Sunday, March 14, 2010

the missing link between Neil Gaiman and AS Byatt, apparently

In the comments thread of this post over on Kotaku, about the difference between what counts as scariness in computer game, and what counts as actual horror someone said, in reference to some national public radio programme (anyone know what it might be?):

"Gaiman was talking about how his book Coraline is read by children as an exciting adventure story whereas adults tend to read it more as a horror story. It was most amusing to hear the extremely well educated and well spoken rather elderly lady that A.S. Byatt is now tell Gaiman something along the lines of "It scared the hell out of me".


Which made me look at it, and go 'buhhhhhhhh'.

Because when I worked at Waterstone's in Canterbury, one of the many fun jobs I had was running events. Twice a week I'd take some minions, we'd THEY"D move all the chairs upstairs in the coffee shop, put a little stage in, set up a microphone, and, when the author arrived, I'd greet them, we'd have a little chat, then I'd introduce them to the audience, sometimes deal with questions at the end, manage the queues for signing, then get the author to the taxi afterwards.

It was a brilliant job, and because Canterbury's only an hour and a half or so from London, you could get some pretty big name authors (Bernard Cornwell, writer of the Sharpe books, is perhaps the nicest man in the world - Michael Dibdin , creator of the Aurelio Zen crime series, was quite possibly the grumpiest, although he's dead now, which just goes to show). Neil Gaiman was quite easy to convince to come to Canterbury, because his long-time collaborator Dave McKean lives just a few miles away, so I got to do two events with him: one for American Gods, and one for Coraline. I'm a gert big Gaiman fan, and I'm pleased to report he's absolutely lovely in person, and didn't mind me telling him that both books were really, really good, as though I was some lone voice of sanity at a point where all he had encountered up until that point in his career had been apathy and neglect, and that my encouragement persuaded him not to jack it all in.

AS Byatt also has Canterbury connections, as her editor Jenny Uglow also lives in Canterbury. AS Byatt, you may, or may not, be surprised to hear, is a huge Terry Pratchett fan, but had never read Neil Gaiman. And as we had had a lovely chat about kid's books before she did her talk, it frankly felt wrong to let her go without running downstairs, buying a copy of Coraline (on staff discount, I'm not insane) and pushing it into her hands. because I'd just read her astonishingly creepy Little Black Book Of Stories, and something told me it might be her cup of tea.

That was at least six years ago now, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit to wondering every now and then if she'd ever got round to reading it, or had even got it all the way home without leaving it in a taxi or something. And I now I know she did read it.

Of course, there's always a chance she did lose it, or read some other copy somewhere, but this is a nice story about books, so I think I'm allowed to just write myself a tiny tiny footnote in literary connections.

I also once, out of sheer desperation, asked Will Self if he was a fan of The Good Life. I don't think that one went anywhere.

15 comments:

nanga parbat said...

Wasn't it AS Byatt who got stuck in the knackered old sofa in the staff room and flashed her gusset when hauling herself out? Or am I thinking of Peter Ackroyd? Byatt's "Children's Book" is fab, by the way. I love the way she refuses to let any of her research go to waste which is only what I'd do if I'd had to bone up on ceramicists of the late Victorian period.

Kayleigh said...

It must be hard to think of anything to say when faced with Will Self. He's terrifying.

Valerie said...

I think you get to feel righteously satisfied for this!

I've tried twice to achieve this sort of thing and failed miserably. The first time, the author to whom I'd gifted the other author's book said, "what a strange little book." The second time, he said, "what very peculiar stories." Ah well.

Pete Darby said...

Utterly random internet connection time: I dragged my girlfriend to that Neil Gaiman event in canterbury on her birthday, years before she got into Gaiman.

However, that night he signed my copy of Stardust for her, which she, and my daughter, now adore...

james henry said...

Cor, that's great! Ah, I love how all these things sort of link together...

Boz said...

Bugger quarks or dark matter or atoms. It's clearly books that bind the universe together.

WV: thingsms

Anonymous said...

''we'd move all the chairs upstairs in the coffee shop, put a little stage in, set up a microphone, and, when the author arrived, I'd greet them...''
As one of your minions, from what I remember, I'D take all the chairs upstairs while you got tangled up in the microphone cord and then get locked in the kitchen while trying to steal sandwiches that were supposed to be for the author. I was rereading Coraline this weekend and forgot that Neil Gaiman had not only signed it for me at that event, but also drawn a really evil looking rat on the front page calling out my name. It gave me a nasty fright opening the book, that man is scary.
Laura

james henry said...

Yes, well, I've corrected that bit now. Actually I did used to take quite a lot of the authorial wine home as well.

Anonymous said...

A brief search suggests that the radio program was The Strand, 30 October 2008. I couldn't find any audio, though.

james henry said...

Aha, I somehow missed the earlier bit of the comment where they said it was on the world service, cheers! Hmm, must be able to track that down somewhere...

Tim Footman said...

What did you expect Will Self to say? That it was unrequited lust for Margo that drove him to heroin?

Patrick Hudson said...

I need to know if Will Self is a fan of The Good Life - did he say, or just give you a funny look?

james henry said...

He didn't dignify it with an answer. I'd think I'd annoyed him quite a lot by then, and he decided to concentrate on the upcoming talk, very wisely.

Patrick Hudson said...

Alas, the mystery endures...

Mummy/Crit said...

I got a copy of Coraline for my 9 year old recently. It scared him too much to finish it. I then read it, and apologised for offering it to him. The Graveyard Book, on the other hand, I think he'd like, but the idea scares him.