I’ve been a fan of Neil Gaiman for a while, I also have a woefully understocked CV.
These two facts met when Toppings in Bath were looking for people to help out with a book event, which he would be reading from ‘The Ocean at The End Of The Lane’ and copies would be available a week or so before the official publishing date.
I jumped at the chance to volunteer, and was asked to go to the book shop, was asked a vague question about why I wanted to volunteer for the event and was told I could do it. I also cheekily asked if I could help out with the David Sedaris event, which I’m so glad that I did as it was one of the best evenings of my life.
I turned up in pretty good time to The Forum, which is the size of a West End theatre. I was selling books, which I found (if I do say so myself) I had a natural flare for. I loved handling them, I loved talking to people (although quickly) about them, and I loved how fast everything moved. We might as well have been throwing them at people how quickly they sold. Because I wasn’t being paid I felt no pressure to be fast, even though I wanted to and enjoyed being efficient. So when someone bought over £50 worth of books I could take my time and check the figures twice, just to be sure I didn’t over charge them. Seriously £50 for 4 books. Well The Ocean at The End Of The Lane did fetch a handsome £16.99, I was later pretty annoyed to find some of the other volunteers got there’s reduced, but I think that was down to poor communication and they were really thankful and was offered to go to an event for free (I haven’t claimed that yet, and they probably don’t remember who I am).
So I was enjoying the rush, and it was nice to see others excited about the event. I felt happy. Useful. Valued.
We took our seats and I found it hard to be present at the reading. I was still buzzing
from running round, going to the other volunteers inside the hall and saying ‘We need some more books ….. bit more than that ….. like 30’ and then running back fifteen minutes later to get more. There were other reasons. It was so important to me to meet Neil Gaiman. Just to say hi and be in front of his face. To give him verbal thanks as my money didn’t really seem enough. I started to worry a lot about what I was going to say.
This stems from another event a few months before, that also took place at a book signing at the forum. This time it was J.K Rowling talking about The Casual Vacancy. I have loved Harry Potter for most of my adult life, and it’s only in recent years it’s died down a little. I used to read and write HP fan fiction, check mugglenet daily, know all the fan theories, dress up as Tonks, had posters on my wall, special editions of the books. I was hardcore. Even though it’s really more of a passing interest now, Rowling was still a very important person to me, who I had dreamed of meeting since I was 12. And at 21 it was happening. And I had NO IDEA WHAT TO SAY. I know I had to prepare something. If I left it to just ‘whatever felt right’ I would just stand there like a knob. And I had to say something, you can’t just smile and say ‘thank you’ to someone you had dreamed of meeting. This anxiety was also filled by the immense cock up that was the time I met Stephen Fry (but thats another story), so just before I went up to get my book signed I decided what to say. It was simply the truth. ‘I really enjoyed this evening, it was great’. That couldn’t be taken the wrong way, and if I was in her shoes it would be nice to hear. Not to fan girly, not bland. She was really nice smiled and look tired. It was all fine.
Until I heard three things a few days later –
1. My friend Shake said to her ‘Your much prettier than I expected’ and she replied ‘thats refreshing, I’m getting sick of people appreciating me for my brain all the time’.
2. Someone else I knew told her that her books helped her learned to read as she was dyslexic. JK took her hands and said how pleased she was to hear that.
3. I told my friend Jen what I had said. Her response was ‘she’s heard it all before’.
I felt like shit. Sure, I had got in and out unscathed. But I had held back from saying anything meaningful to avoid embarrassment. I might as well get it out there, in a less cryptic way than my last blog posts, I have depression, I have had it for a long time. I can honestly remember a time when the thought of the next Harry Potter book was all that was keeping me going. I don’t want to play a game of ‘my story’s better than yours’ but come on, thats a big deal. And I didn’t want to break some unwritten barrier between author and reader and mention anything about this. But someone I knew did, and she got that tender personal moment I had dreamed of, and I got ‘she’s heard it all before’.
So when Neil Gaiman came around I was bit stressed. He was less of a glowing, surreal like figure to me and I thought I should try and say something proper to him. Something honest.
I was holding my book in the queue and felt awkward before I got there.
Now I want to make it clear in what follows I am NOT SLAGGING OF NEIL GAIMAN.
I opened my book, he got his pen out to sign, I said
‘There was a time when I was really low and couldn’t read and American Gods got me reading again’. Which is true (and you should see the size of American Gods).
He replied ‘That’s good to hear’. And then I smiled and buggerd off.
It was all very underwhelming. On paper it all seems fine. But there was something in his tone that suggested I had done what I feared, over shared, been a fan girl, been a knob. Now I appreciate it’s easy to read into a tone of a tired, rushed, over worked man, and thats pretty much exactly what I’m doing. I’m sure he was being genuine, polite. But it left me with that feeling, that I was just another tosser, and that he had ‘heard it all before.’
After I got my book signed I was told I could go to the green room and get some wine if I wanted. There were enough bottles in there to stock a pub, most were still sealed. I poured myself a glass and drank it as I looked round. Bags on the floor, empty sushi boxes, I remember at that point I became aware I was hungry and wondered if yo-sushi was still open. And then I felt happy because I was having the same wine as Neil Gaiman. I finished it, poured myself another one, and then more for others I had promised to bring back. A few weeks later I stumbled on a blog listing facts about Neil Gaiman, saying his favourite comfort food was sushi and it made me smile.