On Wednesday evening I went to the Oxford Playhouse to see Neil Gaiman in conversation with Philip Pullman. It was a wonderful event and you can listen to nearly the whole thing in this Waterstones podcast (although sadly this doesn’t include Neil Gaiman’s hilarious reading of an extract from his forthcoming children’s book Fortunately, The Milk which rounded off the evening).
The two authors spoke about imagination and creation, dreams and stories, the books that shaped them as children and the wonders of The Library. As I sat there on the back row of the balcony listening to them talk, it reminded me what an absolute privilege it is to be a children’s author. To have the chance to sow a single seed in the shape of a story which might then take root in the mind of a reader. I thought about the forests that both Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman have seen spring from the stories that they have told, and the inspiration they have given to countless other imaginations in turn.
Alongside the hardback editions of The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Sandman that I had in my bag, I had a copy of my novel Twelve Minutes to Midnight with a dedication to Neil Gaiman written inside. I had last seen him twenty-five years ago, when I had bunked off school aged fourteen to see him at a book signing alongside Dave McKean at a comic book shop in Manchester. That was the moment that made me believe it was even possible to become an author, and Neil Gaiman’s books took pride of place on the shelves of the library of my childhood; the fuel that has fed my imagination as a writer ever since.
My position at the very back row of the balcony turned out to be a golden ticket as it took me to almost the front of the queue for the signing that took place after the event. As Neil signed my books, I explained that I’d last seen him at a signing in Manchester twenty-five years earlier and he amazed me by remembering the blogpost I had written about this, where I also had tried to express my feelings about The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I finally had the chance to thank him in person and he very kindly thanked me in turn for my gift of Twelve Minutes to Midnight, saying he was looking forward to reading this. When he opens the novel he’ll see the following dedication inside:
“Thank you for helping to plant a seed twenty-five years ago. It grew into this book.”
Many thanks to Charlotte Morris and Leen Van Broeck for allowing me to include their photographs of the event here.