The Inventory: Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman, 52, is a best-selling author of novels, short stories and comic books for adults and children – the ‘Sandman’ series is one of his best-known works. He has won several Nebula and Hugo awards, and the Newbery and Carnegie medals.

What was your earliest ambition?

I wanted very specifically to be the person who wrote ‘Lord of the Rings’, which was going to be difficult because Tolkien already had.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

I was a scholarship minor public school day boy at Ardingly College and later Whitgift School. Then straight into work, as a journalist – a wonderful thing for a writer. You learn you can ask questions, you learn compression and you learn probably the single most important thing for any writer: delivering more or less on time.

Who was or still is your mentor?

Alan Moore, who made comics work for adults. Writing a novel with Terry Pratchett was the equivalent of going through my apprenticeship. And Diana Wynne Jones, who I still miss, is the person who wrote best about magic.

How physically fit are you?

I was tremendously out of shape; two years ago I decided to get my act together. Now I’m likely to be found on an exercisey steppy elliptical thing, treading up and down, waving weights around. Part of me thinks it’s faintly ridiculous and part of me thinks: you like being alive.

Carbon footprint: beekeeping

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

I’ve known ambitious people with no aptitude for the thing they did. Most of whom, rather terrifyingly, tended to succeed.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

In school at 13. I have no idea why.

How politically committed are you?

In English terms I’m incredibly fuzzy, in the why-can’t-we-all-be-nice-to-each-other party. In the US, where I live, that translates as being further to the left than bomb-throwing radicals.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

I consider it, I plant trees, I get grumpy about it, particularly when I fly a lot. I wish being a beekeeper, which I am, gave you a free pass on the carbon footprint but it doesn’t.

The Chrysler Building

Do you have more than one home?

A house in the Midwest of America, where my beehives are. Right now I’m renting a beautiful home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, once the house of [the late economist] John Kenneth Galbraith.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

The Chrysler Building. It’s an incredibly pretty skyscraper.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Fountain pens. I’m on a quest for the perfect one.

In what place are you happiest?


What ambitions do you still have?

To write and direct live theatre.

What drives you on?

The conviction that sooner or later I will get it right: I’ll write a story I’m satisfied with. Normally I’m proud of myself only in retrospect.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

Three absolutely amazing kids.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

Doing Neverwhere with the BBC in 1996, watching it and thinking, “Oh no, you’re meant to be better.”

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?

He would feel vindicated. He was convinced of his own genius, on very little evidence. He would be insufferable.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

Write faster.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?


Do you believe in an afterlife?

I love the line from Peter Pan: “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?


The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ by Neil Gaiman (Headline, RRP£16.99) is out now

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