I was lucky enough to get tickets for the final event of Neil Gaiman's 'The Ocean at The End of The Lane' signing tour, it was up here (well almost) in Inverness, only a two and a half hour ride south of me.
The venue had 400 seats and sold out in such a short time it wasn't funny, I was just so lucky to see it when it was advertised. I had planned to take my oldest who adores his work but other pressures meant he couldn't come, so my daughter jumped at the chance and we went south.
I am a big fan of being early so we got to town in time to get some food and wander a bit as well as drop into Waterstones, she wanted a hardback copy of Coraline but we couldn't find one, so she took my paper version with her. I offered her a copy of the new book but she wasn't sold on it. We planned our arrival time and how long we thought it would take! ho hum I should have read the tickets closer, doors opened at 6.30 pm not started at then! so we were very early, humm very very early but we chatted to others in the queue and got more excited as time passed.
I saw folks I knew who had come down and up and over to see the event, I knew more than a dozen of the crowd well and more to wave and nod at, and best of all every one was chatty, welcoming and relaxed. One friend who brought her family down had her husband who was looking a bit like a fish out of water! he sidled up to me and whispered that the queue was 'made of Weirdos' to which I said yes wasn't it good! He wasn't impressed and stood like a spooked horse forced to stand in line with strange folk. My daughter and I giggled, as did his wife and daughter.
The doors opened but as we all had numbered tickets to seats there was no crush or push, very civilized and fun, I found our seats and went to get drinks, had mine bought for me by friends at bar which was nice, then got back to find daughter had moved us, to the right seats! My state of mind was suffering already. We found the row behind had other dear friends who we would have looked for if we hadn't seen them, but instead we chatted about mad things for the time it took for all to get in, get drinks and get settled and finally after 7.30 pm the stage lit up. In our chat I showed her my 'new' business cards, and she showed me hers (not like we don't live less than 5 mins apart!) and the people next to her asked questions and she ended up giving out cards! See mad things!
The stage was our focus as we first had the local Waterstones guy on doing the introductions and then the interviewer and Neil! My hands hurt from clapping and no one else existed. Neil read a passage from the book, we were transferred to another place, to a different time, when burnt toast was so much more important than lost cars and missing comics was a major crime, so what if it was found under a dead body, when could he get it back! This later led to a discussion in the queue for signing about Peanut Butter and when you got it in the UK easily, oddly I didn't find this an issue as the time for the book wasn't fixed, wasn't long past or when the rationing was or any such time limit. Also got daughter thinking about chocolate spread and I had to buy her some on the way home.
The reading took no time at all and for ever, but we sat mesmerized for ages, He read it as he wrote it, the right pace and the right emphasis, always makes such a difference to hear a writer read their own work. Reading aloud is a lot harder than most people think, getting the pace and feeling right has been the downfall of many a reader. The interviewer had a series of questions he asked then threw it out to the audience, one of the first was what did he read as a child! Oh bliss another like me who read any and every thing, no one told me Frank Herbert wasn't for me at age 7 or 8, I too read Conan and other 'adult' books. In the back door to the Denbenham's in Exeter they had a remaindered basket, books reduced and marked down, they had yellow pen on the ends, or in some cases a chunk taken out so you knew at the desk at a glance it came from the cheap bucket. It was full of unknown and very much pulp fiction, my parents let me have a book out of the basket occasionally, and for me this was a dip into a magical world. I loved science fiction and fantasy so anything with a space ship or a dragon or a multicoloured planet view always got chosen. My world was formed by these windows of life lived by others. I long thought I was an oddity, my friends read Enid Blyton, I read Lovecroft! I rode with Haggard, struggled with Tarzan, sailed Westward Ho! I didn't know they were for adults I just knew they were fun, maybe I wasn't alone.
Neil told how he didn't mean to write a novel, how it was a short story for Amanda his wife, how he took longer than she was away to write a story for her while she was away. We listened as he explained how she liked this but not that and how he had written it for her likes and hadn't meant it to be published book, until they saw it and loved it. We traveled with him on his journey and laughed and cringed with him, I was near the back but felt like I was just on the edge of his circle, he was talking to me. The questions from the floor were so good and such high quality that I shelved my rather silly question. The girl next to us, who we had chatted too when she sat down due to her amazing purple hair! a truly wonderful colour! asked how he felt letting what was a personal story almost a love letter out in to the world. How he felt sharing it with us all. his reply was so sweet and helped understand more of what he wrote it for.
He was asked what he wished he had written, and he spoke of reading the lord of the rings and how he kept a copy with him so if he slipped through a time space gap to an alternate universe where every one was the same but no Tolkien how he planned to get it published in his own name. And being only 12 at the time how he would then cover his tracks and kill the person who had helped him to keep the secret. The ideas for Coraline were so good, where he got them and how he put together different ideas at different ages, and again I wasn't to only kid who worried that parents would move, and forget to take them, while at school, only while he thought how to cope, I used to rush home to make sure I caught them! Daughter refers to her boy friends mother as her other mother! so we had a good giggle at the idea of button eyes and plans to defeat them.
He spoke of Neverwhere and how he has written a sequel/short story for the first time in 20 years, and how the idea of re-visiting is becoming more likely the more he thinks about it. He loved the Radio Four production and it had re ignited his love of the work and doing more of it since. He said that he wanted to write about the lost invisible people in London, the ones no one looks at in the street, but that no one would read a book that raw so he looked at the world we don't see under our very noses and how you become invisible and lost. He said that people have come up to him since and said since they read Neverwhere they have become more aware of people in the street and started giving money and time and respect to the 'invisible' people. I read an article about people with disabilities the other day which pointed out they are people first not a disability first! and that is true of so many groups in life.
He spoke for ages and my sore hands got another work out at the end, mind you we also got a smile when Stuart Kelly the interviewer fluffed his name. Called Neil, Ian and then had to change it fast. The queue then formed for the book signing, now most of the 400 people there had their books to be signed, Though I did see kindles, audio books, and strangely even a hair brush! in the signing queue. They had us filing round the hall, up the stairs along the balcony and through the rooms to signing, and then out. They took small children, disabled and elderly first so they didn't have to wait or stand in the crush, one guy behind us kept getting so close he stood on our feet! and he was tall and big and my daughter was small and intimidated, but most was good natured and fun, we chatted to our in the line and one point we saw the film crew filming us so we waved, well two of us did to the embarrassment of the rest :-) much fun.
Time passed and I can only say how good he was, he signed until we were all done, he kept going no matter what and took the time to see us. He liked the worn books, and the read copies, he draw little creatures and things for the people, he made my daughters night when he drew her a little mouse in the Coraline book, she had the graphic novel and the previous person with one had lots of space and he drew a mouse pic, but daughters didn't have space and she was so upset, he heard her and when hers came out he drew a little mouse in the gap. He also wrote Dream in her copy of Ocean, which she hasn't let out of her grasp and went to bed with last night (or early this morning). At this point he had been signing for over an hour and had more than an hour left to go. So nice. He signed my book, and at the moment in time he saw you, to give each of us this attention left us quite giddy.
We came out on the street full of wonder and giggles, clutching our books too hyped to relax which was good as by the time we got out of town it was after eleven at night meaning we wouldn't get home until 1.30 am. Even having had just over 5 hours sleep I can honestly say it was an amazing night, Thank you to Waterstones and their staff who made it easy to worship, thank you to Neil for allowing us to worship, and also to the Ironworks who's venue allowed us all to see and hear easily.
Also if you look at the last picture you can see the kindle cover and hair brush waiting to be signed!