The Tim Ferriss Show | Neil Gaiman — The Interview I've Waited 20 Years To Do

[Music] Neil welcome to the show thank you thank you so much I have been hoping to have this conversation for years and with I flashback for you know 10 15 20 plus years I’ve been reading your work I can’t say that about many people I’ve ever met and I mean you’ve been asking me incredibly politely um if I could do the podcasts or anything vaguely you know such a edging around it and giving me open invitations for it for a good decade that’s true and I you know and I love the fact we’ve managed to do the occasional tiny goofy thing I got I got to do read a page of your book that’s right that’s right you read a page of the book which was incredible because I find your voice as many people do rather hypnotic and then we got to do a very short chapter in travel mentors the last book yeah thank you very much for answering those questions and it’s it’s just such a such a thrill to be able to spend time with you I’m loving it and I thought we could begin with the the glorious beginnings and maybe for those people who can’t see this I’ll give some context I have not just one recorder but two three four different sets of audio and that’s in part because I was or em once bitten twice shy when it comes to audio and then you shared one of your early days stories what happened oh so um when I was 15 I really wanted to meet and talk to writers and artists I admired and I couldn’t figure out how you did this I didn’t know about conventions if there were conventions back in 1975-76 so I had a brilliant idea I would start a magazine the magazine as far as I was concerned and even have to exist the fact that it went on to exist was really fun and we call it Metro which was the name I came up with because it sounded like a magazine it didn’t just sound like a magazine it sounded like a magazine that you have heard of and I love the fact that over the years metro magazines around the world actually do exist now but in 1975 they didn’t but I could phone up and say what from Metro magazine and people go oh yeah and you know our voices had broken so over the phone nobody knew that we were 15 and I remember interviewing Michael Moorcock who was an author whose work I loved with with my friend Dave Dixon who told me recently he just found the tape and is threatening to put it up as some kind of glorious podcast which I really hope he does 15 year old Neil Gaiman and Dave Dixon interviewing Michael Moorcock but the the one that taught me my lesson was the I think it was the second interview we did Moorcock was the first and it was Roger Dean and Roger Dean is an artist and designer most famous back then for the covers of yes albums this beautiful sort of calligraphy and these floating islands and things like that and I got talking to some kid on the train who said oh yeah you know I know Roger Dean and so we phoned up Roger Dean’s publisher which was basically Roger Dean I think they were called Dragon’s dream and said you know like to interview Roger went down to Brighton I remember the sheer amazement and joy of these paintings that were as far as I was concerned iconic religious emblem they they were you know I I and I didn’t like yes very much in fact I didn’t really like much of the music that he done covers too I had a copy of his book views and just loved it there was a painting he did up some badges there was just these things it felt very Lord of the Rings it felt very fantastical and there were these amazing paintings covered in dust propped up against walls and we interviewed him and at the end of the interview I noticed that the tape wasn’t going round and got home played it and you can hear there’s 30 seconds of us talking there’s 30 seconds of us talking in higher and higher pitched voices faster and faster like mad chipmunks and then it stops yeah and that was the Roger Dean interview and I and the great thing about that was when seven years later I really was a journalist I really was going around interviewing people I was interviewing people for magazines that existed and you know had existed before we decided to do the interviews and things um I was carried spare batteries I always carried spare tapes if I could you know at the point where I could afford to I even carried a spare micro cassette recorder just in case just in case two is one and one is none as they say sometimes and so the gods the gods gifted you with a malfunction early exactly one good malfunction and you learn your lesson that pain thing and we were chatting before we sat down to record as I was gathering copious beverages water and tea and and so on for us I’m using the Royal ass I suppose mostly for me and water and we’re talking about this location downtown where we’re sitting and I’ve I’ve decided in the last few years to use locations outside of my home for a lot of what I do because I’ve found it that is it being sitting at my kitchen table doing a lot to sometimes produce Himalayas this is the odd Association or lack of dissociation between work and home and I had read at one point that Maya Angelou and I hope I’m getting that pronunciation right would rent hotel rooms to work on a lot of her writing and then you brought up another name so um back in about 1997 I read an article by Ian Fleming he wrote the James Bond books about how he wrote the James Bond books and you read this article and you realize something which is Ian Fleming did not enjoy the process of writing I was always fascinated by the fact that that several of Roald Dahl’s most famous short stories were plotted by Ian Fleming Ian Fleming would really yeah he gave Dahl no idea the two best short story twists which are lamb to the slaughter where the woman kills her husband with a leg of lamb and then cooks it and feeds it to the detective who is going I cannot figure out what he was hit with is an Ian Fleming plot and so is the one about the evil antique dealer who finds this amazing antique in you know on some farm and decides to cheat the farmers and explains that well the thing isn’t worth any money but the legs the legs are worth some money so I’ll I’ll give you a you know twenty quid for the legs and is about to take away this million pound antique thing and the farmers helpfully rip off the legs and throw the rest of it away who makes easier for you and and those plots were both the in planning’s and you start realizing I you really don’t like writing when you read his thing on how he wrote the James Bond books you ride a James Bond book in two weeks you check into a hotel you have to check into a hotel somewhere that you don’t want to be otherwise you might go out and walk around a become a tourist you have to check into a not terribly nice hotel room otherwise you might luxuriate and enjoy it and instead what you want to be is focused on getting out and then you having nothing else to do in this town in this place you settle down and you write like a fiend and you get your James Bond book written and who peeks and you leave this horrible hotel room and that was how he did it and I have tried it a couple of times I did it with the American draft of never where that was the first one I ever tried and I did the entire set of American draft which was a big second era the book had already been published in the UK but my American editor wanted stuff done because she pointed out that the book as it existed was written for people whom you knew that Oxford Street was a big Street with lots of shops on it and you know or whatever they was written for Brits and Londoners and she wanted something expanded so I expanded it and I was in a room with as far as I remember no windows in the I think it was a Marriott in the World Trade Center and which is no longer there but writing in that hotel room you just wanted to be out it’s it seems to me and you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet so I want you to certainly fact check me as needed but that you you also have or have had some internal rules so you can you can use your external environment to assist but but I that and again feel free to correct not making rules the importance of making rules rules like you can sit here and write or you can sit here and do nothing but you can’t sit here and do anything else that that was always and still is when I go off to write that’s my biggest rule could you speak to that yeah cuz I would go down to my lovely little gazebo at the bottom of the garden sit down and I’m absolutely allowed not to do anything I’m allowed to sit at my desk I’m allowed to stare out at the world I’m allowed to do anything I like as long as it isn’t anything not allowed to do a crossword not allowed to read a book allowed to phone a friend not allowed to you know make a claim model of something I all I’m allowed to do is absolutely nothing or right and what I love about that is I’m giving myself permission to write or not write but writing is actually more interesting than doing nothing after a while you know you sort of sit there and you’ve been staring out the window now for five minutes and it kind of loses its charm well actually might as well write something and and it’s hard I’m as a writer I’m more easily distractible I have a three-year-old son he is the epitome of cuteness and charm he’s it’s more fun playing with him than it is writing which means if I’m gonna be writing I need to do it somewhere where I don’t have a three-year-old some singing to me asking me to read to him demanding my attention and I think that’s a I think it’s a really just a solid rule for writers it’s like yeah you don’t have to write you have permission to not write but you don’t have permission to do anything else it reminds me of another one of my favorite writers you being the one who’s sitting in front of me John McPhee nonfiction writer who has spent much of his life in Princeton New Jersey but has written some incredible pilled surprise winning nonfiction and I was lucky enough to take class with him a thousand years ago and his his rule was very similar they didn’t state it explicitly he would sit in front of his first as a young man type writer he could sit in front of the blank page and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the exception of a break for lunch and swimming it was the blank page or writing its disallowed from doing anything else are there any other rules or practices that you also hold sacred or important for your writing process ah some of them just things for me for example most of the time not always I will do my first draft in fountain pen because I actually enjoy the process of writing with the fountain pen I like the I like filling a fountain pen I like uncapping it I like the weight of it in my hand I like that thing so I’ll have a notebook I’ll have a fountain pen and I’ll write if I’m doing anything long if I’m working on a novel for example I will always have two fountain pens on the go at least with two different colored inks at least because that way I can see at a glance how much work I did that day I can just look down and go look at five pages in brown eye that I wrote that half a page in black that was not a good day nine pages in blue was it what a great day and I you can just sort of get a sense of okay are you are you working are you making forward progress what’s actually happening and I also love that because it emphasizes for me that nobody is ever meant to read your first draft your first draft can go way off the rails your first draft can absolutely go up in flames it can you can change the age gender number of a character you can bring somebody dead back to life nobody ever needs to know anything that happens in your first draft is you telling the story to yourself and then I’ll sit down and type and I’ll put it onto a computer and as far as I’m going to send the second draft is where I try and make it look like I knew what I was doing all along do you edit then as you’re looking or translating from the first draft on the page to the computer or do you get it all down as is in the computer and then edit okay no I definitely that’s my editing process I think that’s my second draft is typing into the computer and also I love so backing up a bit here when I was what was I 27 28 in the days when we were still in typewriters and there were just a handful of people with word processors which were clunky things with discs which didn’t hold very much and stuff I edited an anthology and enjoyed editing mines don’t you most of the stories that came in were about 3,000 words long move forward in time not much five six seven years mid 90s everybody is now on computer and I edited another short story anthology and the stories that were coming in tended to be somewhere between six and nine thousand words long and they really have much more story than the three thousand words ones and I realized that what was happening is it’s it’s a sort of a computer thing is if you’re typing putting stuff down is work if you’ve got a computer adding stuff is not work choosing his work so it sort of expands a bit like a gas if you have two things you could say you say both of them if you have this stuff you want to add you add it and and I thought okay I have to not do that because otherwise my stuff is gonna balloon and it will become gaseous and thin so what I love if I’ve written something on a computer and I decide to lose a chunk it feels like I’ve lost work if I delete a page and a half I feel like there’s a page and a half it just went away and that that’s a page and a half worth of work I’ve just lost if I’ve been writing in a notebook I’ll I’m typing it up and I can look at something go I don’t need this page and a half and I leave it out I’ve just saved myself work and it feels kind of like I’m I’m treating myself so I’m just trying to always have in my head the idea that maybe I’m somehow on some cosmic level paying somebody by the word in order to be allowed to write that that if they’re there they should matter they should mean something it’s always important to me and you mentioned you mentioned distraction earlier and you’re dangerously adorable son which which I certainly agree with I had read somewhere actually before I get to that this might seem like a very very mundane question but what type of notebooks do you prefer they large like legal pads are they leather-bound what type of notebooks when they came out I really liked I’ve used a whole bunch of different ones I bought big drawing ones which actually turned out to be a bit too big all I kind of liked how much I could see on the page those were the ones I wrote Stardust and and American Gods in sort of big size but they weren’t terribly portable I went over to the mall skins and I loved them when they first came out and then they dropped their paper quality and dropping paper quality doesn’t matter unless you’re writing and fountain pen because all of a sudden it’s bleeding through and all of a sudden you’re writing on one page leaving a page blank because it’s bled through and writing on the next page and Joe Hill about six or seven years ago Joe Hill the wonderful horror a fantasy writer suggested the Elector to me and so my usual notebook right now is a low-key term because I really like the the way you can paginate stuff in them and the thickness of the paper and they’re just like sort of mole skins but but the Porsche of moles is just better and I also have been writing I wrote the graveyard book and I’m writing the current novel in a these beautiful books that I bought in a stationery shop in Venice [Music] built into a bridge some are in Venice there’s that there’s a little stationery shop on a bridge and they have these beautiful leather-bound blank books that just look like hardback books but they’re blank paper pages and I wrote the graveyard book in one of those I bought four of them and now I’m using the next one on the next novel and it may well go into another one I’m not sure and then at home in a except at home my house in Wisconsin which is where my stuff is you know I broke up my we live in Woodstock but I have an entire life’s worth of stuff still sitting in my house in Wisconsin and it it’s become archives it’s you know it’s actually kind of fabulous having a house that is an archive but waiting for me in that house is a book that I bought for myself about 25 years ago and before I die I plan to write a novel in it and it’s an Accounts book from the mid 19th century it’s 500 pages long every page is is numbered it’s lined with accounts lines but very faint so it’ll be nice to write a book in it and it is engineered so that every single page lies flat and it’s huge and it’s heavy and it just looks like a book that you know Dickens or somebody would have written a novel in and I’ve just been waiting until I have an idea that is huge and weird and Dickensian enough and whether or not I actually get to write it in the pen I’m not sure but I definitely want to write it in a sort of old Victorian something slightly copper plating one of those old flex nib pens that they stopped making when carbon paper came in just so I can get that kind of spidery Victorian handwriting I’m just imagining you putting pen to the first page when you finished the first page and what that will feel like that’s gonna be a good day it will it will be either a good day or an incredibly bad day okay at the end of the first page ah no I have this pristine but it is it is the the thing that I tell young writers and by young writers a young writer can be any age you just have to be starting out which is anything you do can be fixed what you cannot fix is the perfection of a blank page but you cannot fix is that pristine unsullied whiteness of a screen or a page with nothing on it because there’s nothing that affects you mentioned a word and it might be that I’m a little slow moving because I’m from Long Island but lysed um how do you spell that la le i CH I think is T URM and then 1917 I think is that that twitter handle is definitely like tome 1917 them and I’ll put that in the show notes for folks so you’ll be able to find it since you gave me but I’m not intending to turn this episode into a shopping list but I’ve never used fountain pens really I have not and my assistant my dear assistant does she loves using found fence she enjoys the act I’ve had a few sloppy false starts and then been rather impatient but if I wanted to give it a shot are there any particular fountain pens or criteria that you would use in picking um a good pen you know the biggest criteria I would use in picking if you have the choice is go somewhere like New York’s fountain-pen Hospital is that a real place it’s a real place it’s called the fountain pen hospital they sell lots of new pens they recondition all pens they look after pens for you and try them out because the lovely thing about fountain pens is they are personal you you you go no no no and then you find the one I tend to suggest to people who are just nervously you know I’ve never used a fountain pen what should I do and I will point them at Lummi la my who have some fabulous starter pens and they’re not very expensive and they’re good they do a pen call they love the Safari but they have a bunch of good good starter pens and they’re just nice to to get into the idea of do I like doing this the let’s see what am I using right now I got in here I’ve got so this one here is a pilot it’s a nummy key and it’s a flexi nib ever-so-slightly when you put down weight on it the the nipples spread it’s a beautiful beautiful pen though that one’s a propellant I think this one here is than amici and it’s really weird because no Miki is pilots I don’t quite understand that this is maybe it’s a sort of Toyota Lexus thing I think it is it’s that kind of thing this one here is called a falcon and again you put a little bit of weight on it and the line will just spread and thicken which is part of the fun of fountain pens and I will just you know I’ll go and play there’s a lovely Talya man I got my eight my agent I did a thing some years ago when I realized that I was losing a lot of actual writing time to signing foreign contracts and this is for books this is for books or occasional ink you know for stories or things being reprinted around the world and the contracts would come in and there would be big sheaves of them because I get printed all around the world and foreign contracts a lot of them you have to sign a lot you have to do a lot of initialing and and I would sit there going I have just spent ninety minutes signing a pile of contracts and I love that I got to sign it but so I contacted my agent I said can I give you like power of attorney but do you mind just can you just sign these things for me and she’s like absolutely great so I got her she’d never used a fountain pen and I got her a fountain pen I actually went to the New York fountain pen hospital with her and did the thing of showing her pens you know what do you like come then and I got her a Visconti which is just these lovely Italian pens and mostly I love this sort of a slightly fetishistic bit of having bottles of beautifully colored ink when you start talking to fountain pen people they really they pretend to be interested in what pen you like but they don’t care because they found their own pens that they love and they said what are you used and I you know I use pilot eight to threes for signing and and I actually now I bought a pilot eight to three because it’s just a fantastic signing pen it’s a workhorse it keeps going and I got one in 2012 and it was my signing pen I signed through ocean at the end of the lane you know before the book had come out I’d already pre signed you know written my signature 20,000 times with this pen I’ve seen footage of you icing your hand after signings that was the signing tool that I really got into icing my hand because and wrist and arm and you know I I did the numbers and as far as I can tell I have signed about one and a half million signatures with that pen which remained and I had to send it off to Pilate at one point not because the nib was in trouble because the the plunger mechanism was starting to stick and they fixed it for me and sent it back and then my three-year-old son found a place behind a cast iron fireplace in our house in Woodstock where if you just insert your father’s pilot 8310 which you have found on the table just to see if it would go in there you can actually guarantee that nobody without disassembling the house and we actually have to take the entire house apart to uninstall a cast iron fireplace from 1913 to get at the Pens how come that is that pen now has been given as a sacrifice in the house God so I need to get a new one it strikes me at least it seems as we’re talking that many of the decisions you’ve made the tools you’ve found and enlisted act to make not writing unappealing or at least boring after five minutes and to into sort of enhance the act of writing to make it something that is enjoyable I don’t I don’t know that stret is true and but they also exist for another reason which is kind of weird which is to try and trivialize what I’m doing and not make it important and Freight it down with wait because that paralyzes me when I started writing I had a typewriter it’s a manual typewriter when I sold my first book I had the money to buy an electric typewriter what was that first book all right gosh I actually don’t remember whether I bought the electric typewriter with the money from a book called ghastly beyond belief look of science fiction and fantasy quotations I did with Kim Newman or whether I did it whether it was for that your and your own biography that I did either way I was just 23 and and what I would do back then is I would do my rough draft on scrap paper single spaced so that it couldn’t be used and also so that I could get as many words on and you know paper was expensive and then so so I could always do that and I remember the joy of getting my first computer and just the idea that I wasn’t making paper dirty nothing mattered until I press print and that was absolutely nutley liberating and then you know a decade on picking up a notebook it was for stardust of which I decided that I wanted the rhythms have Stardust to be sort of very antiquated rhythms and I thought I there’s probably a difference to the way that one writes with a fountain pen 17th century writing 17th 18th century writing you notice tends to go in very very long sentences and long paragraphs and I my theory about this is that one reason why you get this is because you’re using dip pens and if you pause they they dry up so you just have to kind of keep going it forces you to do a kind of writing where you’re just again for a very long sentence and you’re gonna get over a long paragraph and you’re gonna keep moving in this thing and you’re sort of thinking ahead with if you’re writing on a computer you’ll think of the sort of thing that you mean and write that down and then look at it and then fiddle with it and get it to be the thing that you mean if you’re writing in fountain pen if you do that you just wind up with a page covered with crossings out so it’s actually so much easier to just sort of think a little bit more you slow up a bit but you’re thinking the sentence through to the end and then then you start writing you write that and then you pause then you write the next one at least that was the way that I hypothesized I might be writing and I wanted start us to feel I could have been written in the late 1920s and I thought well to do that I should probably get myself a fountain pen and a book and that so that was how I started writing that and again what I loved was suddenly feeling liberated was like ah I’m not actually making words or not going down in phosphor on a computer screen the this trivializing is I think very very important and I’d love to dig into it a little bit because this is something that’s come up quite a bit initially very unexpectedly with with people I interview on the podcast and we’re having conversation with Sean white in a legendary snowboarder and I asked him what he said to himself what was his internal monologue or dialogue right before the gate opened for the last run in the Olympics for the gold medal and his answer was who cares yeah which surprised me and he said yeah because I in effect you know if I apply an incredible amount of weight to myself it’s going to do nothing but handicap me and you do see or are there many examples of of writers of musicians who have sort of crumbled with sophomore syndrome after a success and had great difficulty put it putting out work you’ve put out a lot of very very good work I’ve read and listened to and watched a lot of your work what are other things you do to remove that weight if anything other things you say to yourself when you commit to writing a book when you when you sign the agreement with the publisher for yet another novel is there any other advice that you would give or any other things that you do that help to remove the sort of psychological performance anxiety well if you’re me you tend to do the things that are not actually financially sensible but make life easier I write unlike writing things then nobody’s waiting for it’s much more stressful writing things that people actually are waiting for that people care about it’s why it felt wonderful to follow American gods up with Coraline nobody even knew that I wanted to be a kids author and it was an odd kind of thing to be and I’ve just written this giant novel that’s won all of the awards and it’s incredibly adult and it’s thick and it’s a proper book and look I got the Hugo and look I got the nebula and so on and so forth and then here’s the book nobody’s waiting for about did you work on see you worked on that before anyone knew you in other words you hadn’t set expectations carline was written I thought Caroline was unpublishable and that I was told it was initially and I I started it for my kids my daughter in particular Holly I showed it to an English editor who told me it was completely unpublishable we moved to America the idea was that I was writing in my own time but I didn’t have any own time somewhere in there I sent it to my friend Jane Yolen I mentioned to Jane there was an amazing children’s author but also at the time was editing a line of books and she showed it to she wanted to buy it and the people upstairs the publishing house said absolutely not and and you know this was just the first third of Coraline that hadn’t even got bad yet and I like put it away and then a few years on I looked around and realized I now had another daughter I now had Maddie and she was a baby and she was getting bigger and if I didn’t finish that book you know is this book I started for Holly and now Holly’s too old almost and and I needed to finish it so I sent it to my new editor but I sent it to my a doubt editor I didn’t have a children’s editor Jennifer Hershey at China remember where we at HarperCollins at the time or was it still Avon I think it was still Avon yet Ben Avon got bought by HarperCollins which is how I became a HarperCollins author um and she read it and she called me up and she said this is great what happens next and I said send me a contract and we will both find out so bless her she did and so I went back to writing it because now it was actually something that actually had a delivery date attached and I did not have the time to write it in it wasn’t like I have more time and I remember what I did was I had a notebook by the side of my bed and instead of reading three or four pages a night and then turning off the light and gonna sleep I would write maybe fifty words of Coraline which doesn’t seem much right before bed right before bed so I wasn’t right a reading before bed I was just writing before bed but I got a bed and I would reread what I’d written on Caroline and I would do you know five or six lines of Caroline but if you do it that way you know you’ve written a page a week and so it it kept moving forward and then we went on a cruise a fundraising cruise for the comic book Legal Defense Fund which is a First Amendment thing and I was working on American Gods and I did not pack due to a packing error the American Gods notebooks but I did have the Caroline book with me so on that cruise I got to write quite a bit more Coraline and then a couple of months later I was done the despair of ever finishing American Gods because I’ve been writing it by that point for at least 18 months and figured that I had about a year to go and just said and wrote Coraline and just finished it and sent it off to my publisher and it’s like here is a book you can publish this and they’re like that’s great but we will wait for American guys do you tend to work on multiple projects at once they used it I used to be really good at working on multiple projects at once I think I have to start I think I have to start accepting that I’m not as good anymore I packed what does that mean it means that in the old days when I was young I would have at least three things on the go which was great because if I got stuck on any one of them I would do the other even when I was writing American Gods I would always have the next of the sort of the coming to America short stories in my head so if I got stuck on shadow I would just take a week and I do one of the coming to America stories and then I go back to shadow again and but these days I don’t think I’m as good at that anymore I I think I am I think it’s great to have three or four things going on but there is that point I start looking at myself and going actually I’m getting less done I’m not doing that thing where I get stuck on project day so I just immediately snip over a project B it takes me a little ramping up time to get to the headspace now project B and at the point where I have project a B C and D all waiting for me what I do is look at them make a noise like lurch from The Addams Family you know others Oh kind of noises like often make a cup of tea and a plate with a Shore something so I think actually I it’s one of those things we just know thyself I think I now have to start going now just just one thing at a time it also means I’m gonna have to say no to more introductions and things yeah cuz and I love doing introductions I intentions you mean writing introduction writing introductions writing introductions to other people’s work writing introductions and essays and things where you go here is the thing I love I wanna I can get it to the world I can tell people why I love this thing and maybe they’ll discover it and every now and then and you know sometimes you know your introduction makes no real difference in the scheme of things and then sometimes you know James Thurber I was told I could bring you know that that they would bring them the 13 clocks back in the print if I wrote an introduction to it so it’s like yes I’m writing an introduction to it and then because it has an introduction by me I’ve run into many hundreds of people who I assume are representatives of thousands of people over the years who said you know I picked up that book because your name was on the cover and oh my god it’s become my favorite book you know I read it to my kids it’s amazing and I go good that’s that’s what it’s for that’s why you do this you mentioned writing right before bed I’d love to talk about the maybe not the scheduling but the timing of writing so I was was doing prep for this conversation and came across an interview in which you said that for for nonfiction you can kind of write wherever it happens to fall if it’s a script or something else but that for novels very often you tend to write between say 1 and 6 p.m. where you’ll handle email maybe writing a blog post and so on in the morning and I’d love to chat about that because many of the writers I’ve spoken to and I’m sure it’s it differs person to person but tend to write either very late or very because they feel like they avoid distractions when I started out from from the age of about 22 when I was a young journalist 2627 a starting out comics writer you know on all through there I was a like late late night writer nothing really happened until the kids were in bed 9 o’clock I might have factored out a little bit during the day but now it’s all done and now I’m getting down to work and at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and I’m writing in England at this point I’m a phone a friend in America just to talk enough to make sure that I’m awake but so that’s what I did and and I was a smoker and a coffee drinker and it was great I moved to America in 92 gave up smoking 93 stopped drinking coffee went over to tea and tried being a late-night right trying carrying on being a late-night writer and gradually realized that I wasn’t really any more what tended to happen was somewhere around 1:00 in the morning I’d be writing away and then I would lift my head from the keyboard at 4 o’clock in the morning and have 3,000 pages of the letter M just go okay that this doesn’t really work anymore for me and then I started rescheduling trying different things out part of what I discovered particularly about being a novelist is writing a novel works best if you can do the same day over and over again the closer you can come to just Groundhog Day you just repeat that day you you set up a day that works for yourself you know I I the last novel that I actually wrote I was at Tori Amos is wonderful house in Florida she has this lovely sort of house on the water that she’s lent me many times to go and write in and I went down there and I would get up in the morning I would go for a jog come back do my yoga get dressed and and get in the car drive down to a little cafe where there were just enough people around that I knew that other people existed but nobody that I would ever be tempted to talk to and I would order myself kappab large cup of green tea sit in the corner and just start writing and I would do that day over and over and over and over and you know a couple of months later looked up and and I had the ocean at the end of the lane which was only meant to have been a short story anyway it just kept going and I add that I think works really really well I also think that the the most important thing for human beings is to be aware of the change you know the the biggest problem we run into is going this is who I am this is what I’m like this is how I function while failing to notice that you don’t do that anymore I’m perfectly aware that I may one day become one of those people who wakes up early in the morning and goes and writes my friend Jean wolf who is now in his late 80s and is one of you know and the finest writers that America has for years was a an editor of a magazine about factories I think was called plant engineering and so he’d get up at four o’clock in the morning and write for an hour before anything else before the day started before he had to leave for work and before anybody else was up and that was how he did it I cannot imagine getting up in the morning and just writing that’s not how my head works I need a while to get here but I can absolutely imagine that one day I’ll all have become one of those morning writers from having been a late night writer in my youth and an afternoon writer in my in my middle-age in my dotage I could absolutely become a morning writer in your dotage I think that’s gonna take a while I do want to ask you a question related to a name that came up a little earlier and that is and this of course I think I’m getting right because comes from a reliable source which is your blog and my blog is a pretty reliable I think it’s very reliable and for those those who know your work outside of the blog it really encouraged to read some of your work on the blog there’s some really touching personal work one in particular about your gorgeous white dog whose name I’m currently just in such a beautiful piece that in fact I owe you thanks for because it led in part there are many factors but to me getting my first dog as an adult Molly which I put off for decades so thank you for that but this question beautiful piece this is related to Holly so and I’m gonna use this as a very sneaky way to ask you a question that you’d probably dislike being asked and it involves 57 year olds so my understanding is you’re convinced to speak to your daughter’s class about where ideas come from and what I what I noted here I’m not going to ask it that way but the line that stuck out was you get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions well what if dot-dot-dot what if you woke up with wings if only if only real life was like it is in Hollywood musicals I wonder dot dot if this goes on this is one I really liked you know if this goes on telephones are going to start talking to each other and cut out the middleman wouldn’t it be interesting if thought thought into the the question I’m going to ask is a follow-up it doesn’t have to map perfectly to this but I would love to hear the genesis story of the graveyard book and the reason I ask you about that book specifically is that it is my my absolute favorite fiction audio book of all time and so this is I remember the exact moment when I finished the graveyard book in audio and there are multiple versions people who ask me I have not listened to the ensemble version and – I’m sure it’s spectacular but not not to sound creepy I do find your voice very soothing and I finished it as my plane was not my plan let me rephrase as a plane was landing and a few minutes before we landed and I thought about restarting the book so it’s it’s had a wonderful place in my heart in my mind where did that book come from – I can give a slightly better answer to that now and I could have done a year ago or I have done for previous years because I found something accidently recently which was which gave me an insight in the so I was 25 years old it would have been 1984 85 maybe even 18 26 I was living in Sussex in a little town in a very tall house my dad owned the house actually what he owned was a shop underneath but the house sort of cane came with it and because little old English towns go back for a long time the house was at least 300 years old and it was across a little lane from a country graveyard and the house was incredibly tall and incredibly thin you get a couple of rooms and then he gets tears and I had a son who at that point was two years old and his favorite thing was his little tricycle and the problem of little tricycles is you cannot ride them around houses like that otherwise you die hit the stairs and you die so every day I would take him and his little tricycle over the road to this little churchyard and he would pedal happily round and round the paths through the gravestones and I remember just the the thought process I remember going he looks so happy here looks really comfortable there is something very sweet about a little kid riding a tricycle through a graveyard and I thought I could do a story about it wouldn’t it be fun to do a story about that you could do a story like it will be like you know a kid in a graveyard getting brought up by dead people and then I thought actually Kipling already kind of did that once with the jungle book which is a kid in a jungle being brought up by wild animals and teaching him the things that wild animals know so I would have to have a kid in a graveyard being taught the things that dead people know and I went up to my office my little office sat down at my typewriter and started to write now when I told people this in the past I’ve said I wrote a couple of pages and realized that it wasn’t good enough and I was wrong I actually wrote an entire first chapter I discovered because about a year ago looking for something else I found it and wasn’t very good what was fascinating and delightful about it was the portrait of the kid which was very obviously a really actually looking back in a quite good pen portrait of my son Mike who is now a that you did that you know I’m describing the baby and I only knew one so so it’s Mike and that was really interesting but story doesn’t work and I think I forget I think I’ve got a this is there’s a demon in it I don’t have who I think is the person who winds up being the person who kind of accepts him into the graveyard you know nothing’s quite right but there’s a central idea there but I wrote I remember writing that and just going okay this is a better idea than I am a writer so I need to put this off and about a decade later I came back tried it again and this time you know at least according to memory it was only a couple of pages and again I went oh no still not good enough for this may I pass for one sec yeah you must have ideas for potential stories all the time yeah but this was different this was one where I knew I knew it had legs and I knew it was real and I knew it was good and in fact you know it was interesting there was a point where I thought I wasn’t gonna do it and I kind of gave the idea to Terry Pratchett we’ve been we’ve had our photos taken in a graveyard and with we were talking about graveyards and kids and I said well there’s this book that I was gonna write and this is what I was gonna do in it and what is lovely is Terry didn’t do any of that exactly but he took he wrote a book called Johnny and the dead which was sort of taking some of the stuff but it wasn’t close enough that I couldn’t then still do my story but what was great sigh I knew that this was still important and I still wanted to tell the story and over the years I would just let it accumulate and finally in about 2003 I finished writing I think it was a Nancy boys which I also listened to an eye on audio haha Lenny Henry is brilliant rattle incredible such a great read and I got to the end of a Nancy boys and I thought you know I I don’t think I’m getting any better I think this is now as a writer um probably me it’s probably it I may improve you know tiny bit but it’s not going to be the leaps and bounds that I know I was so I have absolutely no excuse for putting off the graveyard book but when I’ve started the other two times and it didn’t work I started with chapter one I’m gonna start right in the middle and I wrote the first two pages of of the witch’s headstone chapter four and did emotionally exactly the same thing I always do I had always done at that point with the graveyard book we just got such is not good enough it’s not good enough my daughter Maddie because at this point we’re on we’re in the Cayman Islands on a small holiday me Maddie and Holly Maddie comes out the sea wanders over to me and says what what are you doing I said I’m writing a story she’s read it to me so I read her the first page and a half that I’d written and she said what happens next so I kept going and I think I would I would absolutely have been capable of giving up and failing at that point except Maddie wanted to know what happened next so I kept writing and by the end of that I’d written a story that felt like it worked I had the tone I had the voice I had Silas I had all of that stuff when it’s right here by the way I’m so lovely Silas and then I started at the beginning and I and the the the one thing that I have no idea where it came from because it was just sitting in the notebook when I came to start it’s like I’d written it at some point in the previous five years knowing that it would be you know knowing that I would have to start at some point was just the line there was a hand in the darkness net hold a knife and knowing that that was the first line of the story and feeling kind of you know having very mixed feelings about that because going well on the whole this story is gonna be very loving it’s gonna be very tender it’s gonna be about growth it’s gonna be about families it’s gonna be about villages it’s gonna be about people but the first few pages are going to be absolutely terrifying and that was the first line yeah I think you did you’ve certainly delivered on the first few pages being very very terrifying I’m gonna go back and listen to that again maybe I’ll try ensemble this time around the ensemble is real I mean you know I and I’m not just saying this because for me you know listening to one of my own audiobooks it’s a lot like back when you were young and we had answering machines and you would be listening to messages people had left for you and then you’d suddenly hit your own voice and it’s like no I don’t sound like that but I but it’s Derek Jacobi who is one of England’s greatest actors as the narrator you the cast of people like Miriam Margolies Rhys Shearer Smith just this fabulous cast so you mentioned your name that I was planning on bringing up anyway and that is Terry Pratchett yeah and I think many people who at least in the United States are less familiar with Terry than perhaps they should be could you tell us who Terry is and how you first met Terry Pratchett later Sir Terry Pratchett was an English writer who died in March 2015 he was a humorist a satirist best known for the Discworld novels set on a flat earth which is on the back of four elephants on the back of an enormous turtle swimming through space and he was my friend Terry and I met when his first book first Discworld book the colour of magic was due to come out in paperback and we met for years and years we would tell everybody that we met in a Chinese restaurant and again a few years ago I found my desk diary from 1985 and I thought ah there’s Terry and me meeting in February 1985 I wonder which Chinese restaurant it was and it turned out we actually met on like the 28th of January and it was Bert or Ellie’s Italian restaurant in Goodge Street I think it was good street proving that memory is gloriously fallible embarrassingly so since I’d actually filmed a piece to camera in a Chinese restaurant about Terry’s passing but it’s you know it was a young journalist Terry at the time was working as the press officer for the central electricity board in the UK and we hit it off in a way that’s just that sort of thing we go oh you have the same kind of mind that I have not exactly but the Venn diagram of overlap is it was the point where we got onto the subject of grimoires of occult books and Terry mentioned that he had come up with one called the necro Telekom makan the book of the telephone numbers of the dead and I said that’s really weird I’ve just come up with one called the lever full varam Hagen Arum at the book of yellow colored pages and his gang oh we have the same kind of head that goes to the same kind of places and we became friendlier friendlier after a while Terry would start sending me his books to read as he was writing them you know a floppy disk would arrive and it would have 30,000 words on it of a novel or my phone would ring and Terry would say hello it’s me so which is funny they just be writing anyone somebody to talk to so I had written a book called don’t panic the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the galaxy companion which was great I got to work with Douglas Adams I got to rummage through Douglass’s filing cabinets and obscurity staff ID I’d written the whole book of who Douglas was and what Hitchhiker’s was and I realized by the end of it that I could write in that style classic English humor with funny footnotes and things like that that was something I could do and I had an idea for a book inspired really by reading the Jew of Malta I’ve been reading Marlowe’s the Jew of Malta and there’s just a line in it where these evil Jews meet and they compare evil that they’ve done and I thought you know you could do that seem with demons and it would be really nice if you got demon number one who’s done lots of evil demon number two has done lots of evil and evil number three who just hasn’t really you know and that was this star so I wrote and I had this idea about a baby swap um kind of like the omen but it all goes wrong and it becomes a nice kid so I wrote 5,000 words of this thing and I sent it to a few friends to look at and then Sandman and books of magic took over my life in my time and didn’t really think about it I knew that it was a thing I knew I get to it one day and then I got a phone call from Terry how much later was this maybe eight months nine months and he says yeah that that thing you sent me are you doing anything with it and I said well no I’m doing Sandman I’m doing what’s magic he said well oh you know what happens next so either sell me the idea and what you’ve written so far or we can write it together now as far as I was concerned that was a lot like Michelangelo ringing you up and saying it you want to paint a ceiling together this weekend you know you don’t I I loved Teri’s craft teri became somewhere in there before the arrival of JK Rowling the best-selling novelist in the UK he hands of millions of copies millions upon millions of copies this was before that this was you know he just retired from the the electricity board to become a full-time writer I knew how good he was and I’m like this is a fabulous apprenticeship so even though I didn’t have the time I said yes and my life you know I look back on it I’m just really glad that I was twenty-seven twenty-eight when I was doing this because I couldn’t do it now I mean just physically and mentally couldn’t do it no but I would write Sandman until midnight I would write the books of magic from midnight until about 2:30 and I would write Good Omens from 2:30 until about 6 a.m. and then I would get up at 1 o’clock in the afternoon and my aunt’s from answering machine would have a little blinking light on it and I would press the button and the tape would rewind and then Terry Pratchett’s voice would come out of it and he’d go get up get up you bastard I’ve just written a good bit you know that was so that was that was the process of writing was very fast very mad and was the first draft second draft took us took us much longer but you know we we had good omens we have this wonderful incredibly collaborative book it was almost immediately bought by Hollywood and Terry and I went out and had one of those hellish awful Hollywood experiences that you laugh at when other people tell you in their stories about them because you’re like it can’t be that bad it’s like no it really is that bad it was that bad and then over the years terry gilliam tried to make it into a film which we we love the idea of then we were gonna do it as a TV series and we couldn’t really find somebody to adapt it and eventually Terry Terry and I had a deal that we would never do anything individually on Good Omens it had to be together or not at all and then one day he emailed me and he said look you have to do this you have to do this because you’re the only other person who has the same amount of love for an understanding of the old girl that I have and I want to see it before the lights go out and then and I said okay and then Terry died which meant that now had to become this sort of last request and if the upcoming good omen series is good which I believe it is a lot of what makes it good a lot of what because I was the showrunner I wrote it and I show ran it but I think what makes it good is I wasn’t prepared to compromise on it and I am normally very prepared to compromise I’m encouraging when other people want to bring ideas to the table I’m like yeah go do something fun with this I’ve already done the book or whatever but in this case I had a terry pratchet in the back of my head who I had to please and you know the producers would say well Neil I know you’ve written this sequence where Agnes nutter the witch is taken out and burned and it’s you know we have villages and we have it’s the 1640s and you’ve got a giant bonfire and an explosion and all of this kind of stuff and and we thought we could save a lot of money and do it just as well if we had wood cuts of what happened and the narrator telling the story and I would you like okay and then I would stop and I would think what would Terry think about that I’m like Terry would have nothing polite to say about any of these people and it’s like you know I’m sorry we’re gonna have to do it either way I wrote it and the way it is in the book we’re not doing it with wood cuts and and it was like that all the way through and was like you know just trying to hold the line and make this thing that Terry would have been proud of I’m using using stuff that we came up with in the book using stuff that we’d come up with talking after the book stuff that we would have put into the next book if there ever had been one and just making it all all something that Terry would have been proud of and it’s been really wonderful this South by Southwest has been the first time anybody has seen anything from Good Omens you know and we showed some clips I’m hearing audiences laugh it was kind of amazing it was a whole this it does work it is they’re liking it they’re loving it it does work you should be only a very short clip but I know the book and I’m familiar with it and with with the work you’ve done or any work or characters I deeply care about I collect comics from my entire childhood still have probably 10,000 polybag comics that I’ve refused to get rid of and every time a comic book movie would be made in my younger years because they were not done generally very well I would sort of peek through a crack in my fingers to see how characters would turn out and it was it was always very stressful for me because it’s so much invested in many different characters and just I’ll give a thank you to Hugh Jackman for getting Logan and Wolverine right which was a huge relief and seeing this clip it really gave me the feeling that you’d pulled it off that it that it that it lived up to my experience as a reader and a listener I think mostly we have and I think that is a lot of that is casting Michael Sheen and David talent were perfect and they’ve never really been any in anything before because they go up for the same parts because they are very similar actors and people were like why would you cast them why don’t you go you know I think it’s like casting the same person you can yeah it kind of is actually and it’s one of the reasons why it works so well they have joked about and I’m not sure if they’re joking about if ever I write a stage play version of Good Omens they would go on tour with it and alternate roles each that’s really an idea Wow I want to well first I should say and and we’ll put this certainly in the show notes and everywhere else and in the people have already heard in the introduction where can people learn more about Good Omens that’s a really good question well you know one thing that I would recommend you do is read the book Good Omens the novel by Terry Pratchett Neil Gaiman it and it won’t spoil anything for you with the TV show there’s enough stuff in there that I put in for people who knew the book I I kind of there are there are Easter eggs in there where only somebody who’s read the book will know that something is funny or know why something’s happened but there’s also things that people who read the book will not be expecting so that’s that’s the first thing YouTube or any Amazon Prime ads have the ad for Good Omens up the trailer you can go and watch that it’s a lot Tokio than the trailer the trailer is is a lot of it is things going bang because that’s what they like putting in trailers yeah if it were me I would my trailer would have just been sort of like you know three minutes of two characters talking it’s like here you go here’s the trailer if you like this you like the show but I think very wisely they put in you know giant walls of fire and heaven and hell and hellhounds and all of the glorious stuff you mentioned a words apprenticeship what are the types of things that you learned from Terry or picked up the biggest thing looking back on it that I learned from Terry was a willingness to go forward without knowing what happens you might know what happens next but you don’t know what happens after that but it’s okay because you’re a grown-up and you will figure it out there’s lots of metaphors for writing a novel and george RR martin for example divides writers into architects and gardeners and i can be an architect if I have to but I’d rather be a gardener I would rather plant the seeds water them and figure out what I’m growing as they grow and then prune it and trim it and you know bleach it whatever I need to do to make something beautiful that appears intentional but at the end of the day you have to allow for accidents and randomness and just what happens when things grow so the joy of Good Omens really I mean the best thing about Good Omens was having Terry Pratchett as an audience because if I could make Terry laughs I knew you know that that it’s like hitting that Bell in you know hitting the thing in the circus with the hammer if you Bing the bell at top and that’s what I did when I could make Terry laugh he is no longer with us and I’d be curious to know how he faced mortality because I I for instance have Alzheimer’s on both sides of my family so I’ve had the opportunity to observe people with Alzheimer’s which is can be very very difficult how did he how did he approach is from his own mortality Terry made an astonishingly powerful yeah I mean he faced it head-on and he made two or three incredibly powerful documentaries one about Alzheimer’s the one that ripped me up emotionally was the one about assisted suicide it was the one about the right to die which Terry became a very firm believer in and made his film as a piece of polemic about should you be should he be allowed to turn off should he be allowed to go okay this is the situation I’m in and I’m in this body and I am done and you know he followed a man to Switzerland where he he went through the end-of-life process and he turned off the cameras while he did and it was incredibly moving Terry the last time I saw him confided in me very proudly that he did have the death cocktail and that it was hidden away but then it was there for him when he was ready and I knew at that moment he was never gonna take it because Terry had a kind of rear brain Alzheimer’s memory was basically okay but but shapes weren’t the physical world had fallen slightly apart on him you know he couldn’t see things he couldn’t perceive objects he could still think straight but but all of your spatial recognition all of your object recognition stuff was failing and I thought even if you got this stuff you never you can’t find it you can’t get something from a hidden place nobody else is going to get something from a hidden place for you and also I thought and you’ve hit you now actually beyond the point where you ever wanted to be you didn’t want to be here you wanted to have stopped four or five months ago but now you’re here and if you’re here you’re here to the end and in the few months later he fell into unconsciousness and a few months after that he stopped completely but it was inspiring it was inspiring watching Terry talk about Alzheimer’s bringing Alzheimer’s which everybody has to deal with one way or the other into the public consciousness is something that was okay to talk about not as something slightly shameful that happens to Grandpa and also just talk about the right to die I’m talking about it as a human right and it you know I I really and I understand or you know you can listen out to me all of the reasons why it’s a bad idea and look you know here’s a creepy family and if they could kill mum for the money they wouldn’t right now they’ve got her in a home but you know they they would have killed her and announced that she wanted to do it herself or or whatever I get all that but also I get that the right not to be alive the right to end it all the right to go okay I’ve I’ve come as far as I can in this and and it’s okay to stop before before I become something that is a shallow shadow of who I once was you know that that there has to be a right to how does it feel as is such a close friend of his to be able to to share this work that you created together and really really weird the the mostly it’s wonderful and then sometimes it isn’t and Saturday night Amazon had taken over a you know nineteen thousand square foot lot turned it into the Garden of Earthly Delights it has a bookshop in a corner and hairdressers and a giant tree in the middle that serves alcohol it has wings that if you stand in front of them and activates some kind of Instagram filter or maybe it was a snapchat filter will make the wings start to flap oh you know just filled with wonderfulness and I’m there and that we have singing nuns and then a queen cover band come and I’m looking around and there’s John Hamm and David Tennant and Michael Sheen and all my guys from my lovely American Gods cast come over and they’re hanging out I’m getting to introduce it’s like introducing your two families and and I was kind of melancholy because and I knew that I should just be enjoying it I knew I should just be gone this is this is magical this is this is the kind of fun wonderful thing that you you don’t get very often in your life and I should just be exalting in it and instead I’m just thinking I wish Terry were here he would have loved the nuns he would have he would have had a great time at the Queen cover band and he would have been just you know grumbling to me about tiny details and enjoying it or taking enormous pleasure in tiny details and you know having deciding which color wings he liked having best whatever he would have loved it and he’s not around and then by the same token I know Terry well enough to also know the the way that Terry was built and who Terry was we probably would never have got to this point had Terry been alive because if you’re doing something like making a big TV show or something something this big this complicated where things can go wrong sometimes when things are getting weird or things are going wrong or you know the BBC are going a bit mad or whatever the only thing you can do is just focus on the outcome and just keep going and keep a steady course and so on and so forth and I knew Terry well enough and work with Terry long enough to know that he was absolutely constitutionally incapable of doing that you know at the point where things any any one of a dozen places where all we would have to have done is just keep on going and you know Terry would have been making the the phone calls to the head of the BBC or the head of Amazon or you know you know telling Jeff Bezos exactly what he thought of him was like no that just the wrong thing to do right and how so there’s also that sort of weirdness of going had Terry been around we probably would never have got here and getting but getting here was all about making this thing for Terry which he also wasn’t here for which is why I’m saying you know so so a a giant interwoven panoply of strange emotions absolute joy in having made it joy and having made it for Terry because nothing else would have stopped me writing novels for three and a half four years but that did I think I have to imagine he’d be thrilled to see you in this amazing circus just before this piece of work is released to hopefully millions more people who will be impacted by the work I think and I think he would have loved I think he would have loved so much of this and also being Terry he would have loved the fact that then people will come and pick up Good Omens the book and then they’ll go and read Discworld books and that will make Terry even happier Neil this has been so much fun it can’t be 90 minutes already 90 minutes did that that flew it did it did and I certainly hope it’s not the last time we have a chance to have to do it again I’m so stuffed I would really love to and I know we have well let me not state it that way many many of my fans at your fans and just as Terry shared his gifts with the world do you continue to share yours and it has an impact it helped me through some very tough times I was able to transport me delight me shock me scare me and take me through a whole range of emotions I didn’t at the time even though I had access to so I want to thank you for making good art and sharing it with the world you’ve done a great job you are so ridiculously welcome thank you and do you have any closing comments thoughts remarks anything you’d like to say before we wrap up no not really I I I you know I genuinely enjoyed one of the great things about having you as a fan is the books arrived from you and they actually get read and you know and I learn from them because you go off and and explore parts of things that I’m never going into and so I appreciate that too enormously thank you so much and for everybody listening we will include links to everything we’ve discussed including fountain pens including fountain pens this might be the time to buy some stock and everything that came up will be in the show notes as always at tim vlog forward slash podcast you need to search Neal or Gaiman and it will pop right up and Neal once again thank you so much I really really appreciate it and to everyone listening until next time read widely check out Good Omens and chat soon bye