutes long when it's released). I discovered that the first chapter is a bugger to read aloud -- no dialogue and great big run-on-sentences that were a delight to write for me the author and a serious pain in the buttocks to read aloud for me the reader; and I discovered that I love doing my gloomy bear voice (which is pretty much the voice I read Eeyore in, when I read the Pooh books aloud over the years), and the fox-telling-a-story-in-which-he-does-other-characters, and the Frost Giant himself, who is never quite as posh as he thinks he is.

And then I had dinner with Maddy and Holly and their mum, and I waved them goodbye. They're off to the UK now for a few weeks, and I'll see them next when I go over for the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

I noticed today the first solicitation for the upcoming Harper Collins signed, limited edition of Neverwhere. (It was here.) If you pre-paid Neverwhere from the now-as-far-as-I-can-gather extremely defunct Hill House, then you will get one of these. (You should have received an email from Harpers letting you know this edition was on the way.) It should be amazingly beautiful, is the first time that Harpers have done something like this, and will be, like the audio book, the "author's preferred text" and thus several thousand words longer than the current US edition. It also has a bunch of odd, previously stuff in the back -- my original outline for the BBC series and such.

Mr. Gaiman, first of all I love your work. Second, I was wondering if you knew about the North American Discworld Convention being held on Sept. 4-7 in Tempe, Arizona with guest of honor Terry Pratchett, and if so might you be able to attend?

It's been a while since I posted anything about No, I can't go -- I'll be in the UK, recovering from the Edinburgh LIterary Festival and preparing for a short silent movie I'll be shooting. But I wish everyone there well, and hope you don't make Terry sign too many things.

Hi Neil!

Not a question, just a fun fact. Did you know Coraline the movie is being released in Tasmania four days before it's being released anywhere else in Australia? This isn't a complaint. I just thought it was funny because, you know, it's Tasmania :)

Thanks for all your amazing work. The Graveyard Book is one of my top ten favourite books of all time.


I think Tasmania is one of the coolest and most delightful places in the world. Most of my non-Tasmanian Australian friends will confess to regarding Tasmania much as the Canadians seem to regard Newfoundland, or the Americans regard er, most of the rest of the world, as being hopelessly provincial and impossible to get to.

I am delighted that they are getting Coraline four days before the rest of Australia, and hope that this might start a flood of cinematic tourism from the rest of Australia for those four days.

Regarding Marvel's recent announcement concerning the acquisition of the rights to Marvelman -- Will you be involved in any way with the future publications and/or marketing? If so, would you and Marvel possibly consider continuing to use the name Miracleman rather than reverting to Marvelman? My personal experience with the character began in the mid-80's with the Eclipse run by Alan Moore and then you; and, regardless of the actual reasons those stories used the Miracleman name, I have always felt "Miracleman" was -- for lack of better explanation -- a classier, more appropriate, more adult designation than "Marvelman". Thanks for taking the time for this.

We'll see. And no, I think it's Marvelman, which is what it was until 1984ish when Marvel complained.

Right now I'm not entirely sure what's going to happen, and Mark Buckingham and I haven't signed anything, but I'm really hopeful that Marvel will bring Alan Moore's stories back into print, and the work I did with Mark Buckingham (Miracleman 25 was finished, ready for printing, 16 years ago. It's still in Mark Buckingham's possession, although some of the lettering balloons have gone a bit yellow.) I'm not entirely sure what Marvel's plans are for the character at this point -- obviously I'd like to finish the story I started.

Hey Neil,

You mentioned owing something of the story for "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" to Kurt Busiek, and previously you'd talked about cooking up a big crazy Batman story with Busiek during a long car trip. Leaping to the conclusion that WHTTCC is the road trip story, any chance you could share with us something of the shape of that early version of the tale, and how it was similar to/different from the published piece?

The central conceit in the Alfred story in the first part of WHTTCC was something that Kurt and I spun and grew thirteen years ago, almost to the day, during a drive from San Diego to Thousand Oaks to go and be there as Winter McCloud was born (we didn't know that was what we were going to Thousand Oaks for. I thought I was just going to be taking Scott and a very-pregnant Ivy out to dinner, and it wasn't until the point of the dinner where she grabbed my arm and had me start timing contractions that the evening got unusual).

I realize that perhaps more experienced fans probably line up for days just to meet you, but as a student trying to pay her way through school with a full time office job I don't think I can afford to act like a "fan". So for your upcoming appearance at Anticipation '09 in Montreal, do you have any advice as to how early I should show up to meet you? I know you don't come to Montreal often and it would mean the world to meet you.

So far, I'm glad to say, while people have on occasion turned up fairly early in the morning, I don't know of anyone who has lined up for days to meet me. Which is probably a good thing because I would simply feel guilty about it.

There are lots of events with me in at Worldcon, and a few signings. I don't know whether the signings are going to be lottery apportioned or first in line. I'll ask.

I rather hope that meeting me will be as easy as simply saying hello when you bump into me, but I might be being optimistic. We'll see. (And for those people who've written in to ask if Amanda will be there, no, I'm afraid she'll be in Russia that week doing gigs with the inimitable Jason Webley.)

(Which reminds me -- my books are being reissued in Russia any moment now with really beautiful new covers. I'll try and get some pictures of them up here soon.)


And finally, this NPR piece on beekeeping has a video they filmed out at our hives a couple of weeks ago. I was still in Chicago for ALA, so I wasn't there, but Sharon the Birdchick and Fabulous Lorraine had a great time.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Green and Pleasant World

A couple of years ago I wrote a short story for the BBC Radio 4 William Blake 250th anniversary celebrations. The idea was to write a story inspired by a poem or line of Blake's. I took the poem Jerusalem (you can read it here).

It was read, well, by Alexander Morton, and broadcast in November 2007. I remember not liking it when I heard it, feeling mostly disappointed with how far it was from the thing in my head, uncomforable with the tiny edits needed to make it fit perfectly into its time slot. They've just repeated it, and yesterday I listened to it curiously, and, no longer quite remembering the thing in my head I had hoped it would turn into, enjoyed it much more than I had expected to.

You can hear it until Sunday on


Last year Holly and some of her friends had a pudding fight.

This year, with Maddy and her friends joining in, they had a battle that was about 20% UK jelly and 80% American Jell-O (the UK stuff won easily on taste tests, by the way). Next year she's talking about a proper custard-pie battle.

I love my daughters.

(More photos up at

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Worldcon schedule

I was just sent this, my schedule for WorldCon ( I repost it here as a public service, or something.

Anticipation Schedule for Neil Gaiman

Thursday, August 6

2:00 PM – 3:00 PM P-511BE

Question Time with Neil Gaiman

You are invited to submit questions beforehand to the box held at the Kaffeeklatsch sign up table.

5:00 PM – 6:30 PM P-511D

The Life and Work of John M Ford

John M Ford, who died in 2006, is acknowledged as one of the semi-secret masters of the field, an incredibly versatile novelist, story writer and poet whose work has influenced Neil Gaiman among others. Here, some of those who knew him and his work gather to celebrate his achievements.

Neil Gaiman, David Hartwell, Jo Walton, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Patrick Nielsen Hayden

8:00 PM – 9:00 PM P-517ABC

Opening Ceremonies

Welcome to Anticipation; brief introduction to the convention and presentation of the guests.

Friday, August 7

12:30 PM – 2:00 PM P-511BE

The New Media

How has turn of the millennium technology affected the arts? Books, Music, Film,

Comics and the Web – are they all in the process of merging into one mixed media?

What media will the artist of the future work in?

Melissa Auf der Maur, Tobias Buckell, Cory Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, Ellen Kushner

4:00 PM – 5:30 PM

Neil Gaiman Signing

7:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Neil will appear at the Angry Robot imprint launch party at the Delta Hotel to speak briefly sometime between 7 and 8 pm

9:00 PM – 11:30 PM P-517ABC

Coraline (screening)

Introduced by Neil Gaiman.

Saturday, August 8

2:00 PM – 3:00 PM P-511BE

Reading: Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman reads from his recent work.

4:00 PM – 5:00 PM P-510B - Kids Programming

How About Crazy Hair

We’ll listen to Neil Gaiman’s poem Crazy Hair, then illustrate, glue, collage, paint, and otherwise decorate a (very large) head of hair.

Neil Gaiman, Ana Oancea, Leigh Adams, Sabrina Vocaturo

5:00 PM – 7:30 PM P-511BE

Neil Gaiman: Finding Fandom

Anticipation’s Guest of Honour is a fan, like you? Bien sur! Born and raised in England: what happened next? In this interview Neil will describe how he found fandom and what, after his remarkable success as a writer, keeps him a fan.

Neil Gaiman, Tom Galloway

9:00 PM – 10:00 PM P-511BE

Gaiman reads Doctorow

Neil Gaiman reads a Cory Doctorow short story as part of a forthcoming Doctorow audio collection. There will also be a Q&A for both Gaiman and Doctorow.

Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow

Sunday, August 9

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM P-511BE

Neil Gaiman and Gary K. Wolfe, In Conversation

Gary K. Wolfe talks to Neil Gaiman about his life, his writing, and his involvement in comics and movies.

2:00 PM – 3:00 PM P-511BE

Private Passions: The Many Interests of Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman talks about the many things that interest him.

Neil Gaiman, Cheryl Morgan

8:00 PM – 10:00 PM P-517ABC

Hugo Awards Ceremony

Monday, August 10

11:00 AM – 12 PM P-521C

Kaffeeklatsch – Neil Gaiman

Check at the Kaffeeklatsch sign up table for details.

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM

Neil Gaiman Signing

Note: the following Kids Programming items that appear in the online Convention Guide ( are incorrectly listed and have been canceled (the draft sent to print does not include final necessary schedule changes).

Thursday 10 pm D-2806 Soda Klatch: Neil Gaiman

Sunday 4 pm P-510C Neil Gaiman – Kids Q&A.

Also of interest: Photographer Kyle Cassidy will be presenting Saturday at 7 pm in P-524C:

Behind the Scenes of the Killing of Amanda Palmer

Kyle Cassidy

“An informal romp through behind-the-scenes images from Kyle’s collaboration with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer for their new book “Who Killed Amanda Palmer” which includes photos of nearly all of Neil’s pets and at least one shot of Amanda in her knickers.”

Kyle will also be set up near the main escalators coming onto the 5th floor of the Palais from 10 am -2 pm on Saturday photographing science fiction fans for a gallery show. So stop by and tell Kyle about your buttons or what fantasy and SF means to you.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Eleven Days or Thereabouts

Dear Diary

right. When last heard of I was putting on fancy clothes to go to the Newbery Caldecott Wilder Awards Dinner, and receive the Newbery Medal.

I wrote the speech back in April, and recorded it then, so that it could be given out to people at ALA as a CD and printed in The Hornbook. Then I didn't look at it again, figuring that way it would be new and interesting to me when I got to it at ALA.

This did nothing to decrease my nervousness; neither did wearing a suit.

Beth Krommes gave her acceptance speech for the Caldecott Medal for her book The House in the Night, written by Susan Marie Swanson. I gave my speech and somehow wasn't nervous any more when I gave it. Then Ashley Bryan was given the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and had a thousand librarians singing and reciting poetry together. It was pretty wonderful.

Here's a Scripps report on the evening, my editor Elise Howard writing about the experience of getting The Graveyard Book a chapter at a time over three years; and at there is a multi-part interview with Nick Glass, who was on the Newbery Medal Committee.

So I won the Newbery Medal (or did I? At James Kennedy tells a very different story.)

The following morning was a signing that went on for a very long time. As I walked away from it I got two phone calls: the first to tell me that a dear friend, Diana Wynne Jones would be going in for an operation. I called Diana, and I'm not sure whether we reassured each other (although the operation was a success, and by the time you read this she should be back at home). As I put down the phone on her the phone rang again, and I learned that my old friend Charles Brown of LOCUS Magazine had died, peacefully, asleep on the plane on his way back from Readercon, one of his favourite SF conventions.

Charles was irreverent, astonishingly well-read, opinionated, funny, and he knew where pretty much all the bodies were buried in the world of science fiction and fantasy, or fancied he did. I enjoyed his company from the first time I met him, in the UK, in around 1987, enjoyed and was frustrated in equal measure by his interviewing technique from about 1989 on (he would ask opinionated questions and make statements and really have a terrific conversation with you - then, when he wrote up the interview he would leave himself and everything he had said out, as if it was a long monologue). (Here's an extract from one of those with me in 2005.)

He had been expecting to die for a long time - his health was not great - and had put various mechanisms in place to make sure that Locus Magazine continued after his death. Having been dragooned into being part of one of these mechanisms, I wound up seeing Charles every few years at meetings which existed, as far as I could tell, solely so that he could see a bunch of his friends once a year and point out to them, with a delighted chortle, that he was not dead yet and had no need of their help: have a bagel.

(I suspect, by the way, that the Locus Special Offer for readers of this blog still applies, seeing the webpage is still up.)

This is his placeholder Obituary in Locus.

The last time I saw him we had brunch in the Hotel Claremont in Berkeley. He told me delighted stories about the 1968 Worldcon there, of the intersection at that con of the SF old guard and the (then) young hippies, told scandalous stories and named names. I have forgotten all the stories and all the names, except for the information that convention attendees used the laundry chutes as a quick way to get downstairs, which was the least scandalous thing I learned.

Then I did a CBLDF panel, during which I took pleasure in pointing out that the same Nick Bertozzi comic, The Salon that had almost got Gordon Lee imprisoned in Rome, Georgia, last year, was in this year's Lynda Barry edited Best American Comics 2008.

Home from Chicago. Signed hundreds of book jackets with Miss Amanda Palmer for her Who Killed Amanda Palmer book. Then, in company with Miss Maddy and Maddy's friend Claire, we set out on a mad adventure (which we are still on).

In San Francisco we stayed at the Hotel Union Square, which was amazingly convenient and nice. Visited Google, got to be backstage at the Fire Festival, dined with Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman and their marvellous family (I suspect Michael and Ayelet of having acquired their children from some amazing Madeleine L'Engle-like Wrinkle in Time kit)(also they have a drumkit for their kids in the lounge), saw Wicked because the girls wanted to se it, and they loved it utterly (my mini-review? love Gregory Maguire's book, liked the book of the show, was sort of unmoved by the songs which seemed no better than they had to be), lunched with Daniel Handler and Lisa Brown, and generally tried to be on holiday, except for Sunday Morning.

Sunday Morning I did a reading and a signing for Brian Hibbs (and a hundred people) at Comix Experience. It celebrated Brian's Twentieth Comix Experience Year. Brian describes the signing here. (He also describes the problem with Twitter and signings and suchlike in a fascinating essay here.)

On Tuesday evening, as I blogged at the time, we found ourselves in Las Vegas, where an improvisational Tarot comedy troupe had much fun interviewing me and then making comedic theatre, and a great time was had by all... ( my card was the three of cups)

Neil was amazing and so was the Tarot troupe. Thanks @neilhim... on Twitpic
Picture by Tarot show producer Emily Jillette.

And now I am in San Diego, where tomorrow, Friday, I will be doing a Coraline panel (room 6A at 10:30) and an autographing (turn up in the autographing area at 9.00am and pull tickets from a hat. 100 of you will get in).

Tonight I had dinner with Henry Selick and friends, and bumped into Mr Miyazaki and the Studio Ghibli crew outside the restaurant, so got to introduce Henry Selick to Mr Miyazaki, which made Henry happy. A wonderful San Diego moment.

and that's all




This brought me joy: The Independent newpaper in the UK put the Graveyard Book audiobook second on their list of Year's Best audiobooks (and the first was a Doctor Who audiobook).

This made me smile too, Wired's list of unfilmable comics and books:

On the other hand, my appearance on Kevin Smith's list of the five coolest people I've met at the San Diego Comic-Con put me in mind of the time I encountered Kevin Smith. It was round the back of the San Diego Convention Centre, near the loading bay. I was on my way to a panel when a gentleman with a kerchief-mask covering his lower face, holding a brace of pistols and wearing a rakish tricorn hat leapt out and demanded my wallet, and to dance a measure with my female companions. Obviously, I was having none of it, and with a cry of "Never, miscreant!" I stumbled into the fray. During our struggle the kerchief-mask slipped and I was shocked to see that our attacker was in fact director, writer and raconteur Kevin Smith himself. He fled, dropping my wallet and also several of the original Graphitti Buddy Christ and Jay & Silent Bob toys.

I can only presume that Mr Smith's description of me in EW as "a sweetheart" was due to the fact that I did not turn him in that day to the San Diego magistrates that day to be hanged and gibbeted as a common highwayman or footpad.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

quick one

Just a very hasty note to say that in an hour I will be on stage at the town square shear madness theatre. They will read my tarot cards and then do improv based on it. Tickets are cheaper online if you are in Vegas, it should be odd. Or cool. Or funny. Or all three.

I hate typing on touchscreens.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Day 2 of ALA, and reading things aloud.

Yesterday I had a breakfast with many librarians, then signed was interviewed in front of a crowd by Roger Sutton from Hornbook, signed for happy librarian-folk for three hours, then napped and went off to dinner with the Newbery Award Committee, the sort of dinner where you have each different course at a different table, and talk to everyone. Then I signed books for them (and for a few stray Printz Committee judges, who crept in).

This morning was Dim Sum with Jill Thompson for breakfast (Here is Jill. People always want to know where she got that bag, and she made it herself. I told her she should take orders for them for a ridiculous amount of money.) Then with Elyse Marshall, ace HarperChildren's publicist, to a local studio where I was interviewed for Barnes and Noble, then recorded some paragraphs from Kipling's The Jungle Book, Ray Bradbury's story "Homecoming" and James Thurber's The 13 Clocks. I loved doing them -- B&N will pick one sequence and have it animated and put up online.

Was fascinated by how different the voice of the narrator was in each case -- the voice of the book, and that reminded me that I had not yet answered this, and had meant to:

Neil ~ Thank you for many hours of entertainment, whether I'm reading your works, or you are! My daughter is finding that chapter books are a good thing, and wants me to read them to her. I'm glad to do so, but I'm looking for some suggestions from a masterful book reader (you) to a very coarse book reader (me). How do you keep the character voices straight in your head? I suppose it helps that you know the words particularly well since you wrote them, but any tips or suggestions? Any other pointers for engaging the listener? I know my daughter doesn't mind (she still wants me to read, after all!), but I'd like to be better for her and for me. Thanks and keep up the superb work, both here on the blog and in the offline printed universe! BRIAN

Let's see. Character voices are more or less easy: I sort of cast them in my head as I go. What's the person like? Who do they remind me of?

I'm appalling at doing accents, but not bad at doing people. And mostly you're not even doing impressions, just general brush strokes. How does a person sound? Well, you hold them in your head and generally sound like that.

When dealing with a larger than life story I'll sometimes go for a larger than life cast in my head: In (for example) The 13 Clocks, in my head, when I read it aloud, I tend to cast Marty Feldman as the Golux, and Peter Sellers (doing his Laurence Olivier in Richard the Third impression) as the evil Duke.

It's hard though, in a big book with a lot of characters, some of whom may nip off-stage for seven or eight chapters at a time. Do your best, and have a picture in your head. Borrow from your life. Steal voices shamelessly.

Most important, just do the voices (including the voice of the Book, which may not be your voice exactly, but should be close enough to it that it won't be a strain), and do not be shy. Even at your worst, you're doing better than you would if you didn't do the voices, and kids are a mostly uncritical audience, especially if you do it with confidence.

Read it as if you're telling a story. Read it as if you're interested and you care. And, the biggest and most important one, vary the tune.

I heard a young writer reading some of his own work in public a few weeks ago, and every sentence had exactly the same tune, the sime rising and falling cadences. They all ended on the same note. The beat that ran through the whole passage did not change from first to last. It was hypnotically dull.

Listen to people read who are good at it. BBC Radio 7 and BBC Radio 4 (here's the Radio 4 Readings website)are a great source of an ever-changing series of books and stories, fiction and non-fiction, all read aloud and read aloud well. Listen to the tune, where voices go up or down. Listen to what makes a reader speed up or slow down -- listen to what keeps you interested and where you lose interest. And do it as they do -- change the tune, change the pace, keep interested and it will keep interesting.

But mostly my advice is this: just do it. Enthusiasm and willingness to do it counts for most of it, and you learn by doing it and get better from doing it.

I've been reading in front of audiences now for almost 20 years. I've got significantly better in that time, mostly because I've done it so much. You learn as you go. You get better as you go. Practice makes if not perfect then at least pretty decent.

And that's all.

Except to wish Roz Kaveney happy birthday.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

How to play with your food

I'm in Chicago right now, for ALA: the annual meeting of the American Library Association. I've been to a couple of them before and have always had a marvellous time -- once, with people like Art Spiegelman and Scott McCloud and Colleen Doran explaining to curious librarians what graphic novels were and why they should have them in their libraries, another time getting to visit New Orleans for the first time Post-Katrina, when I went to two dinners with Poppy Z Brite, and one of them was the first time Poppy's husband, chef Chris DeBarr, ever cooked for me*.

When I was in Melbourne, five years ago, Poppy was a guest of honour with me, and somewhere back then it was decided that we would be going to Alinea, a Chicago restaurant of remarkable coolness. The years went by and I was never in Chicago for long, and Katrina happened, and once Poppy went back to New Orleans she did not want to leave, but we knew one day it would happen.

And tonight it did. Poppy flew up from Chicago and took me to dinner. It was expensive, and, I only discovered at the end of the meal, Poppy was paying. (This is a big public thank you.)

The service and friendliness and sense of enjoyment from the Alinea staff was remarkable. I've had, on rare occasions, food that was as good, and, rarely, I've had food that was better, but I do not ever recall any meal that was as much fun to eat. 23 Courses (hmm, very illuminati) of things that melted or popped or squrunched in your mouth in astounding ways.

I think my favourite not-actually-putting-something-in-my-mouth moment was when the table was covered with bubbling belching dry-ice smoke, and I asked Poppy very nicely if she wouldn't mind saying, "Tonight, my creature, I shall give you Life!" for me, and, bless her, she did.

If anyone reading this is at ALA, I'm doing two signings at the HarperCollins booth 2011, one at 1.00pm on Saturday, the other on 9.00am on Monday (which should have some amusement value). Also a panel on Monday at 1:30pm on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. The rest of the time is filled with interviews, receptions, speeches and such.

I'm actually here to receive the Newbery Medal for The Graveyard Book. Which will be presented on Sunday night, and for which I have written (and already recorded) a speech. (Which will be played if I forget how to talk on Sunday night. It's possible.)

And I want to thank Harper Collins for indulging me, and keeping up the free version of The Graveyard Book on the mousecircus website all that time. You can still listen to (or watch) me read The Graveyard Book, chapter by chapter, across America, at You can also buy it.

(And to answer a sharp-eyed questioner, yes, there are a couple of changes in the latest printing of The Graveyard Book; I fixed an error in astronomy I'd made, and a misspelled foreign word, and fixed some paragraphs in the acknowledgments that were truncated in the original US edition.)

(And that reminds me: yes, I will be at San Diego Comic Con briefly on Friday July 24th, to do a panel with Henry Selick about Coraline, and a one hour signing afterwards. I'll be at the Eisner Awards for a bit that night, then will zoom across town to the Benefit concert that Amanda Palmer and Vermillion Lies are doing for the CBLDF.)

*Chris says people have been asking for "The Mezze of Destruction", the code-phrase that tells him they were sent from this blog, at the Green Goddess, and getting special extras -- restaurant Easter Eggs, as it were, and I have been getting happy messages from people who have eaten there who tried it. And, almost needless to say, lived.

Right. Bed.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Are you Comix Experienced?

The next blog was meant to be about reading aloud, but I wanted to blog this rather than Twitter it to make sure that everyone had an equal chance:

Go and read (and you need to read both which is the story behind the signing (and has some photos of me in 1989 with the most remarkable mullet) and which is the facts.

Short version, I'm doing a signing at Comix Experience on on Sunday, July 19th from 11 AM to 12:30 PM. And because time is limited, it's limited to 100 people. Brian Hibbs decided that the easiest way to pick the 100 people was to presell them copies of the WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER hardback, which will be out then.

Preorders for the book can be taken immediately by visiting Comix Experience at 305 Divisadero St. (at Page) in San Francisco, or by calling 415-863-9258 from 11-7 Monday-to-Saturday, Sundays 12-5, PST.

And my Metamorpho Page with the brilliant Mike Allred is out in Wednesday Comics -- details of what this thing is at:

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Death Wish

I went to Los Angeles, had a sort of a working holiday, came home, and am writing. Working out a lot with the trainer, got a new trampoline. The cherry tree is covered in cherries, and the wild raspberries (red and black) are out in the woods, and I find them when I walk the dog.
Nights here are filled with fireflies. Steve Brust came over for dinner tonight and brought his puppy, and we talked about stories and writing until late. It's a good world.

That's about it for excitement at this end. Lots of people have written in asking stuff about me and Amanda, and I don't really know how to answer them. Either they're really nice and pleased for us and encouraging and don't need answering, or they're the kind of things that leave me deeply puzzled, and to which the only responses are "Isn't that a bit personal?" or "Probably none of your business I'm afraid," or even "Why would you write things like that?"

Hello Neil,

Why don't you blog more often?

Just a death wish I guess. Your blog is a wonderful thing to read.

I have a rare case of skin cancer and your blog cheer me up!

Mostly because I have less to say right now, I think. Or at least, I hate repeating myself. The blog's eight years old, and over one million three hundred thousand words long. That's a lot of blogging: a lot of ideas, a lot of words, a lot of answers. People write to me with questions still, but much of the time they're questions that have already been answered on the blog, usually at some length -- the kind of things that make me think that I should spend the time I could spend writing again (say) how you get an agent into, instead, organising things and getting a really useful FAQ up and running, or just a way of finding things, particularly advice on writing.

Obviously, I'm sorry you have a rare case of skin cancer, and I would be just as sorry if it was a common sort of skin cancer. So here, to cheer you up and fulfill your dying wish: a blog, and a link to an interview and also to an amazing Daily Telegraph piece in which a bunch of writers and artists suggest books for younger readers

Todd Klein, letterer extraordinaire has the fourth in his series of prints out. The art is by J. H. Williams III, and you can see it here.

Back in November I was interviewed by Chip Kidd at the 92nd St Y. (I talked about it on the blog at the time.) The whole talk, with Karen Berger's introduction and all, is up now on YouTube, and is embedded here for your pleasure. It's an hour and a half.

And finally, there are now more than 666,666 people following me on Twitter. So we had a party. It's still ongoing, the party, over at and to join in all you have to do is upload a photgraph of you and a Balloon. And once 600 people showed up at the party, the webgoblin made this: a mosaic. Edit to add, and here's a wonderful click to zoom in, shift-click to zoom out version at

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