I had been looking forward to this event for a long time. I somehow fluked getting myself a ticket and got a pretty good seat, pretty much the centre of the stalls. The ticket also entitled me to a signed copy of his latest book The Ocean at the End of the Lane (I am currently a hundred pages in and it is making me emotional about things I had long since forgotten - or buried - since childhood in a wonderful and melancholic way), but my main joy was to see Scary Trousers himself.
I waited outside for the doors to open at six, and was pretty much the second person through the door. I saw the mountain of books (a literal mountain - I like the image of finishing a book being similar to climbing a mountain: this made it somewhat more literal), and quickly purchased my copy.
I now had a choice. I could go to the bar, buy a drink and start reading, or head to the auditorium, find my seat, and start reading. Either way, I was going to be reading, and it would be wonderful. As I had only just come from a pub opposite the British Museum anyway, I felt I could skip the drink and head straight into the theatre.
There were five other people in there. Two women sitting near the back, another on the left hand side and a couple to the frontish right side. And there on stage was Claire Armistead and Neil Gaiman performing a sound test.
I had brought my camera with me on the off chance, the improbability that such an opportunity may arise, and here it was. Neil was less than fifty yards away, checking his mic with such witticisms as 'I am talking, I am talking, I am still talking and now I am rambling,' white I had his new book, a camera and the urge to at least get some proof of having been there.
So, naturally when faced with meeting an idol, I sat down and quietly idolised him further.
The mic test finished, he left the stage. Not through the back into the wings you understand - off the front steps, and through the auditorium in my general direction.
Well, might as well.
I grabbed my camera and walked over to intercept them, like the spy from Stratego, though not nearly as debonair.
'Hi,' I squeaked. 'Would you mind if I grabbed a photo?'
'No, of course not,' said Neil. He's so dreamy.
After a brief kerfuffle with the camera, Claire Armistead took the picture. He asked my name, and I told him (thank goodness it is only a single syllable). We checked to see if the picture was okay, and Neil made a crack about his hair not looking it's best. Having only recently had mine shaved for Art, I replied that mine was not much in a better position, and he disappeared. Or I may have blinked for a very long time.
I JUST SHARED WITTICISMS WITH NEIL GAIMAN.
I return to my seat and now positively vibrating. I text my friends the event and start to read my new book. I get to about Chapter 3 (it is a very quick, digestible read, to its credit), just as the auditorium is filled and he reappears on stage to talk about future Neverwhere stories, colour blind Daleks and of course, The Ocean at the end of the Lane. He was of course, wonderful. And a very weird thing happened, purely by coincidence.
I stopped reading at page 35, just as Neil came on stage and we applauded. When Claire asked him to read an extract, Neil jumped at the chance and read from a bit he had not yet read aloud yet in what must be a long, hard book tour. It was from exactly where I had finished reading. I had the pleasure of having Neil Gaiman read the next bit of the story to me in his wonderful, Neil Gaiman-y way.
|Claire Armitstead is not a natural photographer|
One final thing. A friend of mine on the same day, funnily enough the same for whom I had my head shaved, was going to Disneyland for a few days. Many years ago, when I was first reading Sandman, she was the first person with whom I shared my new favourite comic book, and when she did her study on comic book art I supplied her with everything but Sandman, simply as I couldn't bear to part with my collection for a few months. Just before the talk was to begin, I receive a text from her. Here is the following exchange:
Her: I'm going to have my picture taken with Mickey Mouse!
Me: I JUST HAD MY PICTURE TAKEN WITH NEIL GAIMAN.
Her: FUCK YOU.It was like the quickest game of Top Trumps ever.