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Neil Gaiman versus The Universe

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Neil Gaiman isn’t one for standing still. Over his 30-year career, the Hampshire-born 52-year-old has written everything from novels, to Batman comics, to Doctor Who episodes, to an official Duran Duran biography (in 1984, to be fair) and garnered a huge, devoted fanbase, including nearly 1.9 million Twitter followers, with whom he regularly interacts.

ShortList met him to discuss his latest adult fantasy novel, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane. But as we soon learned, whether it’s bloodied superfans or Hollywood script pressures, he’s a man with more than a few other things on his mind...

On finishing eighth in the 2013 TIME magazine 100 poll

“Going head-to-head with a Korean dictator [Kim Jong-Un finished slightly above him] was quite something. Some politicians were going all out to win, sending people in their multitudes to vote, which I thought was hilarious, but I can deal with finishing below some of them. I was below Psy, too, which is fair enough. I was probably the least-heard-of person on that list.”

On slightly extreme fans

“I’ve had fans claim I’ve been communicating with them through the internet and things like that, but the weirdest was in 1992. I had a fan come to a book signing and ask me to sign his arm. He came back an hour later with the same arm bleeding from my signature. He’d had it tattooed. But most of the fans are great. What tends to happen is that I turn up at a signing in a nice little town and the book shop ladies will say, ‘There are people here with tattoos and green hair!’ But then, at the end of the day, they’ll say, ‘Those guys are so nice. We had Jeffrey Archer’s fans here and they were horrible.’”

On the pressure of writing for Doctor Who

“It really is the best job ever, writing for Doctor Who, but I was more sh*t-scared about writing [2011 episode] ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ than I have been about anything, ever. My inner five-year-old Doctor Who fan was excited and scared and thrilled. And when the episode won a Hugo Award and a Ray Bradbury Award, it meant there was more pressure to write my second episode [May’s ‘Nightmare In Silver’] – it felt as if the whole world was looking over my shoulder. I told a friend I was worried it would be crap and he said, ‘Well, the first one you did was good, so you’ve probably earned a crap one.’”

On turning his iconic novel American Gods into an HBO series

“Over the past decade I’ve had phone calls from famous actors and directors who’ve told me, ‘American Gods changed my f*cking life, it has to be a movie, we want the rights.’ But the question has always been, ‘How do we turn it into a movie?’ The story is too big for Hollywood – there’s not one ending – so TV is the best format. Everyone at HBO is waiting anxiously for me to finish the third draft of the pilot script. Once there’s a pilot script, they’ll commission the first series. If 
the first series does well, they’ll commission a second. People have said it’s confirmed for six series, but that comes from [HBO] saying it would like something that could go on for that length of time.”

On his trippy new book

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane was hard to write, as much of it is from a child’s perspective [it involves the narrator, aged seven, being hunted by malevolent creatures from another world], but I found that angle fascinating. The idea of weird things happening that nobody tells you about. I’ve stolen locations and stories from my childhood for it, which made one of my sisters really grumpy. But this is absolutely an adult novel – it gets very dark.”

On creative restlessness

“There was a time when my contract was up with my English publisher – I hadn’t re-signed with them, so this other [publishing company] said to my agent, ‘We’ll give him lots more money if he comes with us.’ They said they loved American Gods, so the first thing for me to do would be to write a sequel and some other books like it and stop faffing around with other things. They said they could make me a household name. And I thought, ‘That’s true, but I’d also be the most miserable human being alive.’ I told my agent I didn’t care about the money. I never want to be somebody who writes the same kind of book twice. I don’t want to be allowed to.”

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is out now

(Image: Rex Features)

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