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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I Shook the Hand of Gaiman as he Smiled

So I went to the Neil Gaiman book talk and signing. I think he liked me not just because he saw my Good Omens copy already signed by Terry Pratchett, ready for him to make his mark, but because I treated him as a man, not a god.

He's really not a god, contrary to what you'd believe from what he writes. He's just a bloke doing his job, which he loves doing. And he likes it when he encounters people who remind him of this fact. I talked to him a little, joking about why he couldn't make the Sandman cure my insomnia. He smiled, and said "Ah, you know. Us Authors aren't obligated to do anything. It's what you do with your time awake that matters"

I told him "I write books in the night, when I wake up there's whole chapters written". He looked at me, gentle and understanding. Perhaps he saw a little bit of himself in me. Not the talent part, the staying up late writing part. I'd never be as pretentious to say he saw his talent in me, even if he did, that would be a private trust between makers of worlds. I cannot say that he was blown away by me. But he at least regarded me as a fellow craftsman. That I know to be true. It was the tone in his voice, the weariness. I knew he had lived longer than I had, he was more experienced.

Gaiman is not a mythical bard, or a tale spinning imp. He is a man. And he never denies this. Even when people suggest he is a god, he laughs it off. There are few men who deny their divinity, embracing humble humanity. It isn’t just the way he writes that makes people love the man. It’s how he treats his fellow man that really counts, in the end. You can write like Shakespeare and yet be despised, if you are a hateful wretch who is drunk on fame.

I shook his hand, tonight, as I write this I am home at my keyboard. It is like many nights I have typed through. But I did not leave that bookshop unchanged. I imagine he probably wasn’t changed, but he liked my teacher Ms. Pryor’s sympathies and my own sympathies with him, as he self-depreciatingly bemoaned: “There’s so many people here tonight. I’m going to be so tired…”. If he changed at all, he may have found more of his humanity. No matter how many books on Heaven and Hell he writes, he’ll never be an Angel or a Demon. He’s just another sinner like the rest of us.

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