Small Talk: Neil Gaiman

Winner of this year’s Cilip Carnegie medal for The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman, 49, is a bestselling author of graphic novels, fantasy fiction and short stories. His work has been translated into 28 languages and has won him numerous awards, including the Newbery medal (2009), also for The Graveyard Book, the Hugo Award for American Gods (2001) and the Macmillan Silver Pen for Smoke and Mirrors (1998). Gaiman has three children and is engaged to musician Amanda Palmer. Born and raised in England, he now lives near Minneapolis in the US.

What book changed your life?

Reading the Narnia books, aged about seven, was the first time that I was aware that a book was written by an author. Realising that a real person was standing there telling you stuff was the point when I knew I wanted to be a writer.

Where do you write best?

If you’re going to be a professional writer you need routines. But I still love to write in new, slightly strange places. I like that faint feeling of uncomfortableness.

What is your daily writing routine?

I actually have to figure out a new one. Now, I get up in the morning and deal with e-mails before I write, but around 3.30pm my daughter comes home from school and I look up and go: “No, it can’t be – I haven’t finished the e-mails yet!”

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

I once went to a long-abandoned temple in western China where this guy who had a souvenir shop tried to sell me a 1,000-year-old human elbow. The real problem was trying to tell him I didn’t need it, as his English was limited and I had very little Chinese.

Who are your literary influences?

I believe anybody you read before the age of 16 will end up being your literary influences, good or bad. I loved Edwardian novelists; Kipling was a huge influence. Lou Reed and David Bowie were huge influences too, but I never realised until I’d grown up.

What are you scared of?

Something bad happening to my children – or my eyes liquefying and rolling down my face like huge tears.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

I would love to be a freelance religion designer. If people needed a religion, they could just call me up and I could design one for them.

What book do you wish you’d written?

I’m extremely envious of Gene Wolfe’s four-volume The Book of the New Sun.

What would you go back and change?

Nothing personally but I would love to suggest to John Lennon that he wear a bulletproof vest.

Neil Gaiman is the co-editor of ‘Stories’ (Headline), an anthology of imaginative fiction

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