From Coraline to The Sandman and American Gods to Doctor Who, Neil Gaiman has made his mark by bringing fantasy and sci-fi from the fringe and into the spotlight. Gaiman joins Clem Bastow onstage to talk about his varied work, the tyranny of genre, sneezing baby pandas and red daleks.
Gaiman’s conversation is lively and wide-ranging; he moves quickly from describing why he feels like a fraud to discussing why he’s not published in mainland China (and how a sneezing panda named Chu might change that). When Bastow asks him if he’s bothered by the effect genre prejudices may have on whether all of his work is read or not, he says that beginning as a comic writer, “every single possible prejudice that can be levelled at an area of the arts is levelled at you.”
The breadth of his output is one of Gaiman’s most distinctive features. Speaking about his reluctance to be pigeonholed as a writer, he reveals that his restlessness stems from what he learned during early days as a journalist interviewing other writers. He also describes how he tries to enter the storytelling process as openly as possible.
Questions are invited early in the session, prefaced by Gaiman’s explanation of what he considers a question. Gaiman engages playfully with his audience, who ask questions about his inspiration for Neverwhere, his creative approach, his resistance to his work appearing in school curriculums, plot outlines and his knowledge of his characters.
On weightier topics, Gaiman talks about the ideas behind his unconventional characterisation of death and the kind of death he’d prefer to meet. He offers his thoughts on love and vulnerability and confesses that as a social creature, “writing is peculiarly lonely”.
To close the evening, Gaiman slips his iPad onto his lap and reads a poem he wrote for an Australia Day event earlier in 2011. “There are so few places in the world that I could possibly read this poem,” he explains.
Clem Bastow is an award-winning cultural critic whose work appears regularly in The Saturday Paper, Fairfax newspapers and The Guardian. She has written about film and television for journals including The Lifted Brow and Kill Your Darlings, and books including Investigating Stranger Things (Palgrave Macmillan), ReFocus: The Films Of Elaine May (Edinburgh University Press) and Copyfight (NewSouth Publishing). She co-wrote and co-presented the 2017 ABC podcast Behind The Belt, a documentary “deep dive” into professional wrestling.
Based in Melbourne, she holds a Master of Screenwriting from VCA, and teaches screenwriting at University of Melbourne. Clem is currently undertaking a PhD in action cinema and screenwriting at RMIT University.
Neil Gaiman is an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films.