[Warning: in keeping with my usual "oh, I forgot to take a picture" forgetful blogger habit, this post does not contain any really good pictures of Neil Gaiman. It does contain, however, one slightly blurry pic of the long signing line on stage after the event, courtesy of my friend Christy's iPhone, which is much better than mine (the picture I finally remembered to take on mine is far more blurry). I think if you squint really hard and magnify the picture to immense proportions, you can just make out Neil Gaiman …]
On August 6, I went with my friend Christy (the owner and Supreme Baker of Toronto’s fabulous Bix Bakery, where you can order the most delicious pizelles) to the Neil Gaiman event at The Danforth Music Hall.
When I got out of the subway station, I didn’t make the mistake of heading toward the venue. Instead I deduced, correctly, that I should be heading away from the Music Hall, all the way to the end of the very, very long line of people snaking around the block.
The Danforth Music Hall seats 1100 people, and the show had been sold out. Considering how many people there were in that line up, things moved very quickly, and soon Christy and I were seated inside the theatre, waiting for Neil to come on.
By the way, one of the best feelings ever? Sitting in a theatre that size and realizing: every single person here is also a reader. And a Neil Gaiman fan, of course! What a great feeling!
The show was hosted by television producer and writer Mark Askwith (and former manager of Toronto’s legendary Silver Snail Comics), who has been friends with Neil Gaiman for 25 years – they literally met “on the streets of Gotham City” (the movie set). Mark introduced Neil as “Toronto’s boyfriend” – back in 2009 when Neil was touring to promote the film version of Coraline, he said in an interview, “Toronto has always been my first girlfriend” – because Toronto was the first place he ever got recognized on the street.
Things started off with Neil reading a chapter from The Ocean at The End of the Lane; he’s a great reader, and it was wonderful to hear him reading in person. (He narrates a lot of his own audiobooks, too; I have a stack of them in my to-listen pile, and can hardly wait to dig into them.)
Then came the Q&A, with questions submitted by the audience, and I have to say, the questions were totally brilliant. Mark Askwith said something about not spending days preparing for his next interview with Neil – he’d just ask Neil’s fans, and he’s absolutely right.
I didn’t take notes, so I’ll just write about the questions I remember the most (and I’m paraphrasing and probably forgetting stuff and putting words in Neil’s mouth. End of disclaimer).
The first question asked Neil to choose what villain (zombie or vampire or other) he would be. Neil said, not a zombie, because zombies really aren’t things you’d really want to be. That’s just the nature of a zombie. And not a vampire, because he’d hate looking into a mirror and not being able to see what his hair was looking like. But hair … hmmm, snakes as hair wouldn’t be too bad. Plus they’d keep you company. So, Medusa.
A later question asked, “what’s the cure for loneliness?” Neil grinned, pointed to his hair, and said, snakes for hair. But, if you didn’t happen to have snakes for hair, then, “talking to other people.”
The funniest thing was that the question right after that was actually a hair question! “What are three great things about your hair, and three not-so-great things about your hair?” To answer this, Neil decided to tell us a story about something that happened to him about two years ago. It involved a celebrity, and he would name the celebrity. (This got ooohs from the audience.)
He was in a restaurant in Santa Fe with Amanda Palmer when he realized Shirley MacLaine was sitting at another table. And she was staring at him. “Shirley MacLaine’s staring at me,” he whispered to Amanda. Amanda took a look, then whispered back, “Shirley MacLaine’s staring at you!”
And then Shirley MacLaine got up and started walking toward him. Neil’s thinking, Shirley MacLaine’s walking toward me, she’s actually walking toward me.
And she came up to their table and said, “I love your hair. Is it a wig?”
He said, “No, it’s not a wig.”
She said, “Can I touch your hair?”
And he said, “Uh, yes?”
And that’s when she reached over, grabbed hold of a handful of hair and tugged on it. (Neil demonstrated for us with his own hair – the process left the tuft standing upright, all on its own accord, with no physical means of support.)
She said, “Wow, you’re right. It’s not a wig.” And then she said, “There’s no product in your hair. How does it do that?”
So, as Neil put it, one of the great things about his hair is that Shirley MacLaine touched it once. Or maybe that should be on the list of not-so-great things …
There were a lot of other great questions, including: will he write another Doctor Who episode? To which Neil replied, yes, he would, if BBC wanted him to, and if BBC could pay him with months rather than money. Because he simply has too much on his plate right now, and he’d need the gift of eleven extra weeks to be able to do it. (So I guess that’s a no, for now.)
The Q&A ended all too soon but we were lucky to get another reading, this time from Neil’s upcoming children’s book, Fortunately, the Milk. It’s a wonderful story about a dad who goes out in the morning to get some milk for his kids’ breakfast cereal, only he’s a long time coming back, because he ends up having a lot of adventures. During which, as he points out often, “Fortunately, the milk was tucked deep into my pocket …”
“I bought the milk,” said my father. “I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road.”
“Hullo,” I said to myself. “That’s not something you see every day. And then something odd happened.”
Fortunately, the Milk will be released on September 17; I’m definitely going to get a copy of it!
That ended the talk, but not the rest of the evening. It was 8:30, but there was still the book signing. The signing! I really had no inkling of the amount of time the book signing afterward would take, but Neil definitely did, as he mentioned something during his talk about “when it’s midnight”.
They had originally announced that they would conduct the signing row by row, starting with row A, but when Neil came out he said that didn’t sound fair, so they’d be doing it as a lottery instead.
And here’s where I must confess to being a bad book fan. It’s been a couple of months since my friend Christy and I had gotten together, I’ve never been big on autographs and signed things and the thought of waiting to see when our row would be called was just too much for me. We decided to pop over to the pub next door, have a drink and a snack, and do some much needed friend-to-friend catching up.
Can you spot Neil Gaiman in this picture?
When we were finally finished with our catching up, it was already 11:00 pm. Christy looked at me and said, “Let’s pop back in and see what’s going on.” So we did, and discovered that the theatre was still nearly half-full! It was definitely going to be a long night.
The book tour has been promoted as Neil Gaiman’s “last US signing tour”, so I probably should have picked up one of the pre-signed books they were selling in the lobby. But the line-up for that had been really long, too … (See what I mean, about being a bad book fan?)
I had a wonderful time. In addition to being an amazing writer, Neil Gaiman is a wonderful speaker, quick-witted and funny. I’m so glad I got the chance to hear him speak and read from his books.
Mostly, though, I’ve come away from this event so impressed with the man. He’s an author of such stature, he doesn’t need to do a book tour, signing into the wee hours of the night. His fan base is large, stable and extremely loyal. We’re not going anywhere. Our only expectations of him? Those golden magical stories he weaves. Anything beyond that is a pure gift. And simply put, that’s what this book tour was: a gift from Neil Gaiman to us, his readers. It’s simply quite amazing.