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 On Wodin's Day evening, after a lovely meal with a good friend, we made our way to the auditorium for the evening with Neil Gaiman, speaking about his new book, Norse Mythologya retelling of some of the Norse Myths.


Just before going in we were lucky enough to bump into Chris Riddell, so I got to tell him how much I had enjoyed his event, and he also kindly signed my '100 hugs' book. (And he asked whether we'd seen the Terry Pratchett docu-drama 'Back in Black')


Neil's event started with him reading 'Freya's Wedding' from his new book; very funny.


Then he was interviewed, about the book and other matters. He explained that he first met the Norse Gods through the original Marvel Comics version of Thor, then read the Roger Lancelyn Green version of the Norse Myths, before reading Kevin Crossley-Holland's versions, and the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda as an adult, and he loves the human-ness of the Norse gods, and the fact that they have stories - they are dodgy gods, much more human than divine!

We then got to see a trailer for the American Gods TV series, and after that, a not-quite-final trailer for How to Talk to Girls at Parties both of which look very interesting (although I am still just a little doubtful about Ian McShane as Mr Wednesday; I find it hard to get past thinking of him as Lovejoy!

Neil spoke a little about the Good Omens TV series,which is about to start casting. He explained that he and Terry Pratchett had always agreed that they would do any sequel or adaptation together, but later Terry asked him, as a last request, to write the TV series, so he has. And that he spent time being angry with life, because he couldn't phone Terry and tell him when he wrote a really good bit, and angry at Terry because he wasn't there to call to ask him for ideas when he got to a tricky bit. 

He explained that the show is being made by the BBC with Amazon. The interviewer (whose name, unfortunately, I didn't make a note of) expressed reservations about Amazon' involvement, so Neil explained that the BBC are making the show and Amazon is simply providing wheelbarrows of money.

He also said that he thinks that it is the best thing he has ever written. Which when you think about it is pretty exciting!

We then moved on to the Q&A section of the evening.

He was asked about current works, and confirmed that he is writing a Neverwhere sequel, and that he feels that when he wrote Neverwhere, he had things to say about how society behaves towards the homeless, and that now, with his work with UNHCR, and seeing  attitudes towards refugees and the dispossessed, he feels he has things he is angry about, and cares about, and is writing Seven Sisters.

Another question was about whether he would write stories about the Norse goddesses, and he explained that it was harder, as while we know the names and attributes of some of the goddesses, no stories have survived. He also explained, which I didn't know, that the stories we do have were written down only after  Christianity took hold, and a large part of why they were written down was out of fear that 'kennings' (metaphors etc.) in the Icelandic sagas and poetry would no longer be understood, not out of a wish to preserve the tales and beliefs themselves. 

He was asked about his favourite lines, or the lines of which he is proudest, in his own work. He said it's not any of the things which get quoted a lot, (such as " you get what anyone gets, you get a lifetime"), it's a line from American Gods - "Chicago happened slowly, like a migraine"

And perhaps the most entertaining answer to a question was in relation to a question about what he reads to Ash. He told us that he reads the Chu books (because his publisher gave him copies!!) and that Ash enjoys the books also he has to read them over and over, and thinks it's a pity there are only 3, but that he has not, despite that, sat down to write any more! He also re-tells the story of the Three Little Pigs, because Ash enjoys the Big Bad Wolf, but he pus lots of variety in so *he* doesn't get bored (he mentioned, for instance, conversations between the Pig and the Hay salesman, extolling the virtues of hay as an ecologically sound building material) and that Ash puts up with it because he knows that the Big ad Wolf is coming. 

Which made me want to ask him to tell us the story of the 3 little pigs, to see what happens this time!

The tickets which we had included a signed copy of the book, so after the evening was over, I got to take the book away and am going to try to ration myself and make it last...

Finally, for anyone who missed it when it was published in the Guardian, or when Neil retweeted it, have  look at the wonderful Tom Gauld's cartoon about the tour.  

Tom Gauld's wonderful cartoon / tweet

(I didn't spot Odin in the Festival Hall, but I wouldn't like to say, with any confidence, that he was not there!)


Oh, and check out Chris Riddell's Tumblr. He was sitting a few rows behind us and drawing his way through Neil's event, and the pictures are wonderful!
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Thanks to my friend A, I had a ticket for Neil Gaiman's London event for his newest book, 'Norse Mythology' on Wednesday evening, so I decided to make a day of it and also to attend Chris Riddell's event, earlier that same day.

I love Chris Riddell's art, and I've had the good luck to go to his events in the past and to see him drawing live, so was hoping for more of the same.

Chris had invited along some friends, Cressida Cowell (Author and illustrator of the 'How to Tame Your Dragon' series), Liz Pichon, creator of Tom Gates, and Posy Simmonds, who I know best for her creation of 'Gemma Bovery', (a graphic novel, modern take on 'Madame Bovery)

Chris's drawings of Cressida Cowell,

Liz Pinchon and Posy Simmonds


As we all filed into the auditorium to take our seats, Chris was making sketches of audience members. Sadly I wasn't one of those who was illustrated! (he also reassured everyone that they were not late, he just started early!) He then sketched his guests, from memory, before bringing them on stage.


Chris also introduced another, special, mystery guest - 'the Wise Wizard Gaiman'.


Once the guests arrived, he introduced each of them and invited them to speak and to show us their sketchbooks.

Liz Pichon explained that she had started out as a graphic designer before moving into picture books, and the writing the first 'Tom Gates' book, while Chris drew our attention to her beautifully painted fingernails and customised shoes. I'm not familiar with the Tom Gates books but they are clearly very popular, and it was interesting to hear about her creative process. She mentioned that Tom's dad is based on her own dad, who used to embarrass her, as a child, by turning up to collect her from school in his old gardening clothes (and showed us a card she made for him when she was young)

The next guest was Posy Simmonds, who showed us some of her sketch books, a recent one with beautifully detailed sketches of people in the street, and also selection of things she created when she was at school, including a comic strip murder mystery, drawn when she was 8, a spoof 'Observers book of Gurls' including a section on 'How to make yourself look excessively common' and a women's magazine she created while at boarding school, including careful illustrations of girls in bikinis, advertisements for imaginary products, and a short story which, she explained, got her into trouble, as it contained bad words, and a married woman with a lover!

She finished by showing us a sketch book which was the basis of her picture books, 'Fred', which involves cats and funerals..

Chris then introduced Cressida Cowell, explaining that he first met her when he was 'on a hot date with the Duchess of Cornwall', on a bus, and that Cressida was there to, and was not only managing to keep her balance on the bus, but also looking very glamorous and drawing things at the same time!

She told us that the 'How to Train Your Dragon' books were autobiographical... that as a child, her parents took them to a remote, uninhabited Scottish island every year, where there were ruins of Viking era houses, and she learned that the Vikings believed that Dragons were (or had been) real, and it started from there.

She also explained that she was inspired by Roald Dahl, and his willingness to have terrible things happen to people (for instance, James's parents (James and the Giant Peach) are eaten by a rhinoceros),and that her drawings are the kind which show readers they are "in the hands of a lunatic, who might do anything".She also explained that the books are about growing up, and that as they go through the serious, the style of the illustrations changes, they become less funny, and more difficult to draw!


She told us that she is working on something new, coming out in the autumn and set in the Iron Age.

Chris's final guest was Neil Gaiman.


Chris explained that he sees Neil as 'the Wise Wizard Gaiman', and pictures him arriving in robes to invite Chris (hairy feet and circular front door) on an adventure, which may involve Asgard, or London Underground, or Volcanoes and Time Travelling Dinosaurs. Neil claimed that he asked Chris to illustrate FTM "A very silly book" and that Chris got his revenge by drawing the Dad in the book as Neil.


Neil then read an extract from 'Fortunately, the Milk',while Chris sketched, and also read a poem, 'Witchwork' (which Chris had pre-prepared sketches for)

Neil had brought along 'Odd and Frost Giants' to show how gorgeous Chris's illustrations are, and claimed that Chris 'sneaks around' and illustrated things he's written, and he only finds out when they pop up on his facebook or other social media.

It was a lot of fun, and did feel, as the title said, like a conversation between friends, rather than a scripted event.

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I just spent 4 very crowded days in London,doing all kinds of fun stuff, some of it with lovely people (and some by myself)

First up was 'An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer' at the Hackney Empire, which was tied in with Neil and Amanda guest-editing an edition of the New Statesman magazine.

Despite the New Statesman having made a real mess of the ticket sales, I was fortunate enough to have not one, but two good friends who offered me tickets, which meant that not only did I get to go, but I also got to put friends in touch with each other so they could go too - so there ended up being 5 of us meeting up before the event (although we did not all get to sit together at the event ) for drinks and food and general catching up.

We drank beer (after a struggle with an entirely un-trained bartender) and bumped into further friends and acquaintances, and we ate delicious ramen at Tonkotsu, before we headed to the Hackney Empire.

After a brief introduction on behalf of the New Statesman, Neil and Amanda came on stage, and Neil read a new poem, Credo, (which is published in the magazine) then there was a mix of Amanda and Neil's performances, and a number of special guests.
Guests included Roz Kaveney, who is a writer and activist, performed a very personal poem, comedian (and transvestite vegan) Andrew O'Neill who performed what may have been the longest drawn-out joke ever, (and later, a wonderful reconstruction of the genesis of the 'knock-knock' joke....Writer Hayley Campbell, who read her piece from the magazine, a horrifying picture of what may happen if google and twitter ever publishes all our un-sent drafts, and comedian and writer Mitch Benn, who, in keeping with the 'saying the unsayable' theme of both the evening, and the magazine, performed a song written in response to the Charlie Hebdo murders.

Neil, Roz Kaveney, Haley Campbell, Andrew O'Neill, Amanda Palmer (and bump) Mitch Benn

Although the evening had a theme, and a set list, it was fairly free-form it was fun - everyone on stage seemed relaxed, despite the variations on the running order (Neil kept looking at the list in front of him and gently trying to follow it, but I think Amanda was seeing it more as a guideline than a binding list, and I suspect they were both a little jet-lagged!

But despite the slightly free-form style (or perhaps because of it!) the evening worked well, and little things like Hayley Campbell being introduced after, rather than before, her reading  with a mix of light-hearted and more serious takes on the theme of saying the unsayable, the age of outrage, censorship and its effects - Neil read a (very funny, but also scary) article about hosting a table at the PEN benefit where Charlie Hebdo received an award, and his story Babycakes (which he described as the only story he has written which disturbed him)

Amanda playing the Ukulele Song
Amanda played 'The Killing Type' and parts, by way of illustration, of 'Oasis', and there was discussion, and conversation. It felt very intimate; we, as well as those on stage, were among friends.

As always when seeing Neil and Amanda on stage together, I loved seeing the obvious and open affection between them, and enjoyment of one another's performances.

At the end, Amanda returned for an encore, playing the Ukulele song, with  a short, pregnancy acid-reflux induced interruption.

It was a whole lot of fun,and I think, on appearances, it was mostly fun for those on stage, as well as those of us off stage.

And yes, I have now bought a copy of their New Statesman edition!
Thanks again to Hellie and Lyle,who booked tickets.

There are a couple more pictues on Flickr, all from the curtain call, as photos were not allowed during the performance itself (and anyway, I was concentrating on what was being said!)
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I heard, back in October, that Neil Gaiman would be giving the 13th Annual Douglas Adams Memorial lecture, at the Royal Geographical Society in London, so I booked tickets for myself and a friend, and then mostly forgot about it, until last week when we started planning.

(And  happily another friend was able to get a ticket, late on, so there were 3 of us, in the evening)

We arrived just after 6:30 and were met, outside the venue, by a Rhino. (The event was to support the charity, Save the Rhino, of which Douglas Adams was a supporter and patron), so the Rhino was not out of place!

Once inside, we found seats, (and found several other friends, too, although there wasn't much opportunity to catch up) and waited for Neil, while a film about the work of Save the Rhino, and its sister organisation, The Environmental Investigation Agency, (EIA) played on a big screen.

The lecture was worth the wait.

Dirk Maggs introducing Neil

Douglas Adams' (half) brother, James Thrift gave a brief introduction, Julian Newman of EIA explained the work of both organisations, and then Dirk Maggs (who of course was very involved in both the original HHGTTG radio shows, and with the more recent Good Omens radio drama, and with the HHGTTG live stage show) introduced Neil.

The speech was live-streamed, and the full lecture is available on YouTube, and I would recommend watching it.

I won't, therefore, try to report everything which was said, but have to mention a few favourite points.

Neil's explanation that when thinking about the lecture, he had asked himself "what would Douglas do?"  ... as a result of which he was writing the lecture at 4:30 p.m ... and hoped to finish it at the weekend!

Neil talked about Adams' influence on him, and then moved on to talk about immortality and stories as lifeforms, and books as sharks.. all of which made perfect sense as he was saying it...

He talked about the immortality of stories - the oldest plants we know of are 5,000 years old, the oldest animals around 300 years old, but we have stories which can be traced back 8,000 years (a Native American story of forbidden love and volcanoes), and others which have survived from ancient Egypt (the Tale of the two Brothers)

He spoke too, of his cousin Helen, a survivor of the Warsaw and Rodomsko ghettos, was, quite literally prepared to risk her life for stories, hiding and reading a copy of 'Gone with the Wind' which had been smuggled in, and retelling the story to her friends. He made the point that while fiction is often criticised for being 'escapist',escapism is not always a bad thing. There are places, and situations, from which it is good to escape.

At the end of the lecture there was time for  few questions, and as these had been collected before hand on index cards, it avoided the whole problem of the  endless question..

Neil was asked whether Douglas would have used twitter, and he confirmed thast Douglas would, no doubt, have used twitter to avoid writing two, maybe three further books (Neil described the internet as like his personal Tamagotchi: there are all those people on twitter, and you feel that if you don't give the a little love and attention, they will wither and die!)

He was asked which of his works he would like to be remembered for (Answer: Any of them) and speculated about how AA Milne, and JM Barrie would have felt had they know what they would be remembered for. It is, he said, so easy to be forgotten, so he would pick "any of them"

Then there was a question about whether he felt things more, or less, than when he was younger. His answer was that you feel things differently but that he was not sure that he could kill people with the same joyous abandon as he did in the early days. . .

But these are just my highlights. You should absolutely watch, and listen to the whole thing.

We none of us won any of the raffle prizes, but after the lecture finished and the raffle was drawn, Neil hung around for a little while and we were able to say hello,  and to give him hugs and cake, both of which are good things in almost every situation, and certainly in this one!

We (or rather my friend A, who is more observant than me) also got a little thrill by recognizing Arthur Darvill (AKA Rory-the-Roman-Williams) who had been in the audience,as we left!

A most delightful evening!


Jan. 24th, 2015 10:47 pm
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A little before Christmas, I learned that 'Stardust' has been adapted for the stage, (by Russ Tunney (@1piratesmall) for the Forest Forge Theatre Company.  A little after that, I learned that the one performance which was within a reasonable distance of my home was sold out.

And then, more recently, I saw that one of the performances which was not within a reasonable distance was, nevertheless, a matinee, so it became possible to drive there and not end up getting home at midnight...

So today, together with my friend Tamzin, I set off on a magical mystery tour of 3 counties, t see the play.  We'd planned to go early and have time for a pub lunch before the play, but between my over-confidence about knowing the way for the first part of the trip, an unexpected road closure resulting in a rather long detour, and a couple of unfortunate sat-nav blindspots, we ended up with no time for lunch, but fortunately we'd both come prepared, so didn't starve!

And we were  in plenty of time for the play.

The stage was small, and there were no scene changes, the different scenes and moods were shown purely by differences in lighting, and the addition and removal of small boxes used as seats, steps, a coach seat, or whatever else was necessary.

The cast was also small: just 4 actors, who between them play around 20 characters (plus the Unicorn).

I very much enjoyed the play. It was very faithful to the book, albeit with some cuts (no flying ship, alas) and wonderfully light-hearted (there were fewer deaths, and less blood, than the book), lots of hats, and one Perfectly SPLENDID false moustache. And of course, a delightful dormouse.

The performance we saw was a matinee at a school, and there were lots of children in the audience, all of whim seemed to be gripped by the show,(if occasionally confused by the fact that that the actors were performing multiple roles - there were some suggestions from the children sitting behind us that the Lady Una, and/or Victoria Forrester, was Yvaine in disguise, for example, but this did not seem to reduce anyone's enjoyment.)

The production has clearly been created to make Gaiman's fairy tale for grown-ups into one suitable for all. I enjoyed the nods to Neil's Sandman books, in the titles for each scene, and suspect that the Unicorn ws inspired, at least in part, by the wonderful 'War Horse' puppets.

I admit that I was worried, before I saw the production,  that no stage show could do justice to the original, and it it would be particularly difficult with so small a cast and such minimal set. I shouldn't have been. It's clear that the production has been staged on a show string, but it is very professional, and I think that if Neil Gaiman were to see what has been done with his story, he'd be likely to approve. I think there are one or two points where the story might be a little confusing, for those not already familiar with the plot, but over all I was very impressed indeed.

The cast were Michael Cole, Stacey Evans, Zachary Powell, Alana Armstrong. I shall be looking out for their names in future.

The show is still touring, mostly in Hampshire, and if you are within striking distance of any of the performances I encourage you to go.

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While I was in Amsterdam, I saw 'October in the Chair' , by Old Sound Room, which was showing as part of the Amsterdam Fringe.

(C) OldSoundRoom

The production is based on a number of Neil Gaiman's short stories, (mainly from 'Fragile Things') and is superb!

I won't go into too much detail (Spoilers, Sweetie!) but will say that the small cast (five members) manage to portray a large and changing cast, with the help of quick (on stage) costume changes, props and puppets.

I loved the imaginative introduction to the performance, and particularly enjoyed their interpretation of 'Firebird' - and over all, I felt that they captured the tone and atmosphere of Neil's stories.

The Fringe festival is over, now, but the show will be performed in New York at the end of October - well worth seeing, if you can make it!
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As you'll have seen from the last 2 posts, I had a lot of fun on Friday in London, but the actual reason for which I went was to meet up with Nathalie and Alex, and to see Neil Gaiman reading 'The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains', accompanied by live music from the FourPlay string Quartet and illustrations from Eddie Campbell.


Nathalie had succeeded in getting front row tickets, so we had an excellent view. The show was sold out, (although I noticed that the seats behind us remained empty all evening, which made me sad, as I'm sure there were people who'd have loved them, and didn't get tickets)

Fourplay came on (bringing with them 2 violas, one violin and a cello) and started the evening with their version of the Doctor Who theme, (which, frankly, I think the BBC should pick up on and use for the new season)


They then played two other pieces, (I was enjoying myself too much to make notes of the titles, but I've bought a couple of their CDs so I should be able to hear them again!)

And then they introduced Neil, who was wearing a beautiful deep red waistcoat as well as his usual black. Very fetching!

He read us 'The Day Saucers Came' and a story called 'Adventures', and also sang 'I Google You' (with additional lines about Vine!)

During the interval, was able to buy a copy of 'The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains' , signed by both Neil and Eddie, and met another friend, Maggie.

In the second half of the evening, Neil read 'The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains' while Eddie Campbell's illustrations were projected behind him, and Fourplay provided musical accompaniment. Of course, this is not the first time that I have had the luck of seeing Neil read with music and other participation (that honour goes to the Fortunately, the Milk event, last October.) This was very different, except that both show how much fun having Neil read to you can be, and how much other artists and performers can add to the experience!

The story originally appeared in the anthology Stories, by the way (if you don't have a copy, go get one. Lots of great stories by lots of different writers. And get a copy of the new, illustrated version of the story, too ).

Hayley and Eddie Campbell

And it is tragic and chilling and oh so very, very good. Particularly with Art, and a String Quartet.

Once the story was over, both Hayley and Eddie Campbell joined Neil on stage, and threatened strange and terrible revenge for the killing of a number of Campbell's in the story. (I do hope Neil makes it through the Scottish performance. I find it a little ominous that it's billed as the very last. . . . .)

And then, as he was concerned that the tale might have left us a little down, and that it was a little lacking in feelings of warm fuzziness, hugs and bunnies, he decided to sing us a cheering and uplifting song, so that we could all leave light-heartedly.

It is possible that they may be better songs to achieve this aim, than Psycho. (which, I have to say, is scarier when sung with the backing of a string quartet, than with a ukulele. Or it is if you are in the front row)

It's just as well that my walk back to the hotel was only a few minutes long. And well lit.

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Foyer, British Library
Back in March, I saw that the British Library was going to be having an Exhibition, Comics Unmasked, about (the clue is in the title!) comics. And, even more exciting, from my perspective, that one of the events associated with the exhibition was this one, Neil Gaiman and Tori Amos, in conversation. Followed by Amanda Palmer and guests.

How could I resist?

I was lucky enough to get tickets - I think I must have got in just before the rush started! So Friday morning saw me on a train heading towards London, and a truly excellent day! I t was, of course, disappointing to learn that Amanda wasn't able to be there, but the news that Neil, and Dave McKean, would both be part of the music event was excellent compensation!

After visiting the Vikings exhibition, I met up with my friend A, and we had a very civilised meal in Russell Square Gardens, before heading on the the British Library where we were issued with wrist bands for the evening event, and then we went into the conference centre.

The auditorium was starting to fill up so staff were directing people to specific seats, and we ended up in the second row, right at one end, which turned out to be pretty good seats! (and, although we didn't realise it until she went up to the stage, it turned out that the red-headed lady sitting immediately in front of us for the introductions was Tori Amos herself!)

Neil and Tori

The room seats about 250 people, which feels pretty small and intimate, and the event involved 2 of the exhibition's curators, John Harris Dunning and Paul Gravett, (Paul Gravett has known Neil for years, having been involved in getting Violent Cases published)

It felt less like an interview, and more like a conversation between friends which just happened to be taking place in front of 250 guests!

Neil had just returned from his trip to Jordan for the UNHCR , and looked rather worn out from it, and when he spoke a little about it, later in the evening, it was obvious that those experiences were still very raw.

However, much of the conversation was much more lighthearted and free-ranging moving from how Neil and Tori met, the fact that despite having know one another for years there only seems to be one photo of them together (after Friday night, that will have changed!). They also talked about the reason Blueberry Girl was written, (with a shout out to Tash, who was in the audience) and the reason it was finally published (Neil claimed he got fed up with photocopying it for people who asked for it at readings) .

Neil and Tori were both asked what they would try to teach, if they had an apprentice for a day, and both confirmed that they wouldn't try to teach someone to write, but to think about the creative process (Neil said he would probably take them for a walk, and try to explain what goes on in his head when he goes for a walk. I should love to take that walk!)

There was talk of how Tori and Neil  inspired one another, and Neil mentioned that one of the things he liked about Tori's songs when he heard them was the whole "Me and Neil'll be hanging out with the Dream King" - seeing him as separate from his creation, and also admitted that; "...some of Delirium's best lines were stolen from Tori".

Dave McKean
The conversation was over all too soon, and we all moved from the conference centre into the main entrance hall of the Library, for the second part of the evening: 'Late at the Library', which featured lots of music, and a reading from Neil. We started with some music from Dave McKean, some of which was accompanied by his own animations. I should like to hear, and see more (and luckily, he is appearing again at the Library on 6th and 7th June, so I should get the chance!)

Neil, reading
His performance was followed by a reading by Neil, who read 2 of the stories from 'A Calendar of Tales' (October and July), and 'The Day the Saucers Came'

There was more music from Marc Almond (Whose work,  I must confess, I was not previously familiar with) and the 'Comics Unmasked' exhibition was open throughout the evening.

I had been to look round earlier in the day, but we did go back in, and I have to say the exhibition, which is full of sinister mannequins wearing 'V for Vendetta' masks, as well as the comics), particularly  the 'sex tent' (the section of the exhibit containing the more graphic exhibits, unsuitable for the overly sensitive) works well late at night, with Rock music and the smell of beer and popcorn  in the background!

We didn't stay right to the end, leaving around 10, having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, met various friends and acquaintances, and generally had a stonking good evening.

And there is something utterly wonderful about filling the British Library, of all places, with comics, rock, and partying people!

(more photos here)
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I was feeling a little pessimistic about Tuesday, as it was my birthday, one of the ones with a bit fat 0 on the end, but I am fortunate in having some very good friends, one of whom booked tickets for us to go to the Foyles event of Neil Gaiman reading the whole of his new children's book, 'Fortunately the Milk' at the Central Methodist Hall in Westminster, and another friend came over too, and was generous enough to take me out for (a truly superb) lunch, so I began to feel more cheerful.

Birthday Candle!
I don't think I can do justice to the lunch. It started with snails, and finished with chocolate parfait and salted caramel ice cream, and Nathalie clearly told them it was my birthday...

There may have been some wine involved, too.

Fancy ceiling

We all met up outside the venue, and without ever quite deciding to do so, we wound up waiting for the doors to open, which meant we were very close to the front of the queue and able to sit in the front row once they let us into the hall. Inevitably, we bumped into several friends and acquaintances. The hall is an amazing venue - huge auditorium with a massive dome (and a stonking great pipe organ!) and has  a fascinating history -

Andrew O'Neill

It was built  on the site of the old London Aquarium, to mark the centenary of John Wesley's death, and opened in 1912. The first ever meeting of the UN General Assembly took place there, and it has hosted speakers as diverse as Mahatma Ghandi, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, and the Dalai Lama (not all at once, obviously)

And now Neil Gaiman.

This was no ordinary reading. The evening was introduced and compered by Andrew O'Neill, who started out by explaining he had a list of words he isn't supposed to say on stage, which he carefully read to us so we would recognise them when we heard them (including 'Bum', 'Number 2s' and 'Beyonce'), experimented with how loud, high and low we could all sing and let us in a brief but rousing chorus of 'We Will Rock You'.

Then we had music, from TV Smith and Tom Robinson. With some audience participation.

It was a lot of fun, and all before Neil even came on stage.

Once he did, things got even better. Which was quite an achievement.

Chris Riddell, who illustrated the (UK) version of the book was there to draw pictures as the story progressed - lovely pictures, especially the careful labelling to ensure that we could not miss the Milk. (after all, as Professor Steg says, "Where there is milk, there is hope")

Neil read the whole of 'Fortunately the Milk', with help from friends who played the Green Globby Aliens, Pirates, Worshippers of Splod, Wumpires, Ponies, Dwarfs and Space Dinosaur Police Officers.

Grumpy Pirates, as read by Mitch Benn and Tom Robinson
I thought my Dad was the World's Best Reader of Bedtime Stories With Funny Voices, but I think Neil may just have beaten him. (although to be fair, my Dad has never had the opportunity to read to 2,000 people, supported by such a talented cast)

It's hard to pick out a favourite part of the evening,

Lenny Henry, Space
Dinosaur Policeman
but I think one of the true highlights has to be the moment when Neil read out "Ah-Ha!" and a small child in the audience responded with a loud and triumphant "AH HAA!", and brought the house down. It was such  lovely proof that the s/he was really absorbed in the story!

One of the final special guests was the lovely Lenny Henry, who appeared in what I am sure will come to be known as a landmark performance in his acting career, as the Galactic Police Dinosaur. (lots of people can play great Shakespearean roles. Not eveyone can manage a Galactic Police Dinosaur)

Tash, Andrew O'Neill, TV Smith, Mitch Benn, Neil Gaiman, Niamh Walsh,
Lenny Henry and Siobhan Hewlett

all too soon, the story came to an end. I'm not sure who was having more fun - the 10 or so people on stage, or the 2,000 or so in the hall.

The final treat of the evening was a brief appearance by Amanda Palmer herself , who performed her 'Ukulele Anthem' (with an extra milk-related verse)

A perfect end to a perfect evening.

My friends and I then took a walk through Trafalgar Square to admire the giant blue cock, and finished the night with dim sum.

It's true what Neil said on his blog, though.There were no ladies jumping through rings of fire, and no human sacrifice. Although the milk had a close call.

So, based on my experience, I would say that if any of you are considering turning 40 in the near future, and are feeling down about it, there are a few simple steps you can take to combat those aging blues:

1. Make sure you have some amazing friends who will provide good company, and treats.

2. Get Neil Gaiman to write a new kids book and read it to you with a large backing ensemble.

3. That's it.

Honestly, if I had known turning 40 would be this much fun, I would have done it years ago

Full set of photos here
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It's been a busy weekend.

It started on Thursday evening, when my friend Cheryl came round for supper, and arrived bearing Croatian wine and chocolate.She's blogged about it here - The wine and chocolate were both delicious, and the evening made a lovely start to a weekend of fun things!

On Friday I got the train to London, to go to a 'Literary Lunch' with Neil Gaiman, at Kaspars at the Savoy. I had dithered a bit before booking it, as I've been fortunate enough to go to several of Neil's events already this year, and it did seem rather extravagant,  but I decided that I wanted to go despite the extravagance, and that the fact I am about to have a birthday with 0 on the end of it was as good an excuse as any...

I have never been to the Savoy before. It's dead posh. And Kaspars is a rather lovely Art Deco styled restaurant. Beautiful tiles and chandeliers.  I was a bit worried that they might throw me out for not being posh enough, but either they're too polite,or the fact that I wore a dress was enough to put them off the scent!

Neil with Nick Vince

The restaurant has a central shellfish bar and I was seated there, and quickly got into a conversation with the gentleman seated next to me,who turned out to be a writer and actor (he played the Chatterer in 'Hellraiser') and was an excellent dining companion. I was expecting good company - after all, everyone at the lunch was a fan of Neil's, but it is always nice to have one's expectations met or exceeded, isn't it?

Once we were all seated, Neil explained the format - introduction, starters, reading, main course, Q and A, pudding.. And explained that in the Q and A, we had to do the Q's and he would do the A's.It occurs to me that this has been the format of all of Neil's events which I've been to. I wanted to suggest we try it the other way round, just for variety. We could provide answers and let Neil guess the questions, perhaps..


Oh, the food. It was delicious. And so pretty. The starter was a selection of smoked and cured fish - I know there was smoked salmon, and beetroot cured halibut, and gravlax, and some smoked eel. I'm not sure what the other bits were but it was all delicious.

Then Neil read to us from 'Fortunately the Milk'. I think it is just as well that this was while we were between courses, as I expect that snorting with laughter into your meal would be frowned upon at the Savoy. Or possibly a special snorting-with-laughter waiter would appear bearing handkerchiefs and smelling salts to help you calm down.

Neil read from the start of the book, as far as the Walking the Plank. I have been very restrained and not read on, as I am going to the full reading on Tuesday. But it has been a struggle. And I already feel the urge to find suitable children to give copies of the book to!

Then came the main course (which I was too busy eating, to photograph) before Neil's Q and A.

In response to questions he discussed his alternative career choice (Bespoke religions designed - "How do you feel about guilt? Would you like a large pantheon?), His attitude to magic ("As a kid, I was disappointed by the failure of most wardrobes to contain Narnia. But I didn't stop looking") Which raises the question - if it's only most wardrobes that don't contain Narnia, does that mean Neil found one which did? It could explain a lot. That Lamp Post in his garden, for a start...

There was also the question about whether he is nervous, writing new Sandman stories  - Yes, there are millions of people standing, metaphorically  looking over his shoulder as he writes,  The possibility of a sequel to 'Good Omens' - He and PTerry had an idea for a sequal, to be called '668, The Neighbour of the Beast', but  they are both too busy to write it.

Apple Crème Brûlée
Neil also talked about 'Fortunately The Milk' being an pro-Dad book, having inadvertently written a Dad-ist book in 'The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish'.

The we got dessert - oh, that Apple Crème Brûlée. The Savoy doesn't have Neil Gaiman on the menu every day (at last, I don't think so. Unless they have cloning vats in the basement) but I am fairly sure that the apple crème brûlée is available any day.

The lunch ended slightly abruptly, as the hotel needed to start setting the room up for a later event, but Neil still made an effort to sign things for everyone who wanted things signing, we all drank our tea or coffee and  ate our delicious salted caramel lollipops (and, of course paid our bills) and luncheon came to an end.

Savoy foyer
I'd been in a rush when I arrived at the Savoy, and hadn't had much time to look around. On the way out, I paused to admire the foyer, which has lots of Wedgewood-style friezes, and and photographs and portraits and Chaises Long.

I wandered off into the rain (via the little bit of road outside the Savoy, which,  is, I understand,  the only place in the country where you have to drive on the right. there was a big limo outside, driving (very slowly) on the right, so it must be true!.

Which still left the rest of the afternoon for other adventures...
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When I heard that the always-wonderful Mitch Benn was going to be playing Zaphod Beeblebrox in the new touring production of The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy Live Radio show I naturally wanted to go, and started trying to work out which performance would be best for me to get to, as none of them was very convenient.

Then, while I was still being indecisive about where to go, I heard that Neil Gaiman would be appearing as the Voice of the Book, for one night only (the first night of the tour, in fact) at the Hackney Empire. And it was on a Saturday night.

The thought of seeing both Neil AND Mitch was irresistible, so of course I booked a ticket.

On Saturday, therefore, I got a train up to Waterloo, checked into the pub-with-rooms just down from the theatre (remember the pub-with-rooms, oh Best Beloveds. It will feature later on) and, a little later on, was sitting at the back of the Dress Circle waiting to renew my acquaintance with the Guide.

I've never been to the Hackney Empire before. It's rather nice. It was built as a Music Hall in 1901. On appearances, the designer  was unfamiliar with the concept of 'restraint', and had shares in a gilding business.

The HHGTTG, on the other hand, is something I am familiar with, having read the books, listened to the (repeats of) the radio show, and seen the film and TV series. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the 'live radio show'

It turns out that you get the Book, sitting in a wing back chair sipping tea, the Band, and a chap with a table of props to do all the sound effects. Oh, and a bunch of stonking actors to do all the voices.

A lot of them are the original cast members - Simon Jones (Arthur Dent) - still wearing the original dressing gown (although I suspect he's taken it off, in the mean time) Geoff McGivern (Ford Prefect) Susan Sheridan (Trillian) Stephen Moore (Marvin the Paranoid Android) - then there are some newer members -  Mitch Benn, (chosen because the Original Zaphod, Mark Wing-Davey, currently has a job as an Arts Professor in New York, and isn't allowed time off to do funny voices on old radio shows), and Polly J R Adams as the Dish of the Day. There was, of course, also one N. Gaiman as The Voice of the Book.

The show has  it's own band, and also a man at a table in the front left hand corner of the stage to do all the sound effects, so you can watch him banging things together to make the sound of Vogon steel-capped boots, pouring water into a bucket to make the sound of mixing drinks, and fighting an Angolian Suntiger to make the noise of someone fighting and Angolian Suntiger in order to serve a Pan-Galactic Gargle-Blaster.

It also has a bowl of petunias.

It's a stonkingly good and funny show. If you've listened to the radio show, or read the books, you'll like the show. If you haven't, what's been delaying you?

After the show finished, I pootled back to the pub-with-rooms, and as it wasn't massively late, decided to drop my programme and things in my room and pop back down for a nightcap.

When I got back down, the bar seemed to be a lot more crowded. Fair enough, I thought, it's one of the closest pubs to the theatre, and I guess lots of people fancied a drink.

Then I thought "Hmm, that hair looks familiar. *shrug* I must just have Mr Gaiman on my mind having seen him in the show"

Then I thought "that guy next to the hair looks just like Mitch Benn"

At which point my working through the crowd to get to the bar brought me close the The Hair, and realised that the chap under it was in fact Mr Gaiman, and that the Mitch Benn lookalike was in fact Mitch Benn, and that many of the others filling the bar were the rest of the cast. . . Which was nice, if slightly surreal.

I was able to tell Neil that he makes a very good Book, and congratulate the lovely Polly Adams on her appearance as the Dish of the Day, and Mitcch on making Zaphod his own. Which was nice. And did make for a lovely end to the evening.

There is a clip of Simon Jones, and Neil, on the ITN News, talking about the show. And although Neil's appearance as the Book was one night only, there are lots of other interesting people taking on the role over the course of the tour - if it's near you, go see it!

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After watching Neil unveil and officially open 'his' road, I spent some time navigating the one-way systems of Portsmouth in order to park near to the Guildhall, where his evening event was taking place.
Portsmouth Guildhall
Fortunately the Guildhall is not difficult to spot!
The Guildhall has a handy, and surprisingly affordable 'VIP' option which lets you sit inside eating cheese and biscuits and drinking wine, rather than queueing outside, which made for a relaxed start to the evening, with my new friend Kelly. (I do like meeting new people, especially at Neil's events when all the people are so interesting!).

Once inside the auditorium, however, the relaxed atmosphere was slightly marred by an unexpected extra guest on stage...
Mercifully, we made it through  the evening without anyone being Exterminated, although I feel that the fact that Portsmouth Guildhall seems to have a Dalek on staff is perhaps something which should be looked into while there is still time..

Neil was interviewed by Dom Kippin, and talked a little about his roots in Portsmouth, and about the road naming, Doctor Who and Dalek mythology as the earliest mythology he learned about, and about  the the books (Make Good Art, Chu's Day) which have come out this year. He told us that Chu's Day was written out of a determination to get a picture book published in China, after being told his previous picture books were not acceptable as they showed children knowing better than their elders, being disrespectful, and at times being naughty but not being punished. He also mentioned that there is a sequel!

Neil also answered questions from the audience, giving his recommendations for reading aloud to children (Diana Wynne Jones, The Mary Poppins books, Narnia, but not E.Nesbit because of the long, Edwardian sentences..), talked about his appearances in Arthur and The Simpsons and of course about The Ocean at the End of the Lane and how although the family is not his family, and the events not true events, the viewpoint of the protagonist is very much the viewpoint of 7-year-old-Neil.

Neil finished by reading part of Fortunately, The Milk which sounds as though it will be lots of fun, and then we were all threatened with the Wrath of the Dalek if we didn't queue properly for the signing...

I was lucky enough to be seated in one of the first 2 rows to be called forward, which meant I was able to get Vol. 1 of my Absolute Sandman signed (given the 2 hour drive home, I had already decided I wouldn't be able to stay and queue for very long) and to hand over a small box of flapjacks and muffins, as the ones I made last time seemed to be appreciated (and although  didn't know it when baking the ones i took to Bath, flapjacks made from porridge oats and blackberries are particularly appropriate for The Ocean at the End of The Lane)

I got home just after midnight, which so far as I could tell when I checked twitter this morning, was probably about an hour before Neil finished signing..
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Yesterday, I took a trip to Portsmouth, to see Neil Gaiman officially unveiling the street named after his latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

I got there early , as I wasn't sure how long it would take me to find, or how easy it would be to find, but felt that a bit of extra time by the sea would not be a bad thing!

In fact, I didn't have too much trouble finding Canoe Lake (no canoes, but giant swan pedalos) and the lane is very close (map here ) and people quickly started to arrive. (including some gentlemen from the council who carefully covered the road sign up so it could be unveiled, and a little later  closed the road and set some chairs up for the visitors, and there was time to catch up with old friends and acquaintances and make new ones.

Neil lived near here when he was a child, and still has family in the area, many of whom had attended. There were also people who had known the family back then - there were clearly lots of people who hadn't seen one another for a while happily catching up, and I overheard one lovely, elderly gentleman saying to his wife's friend "look at all these people, I'd no idea David's boy was famous - did you know?"  I love that he (and others) had come out because it was "David's boy" or a former neighbour who was being honoured, and not just because he is a famous writer!

Then Neil arrived, together with the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Lynne Stagg (who, to my disappointment was not wearing her full ceremonial robes) and Sam Cox, Portsmouth's Poet Laureate.

Happy Neil about to unveil his road

The Lord Mayor introduced Neil, linking him with other literary figures who lived in Portsmouth (Dickens,  Conan-Doyle, Kipling) and then Neil gave a short speech, and unveiled the road.(there is an audio recording of Neil's speech here ) and we heard 2 poems from Sam Cox.

After the unveiling, Neil stayed around and chatted and had pictures taken. Someone gave Neil a Cornetto, which he managed to eat while making polite conversation and giving an interview to the local Jewish newspaper, someone else, (or possibly the same someone,) got him to sign a giant model cactus, and everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves.

(with thanks to the lovely chap who took this for me, whose name I didn't catch)

And as you can see, the weather was lovely - they'd forecast rain showers, but it stayed bright and sunny (albeit rather breezy) for the whole of the event.

A really enjoyable afternoon. And the evening still to come..
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I already blogged about Neil’s event for the launch of ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ but I’ve now had the opportunity of actually reading the book.

It’s a very good book. In fact, I think it is a great book.

It captures and recalls the feeling of childhood extraordinarily vividly – the impotence in the face of adult power, the fears and joys.
And the fact that one can be content without being happy.

“I was not happy as a child, although from time to time I was  content. I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else”

The narrator is touchingly vulnerable. At seven, he recalls, he learned to climb down drainpipes because that’s what children in books did, and took courage from the example of the plucky school girls he read about in school stories, but he was afraid, doing it.

And later, he learns that the adults are not as confident and powerful as they appear to us,
when we are children;

Grown-ups don’t look like Grown-ups on the inside, either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have”

This is a Gaiman book, so it’s no surprise that there is magic and myth;  Names, (true names) are important, and the triumvirate of the Hempstock women are undoubtedly related to the triple goddess of maiden, mother and crone.

There are no safe, happy endings here, but there is hope. (And grief, and memories,  and sacrifice, and fear, and love) And there is comfort, too.

“ ‘And did I pass?’
The face of the old women on my right was unreadable in the gathering dusk. On my left, the younger woman said ‘You don’t pass or fail at being a person,dear’.”

This is not a book to read once. It’s a book to read again, and again. I read it on Sunday morning, and my immediate reaction then (compressed into a single tweet) was “I have just finished reading 'Ocean'. It is beautiful and wise and made me cry and thank you. And now I shall read it again.” And I think that still summarises who I feel about it.

Anyone who has any memory of what it is like to be a child will, I think, find that it resonates with those memories. And perhaps it will remind those who don’t remember, what it is like.

Thank you, Neil.
(The book can be bought here, or from your local book shop)
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This weekend is simply stuffed with good things.

Those of you who've known me for a while know I'm a big fan of Neil Gaiman's, so I've been very excited about his new novel, The Ocean at the End of The Lane, which officially comes out on Tuesday. I was even more excited when I learned that the first of Neil's events was to be in Bath, and that several of my friends would be coming to see him, so I'd get to spend time with friends as well as hearing Neil speak, and getting a new Gaiman novel. What could be better?

I spent part of Friday morning baking flapjacks, with honey and blackberries and seeds (of which more later) and ventured into Bath around 4p.m. in order to meet up with Nathalie, who came all the way from Rome for the event. Given that the doors to the Forum were due to open at 7.15 for Neil's event, I was a  little (but only a little) surprised to see that there were already 5 or 6 people queueing...

Nathalie and I walked up to Toppings to pick up her ticket, and met Cheryl there. We were in the queue by about 5.30, together with more friends - Anabel and Ian, Brain, Holly, and various of *their* partners and friends, so we were able to take it in turns to take breaks from the queueing to get food!

All the queueing paid off and we were all able to get seats fairly near the front at the Forum (its a re-purposed cinema. It seats 1,600 people, and I believe that Toppings sold around 1,100 tickets, so the stalls were completely full, and the last 350-400 people to arrive would have had to sit up in the balcony.

Unfortunately Toppings didn't do allocated seating (which is what the Bath Literature Festival normally does for the events they have in the Forum), so there was no choice but to queue. It was worth it, though!

Neil was interviewed by a Telegraph journalist whose name I didn't catch, and there was also a Q&A session at the end.

Neil started with a short reading from the book; it was a very funny passage, right up to the point the corpse was discovered. Then he spoke a little about where it came from (the story, not the corpse) - it started as a short story for Amanda, It became a novella, then a novel.

The protagonist is a child who is sort-of-but-not-really-Neil-as-a-boy, and the landscape the book is set in is the landscape of Neil's childhood, although it is not an autobiography. It is, Neil says, Lies. But they are lies which tell us truths.

Neil talked about the Hempstock's farm, explaining that when he was a child, he heard about one of the local farms having been mentioned  Domesday Book, and, at that time, didn't think about people living there in huts, but assumed that the red-brick farmhouse had been there for a thousand years..

And that by the time he came to write the book, the idea that the farm, and the family, had been there forever was entirely at home in his head.

I love the fact that whenever I see Neil speak I learn new things - this time it was more about the Infancy Gospels - the (now apocryphal) gospels which cover the childhood of Jesus, and his habit of killing people who annoyed him. (sometimes they were just struck blind, but mostly they died). Neil was talking about myths and stories and religion..

Also about how people who write Horror are the moth cheerful, happy people around (and that Joe Hill may in fact be a clone)

We learned that the American Gods production is working its way up the echelons of HBO, and may very soon get to the level of the people who can say "yes" or "no" to the production going ahead; that there is nothing at all that Neil can talk about, regarding any possible Good Omens film at the moment.

Neil unsurprisingly confirmed that he would be happy to see a female Doctor Who ("given that I'm the person who made it canon that Time Lords can change sex..."

He was asked about his favourite myths - which he said changes, but he always comes back to the Norse gods, because they're doomed, and about writers who have influenced him - Alan Moore (by showing that you can do the things people tell you can't do) Jonathan Carroll, Gene Wolfe, and Diana Wynne Jones (which last did not surprise me, but did make my heart happy, as I think everyone should know about Diana Wynne Jones, and read her books)

After the Q&A came the signing. We were lucky to be near the front of the queue, so got to meet Neil and get our books signed early on.  And I gave Neil some of the flapjacks I baked in the morning (I trust you have not forgotten the flapjacks, O best beloveds) because I worry about him keeling over from loss of sustenance.

And some of the party may have got hugs and kisses, because that's how these things go, sometimes.

Then while we waited for the rest of the party I took the big box of cookies which I brought with me to share with the queue, and, well, shared them with the queue. Or at least parts of it.

The Signing queue (which also extended out into the lobby)

I didn't bring 1,100 cookies, because that would be impractical. But I met lots of nice people, briefly, including an old school friend I have not seen for almost 20 years, and I got lots of thanks and one marriage proposal, which I think is a pretty good return on a box of cookies. Even if it is a big box.

We left the hall at about 11p.m, and went for drinks and conversation in the Raven pub.

When we went past the Forum on the way back to the car at midnight, it was clear from the stream of people coming out of the building that Neil was still signing inside.

I gather that he didn't finish until 1.30 a.m. (having arrived some time around 7, after a day of interviews and editing, and having pre-signed 1,000 books before the event started...
And just before I fell asleep, I checked twitter and saw this tweet

Which made me happy.

It was a wonderful evening. Although I do now need to reorganise my bookshelves, as my Neil Gaiman shelf is full!

And Neil of course went on to do it all all over again the next day, in Cambridge.
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A couple of weeks ago, I saw Nick Harkaway (@Harkaway) tweet about a project which both he, and Neil Gaiman have contributed to, together with Tom Abba and Artists' Collective, 'Circumstance'.

(Picture (c) the project)
The project, 'These Pages Fall Like Ash' is an interactive story, part book, part city exploration with downloaded content, part personal imagination.

I booked a ticket (or bought a book, depending how you chose to look at it) and on Saturday travelled to Bristol to take part.  I picked up my book (beatifully packaged) from the Watershed, and got started.

The book is a beautiful little thing, made from wood and paper, and it tells two stories, or two halves of one story, one set in the Bristol we know, the other half set in a parallel city, with characters who may, or may not, know and remember one another.

The book also contains clues to locations within Bristol, at which you can download further parts of the story, using a smartphone or tablet. You have to find the right place; the content is stored on hidden hard drives, so you have to be in the right part of the city.

I wasn't able to complete the whole story (?stories) - the project hasn't been finished yet, there is still some digital content which hasn't yet been uploaded, and I had trouble with a couple of the sites, but it is a very interesting concept, and it caused me to look at the city in a way I hadn't done before.

I must have passed the hairdressers in St Nicholas Street numerous times, but had not noticed the veiled bust, for instance.

I hope I shall have time to go back and revisit while the project is up and complete, to finish the stories, but if I don't , I think some of the digital content will be available as a pdf once the project is over.

And I believe that there are plans for other, similar projects in other cities.

It's definitely an interesting and innovative piece of art, and I'm glad I joined in.
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So, as everyone must know now, Amanda Palmer decided to fund her new album via Kickstarter, and was spectacularly successful. I initially signed up just for the CD level reward, but then, after failing to get tickets for the public gig on Wednesday, and realising that I really wanted the Art Book, too, Not to mention the fact that every Amanda Palmer gig I have been to has been so much fun that I would always go to one, given the chance, I decided to take the plunge and back at that level. All of which resulted in my getting on a train on Monday, to go to London, to the Kickstarter Backers' VIP Art Opening and Gig..
I think it is fair to say that the gig lived up to and beyond my expectations!
The gig was at Village Underground, in Shoreditch, and was easy to spot. For a start, the club has several Underground railway carriages on the roof, and to be going on with, there was a typical Amanda Palmer queue outside - lots of happy people, dressed in a vast range of styles from ballgowns and dinner jackets to the most casual of clothes. While we queued, we talked, and as we got closer to the entrance a young gentleman (who we later learned is AFP's cousin) arrived and serenaded the queue upon the bagpipes!

On getting to the head of the queue there was the inevitable frisson of fear lest my name turned out mysteriously to be missing from the guest list (happily it wasn't!) and then the pleasure of being given a goodie bag, which included a mask and a free book, and stickers, and a felt-tip pen (do not forget the felt-tip pen, best beloveds). And all of this before the gig even started.

Village Underground is a big, warehouse style space - all red brick and girders, and made a good backdrop for all the wonderful art.

There was time to look around, and admire it, and to trade the little cards marked with 'The Very Hungry Caterpiller' for drinks at the bar, and to admire the outfits of the other guests, and then, and then, the music started.

First up, Princessin Hans - who sang to us of passive-aggression, got lots of audience participation, and ROCKED in a wonderful silver dress and almost equally wonderful ginger beard...

And later, Amanda chatted with us, and encouraged us to talk, and drink, and admire the art, and swap books,
And we did. and I think it was round about that point in the evening that I got to meet up with twitter-friend @MsClara, who is even more beautiful and entertaining in person, (and her husband, the marvellous Mr. Mitch Benn. And then there was a further musical interlude, this time with strings, by Jherek Bischoff - wonderful, beautiful, wordless music.
and it was the kind of evening where you sit on the floor of this space, and close your eyes to focus on the music, and then you open them and realise that the person who just sat down on the floor next to you is Neil Gaiman...
Then - the invasion of the Grand Theft Orchestra - there were masks, and flashlights, and a beautiful woman in a beautiful dress, and saws and knives and a loudhailer and new songs and old.
And the music spilled out into the audience, and the audience surrounded the band, and at some point there was a singalong 'last christmas' too, although I can't quite recall why..
Amanda sang 'The Bed Song', and 'Trout Heart Replica' from the new album, and Neil sang 'Psycho',
and EVERYBODY sang 'Map of Tasmania' and the 'Ukulele Anthem'.
and then - did you remember the felt-tip pen, best beloveds?
This was the writing on a rock star part of the evening,

There was so much love and so much happiness and laughter...
And then evening started to wind down, and there was chatter, and hugs, and signing of books (did I mention there was a book in every goodie bag?) Amanda and Neil visited a couple of 2nd hand book shops in Charing Cross Road to buy books for everyone, and Amanda was telling us whether each book we showed her was a 'Neil Book', or an 'Amanda Book' (Mine was a Neil Book, and one day someone browsing my bookshelves is going to wonder why I have a copy of Micheal Chabon's 'The Final Solution' signed by Neil Gaiman, and I will explain it is because it has Sherlock Holmes, and because Neil was married in Michael's living room, and they will probably give me a funny look and move on. And I won't care, because to me it will be another reminder of a wonderful evening, full of friendly strangers and magical art, when Amanda Palmer kissed me.
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It has not been the best week. Lots of stress at work, I've been sleeping badly (which makes me feel ill) and it seems to have been pouring with rain without cease since last weekend. I think someone ought to tell the Rain Gods that the "Showers" part of "April Showers" does imply that there should be gaps between the periods of rain.

However, as is often the case, even the most miserable week is not all bad.

On Wednesday, I received a package in the mail, from the lovely Kitty, of Neverwear, containing my print of Neil's wonderful Poem, illustrated by Olivia Beradinis. It really is utterly gorgeous, and as it is printed on thick, rag-paper it feels nice, too.

Yesterday I took it to my local framer, (although I was a little reluctant to part with it, even temporarily) He recommends giving it a wide, black frame, with the inside edge of the frame lined with gold, so that when seen from an angle the gold will be visible.

He recommended it on the basis that the print needs a dramatic presentation, to reflect the dramatic nature of the print. I think he is correct. I shall look forward to seeing it when it is done, and shall occupy myself in the meantime, in deciding where to hang it.

I also went into Bristol, to run some errands, one of which involved going to a branch of my bank. I don't go often, as I usually deal with them by phone or online, but needed to drop some documents off, and Bristol is my closest branch. I got there to find a member of staff on the door denying everyone entry.

After a confused moment wondering when the bank started to employ bouncers, and how I ought to dress or act to get past them, I asked him what was up, and he explained that unfortunately they had had to shut, as their roof had just collapsed! As excuses for being unavailable to assist their customers go, I guess it is quite a good one.

I suppose I should be glad I didn't get rained on too badly - it absolutely poured while I was on the train, but only drizzled while I was actually out of doors. Small mercies...
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It was back in December, I think, that I saw that World Book Night was inviting people to sign up as 'givers', to distribute free books on World Book Night - 23rd April - chosen as it is UNESCO's 'International Day of the Book', Shakespeare's birthday, and death-day, and the day Cervantes died (although I learned today that Cervantes and Shakespeare in fact died on the same date, in the same year, but on different days, as Spain had adopted the Gregorian Calendar and England hadn't)

Anyway, I liked the idea of joining in, to share my love of books and reading, and to get the chance to give away books to people who might not otherwise be reading, so I sent in my application, and forwarded the links to friends I thought might be interested in doing the same, and then I waited. And in February, I got an e-mail to say my application had been accepted, and I would get to play.

I'd had a hard time picking which of the books to ask for, but decided upon 'Good Omens', partly because it's a great book, one which I go back and re-read on a regular basis, and partly because I felt it was more approachable than some of the other books on the list, and that a book which makes people laugh might encourage them to read more in the future.

This is, after all, supposed to be something you do for pleasure! (Don't get me wrong, I love Pride and Prejudice, for instance, which is another of the books on this year's list, but for people who have been put off reading at school, I suspect Austen may just feel like more of the same...)

Last week I got an e-mail to say I could pick my books up, and so on Friday night I went to the Library to collect them - 24 beautiful new books!

Opening up the box and unwrapping the books, I felt like a child on Christmas morning. And, since I had to take the books out of the box anyway, in order to write their unique ID numbers in the front, it seemed only right to play with them a little, and make an interesting heap out of them...

Then, today, it was time to start giving the books out. When I applied, I explained that I would aim to give some of the books out via work - in particular to clients involved with Social Services. I hoped to give some to neighbours, too, as it's long been clear to me that books and reading are not a big part of the lives of most of my neighbours.
It turned out that I had to be in court today, so I packed half the books into a bag and took them with me. The court was less busy than I'd expected, but I was able to give a copy to one of the security officers at the door, one to a server at the coffee shop outside, and one to lady waiting for hearing.
Later on, after getting home, I was able to give one to a neighbour (she told me she wasn't really much of a reader, I explained that meant she was exactly who the book was supposed to be for, and she smiled, and accepted it) and then walked down to my local chip-shop and gave several more to people waiting for their food. My favourite was the young man in a hoodie, slouched in the corner of the shop. He watched as I gave a book to the woman ahead of him in the queue, and then when I offered him one, he replied "really? No-one ever gave me a book before!" he seemed so surprised, not only to be given a book, but also, I think, that he was offered one, just the same as the other people waiting. I do hope he reads it. I do hope he enjoys it.
I still have quite a few copies, and I shall be trying to give away more tomorrow, when I shall be at my local Social Services offices. And then to the supported house for teenage mums, and the half-way house for those overcoming addiction. I'm sorry I couldn't make it to both of those this evening, but I believe that giving the books away 'on or near' World Book Night counts, and this way I should have time to explain a little why there is a strange woman showing up on the doorstep and pressing books on the residents!
Happy World Book Night, everyone!


Jan. 22nd, 2012 06:03 pm
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Late last year, Neil Gaiman tweeted about a production of ‘Neverwhere’, due to be staged at Reading’s Progress Theatre, and as soon as I could, I booked a ticket for myself.
The production runs from 19th-28th January , and my ticket was for last night’s performance. Reading is about 75 miles from here, so it was quite a trek. I had an uneventful drive down except for the bit in Reading where Tim, the disembodied voice who lives in my SatNav, got very upset with me for refusing to go down a bus-lane, and then refused to speak to me for a bit after that, (“lost satellite signal” indeed!), but happily he relented in time to tell me how to find the side-street which the theatre is in.

Having done so, I had about an hour to spare, so I wandered down to the nearest pub where I was delighted to find not only the expected beer, but also a remarkably good burger (although either I mis-read the menu, or one lettuce leaf, wilted to a sad remnant of its real self, constitutes a salad these days). But the beer was good, and the pub was warm, and there was no piped music, no TV, and a shelf of books available.

The Progress Theatre is very small – it seats just under 100 people, and it appeared to be very nearly sold out. (I've no idea whether there are any tickets left for other performances - the theatre's own website is down for maintenace at present but the box office number is 0118 960 6060.

The production was, I thought, excellent. It was very faithful to the novel. (I think also to the TV show, especially with some of the visuals, but I have not watched that for a long time, so I may have missed some) There were some places where scenes were cut – (the Marquis de Carabas’s meeting with Lear, the ‘Angels over London’ exhibition and, to my regret, the Nice Cup of Tea element of the Black Friar’s Ordeal)

I enjoyed the various visual grace notes – in the Floating Market scenes the set included various coats of arms, relating to different characters or fiefdoms, some of which were immediately obvious (Hammersmith, Serpentine/Seven Sisters) others (Shepherds Bush, Earl’s Court) took me a little longer to work out. There was also very imaginative use of lighting and projections to help augment the sets – very effective, especially regarding Door’s ability to open doors, and the moves from London Above to London Below.
Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar. (Photo from
I was particularly impressed with Mr Croup (Alex McCubbin) and Mr Vandemar (Craig Daniels), although I was a little thrown when they first appeared, as Mr Vandemar looked very much how I’d always imagined Mr Croup looking, and Mr Croup looked more how I’d seen Mr Vandemar in my head, (there was a definite nod to Cain and Abel in 'Sandman', too, in their appearance) but both of them projected a real sense of menace.

I also greatly enjoyed the way that the black humour of the original were retained. Well worth seeing, both for fans of Neil’s work, and for newcomers. I’m very glad I went.


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