Stark against a backdrop of nimbus clouds, a sole lectern. The audience was acutely aware that soon an eminent literarian would be positioned behind it, delivering prose and poetry so exceptional they’d be rendered speechless.
A literary God must be announced, and tasked with the honour was Ben Jenkins, an affable and enigmatic entertainer. Humble in his knowledge we weren’t there for him, he moved swiftly through his introduction before calling upon Gaiman. To the tune of 1,700 hands applauding, Gaiman strolled toward the waiting lectern, lights suspended above him like robust raindrops. He was all and more of fan expectation. As he spoke, his voice drifted in waves towards eager ears. If joy were a definitive sound, it’s the voice of Gaiman.
Prior to his performance, Gaiman requested attendees articulate their questions upon paper, which he’d review backstage. First, a question enquiring how he “Balances family and work life”. Gaiman’s adoration for his equally gifted wife, Amanda Palmer, and four-year-old son, Ash, was endearing. Gaiman admitted that for some time there was no balance, and he was juggling various positions, adversely affecting his home life. However, for the past year, Gaiman took on the role of primary carer and his wife became the travelling parent. To note, Ash is still alive and made it to school every day. Though, if always in the correct attire, he cannot confirm.
A following question spoke of the incredulous re-sale price of Gaiman’s first autobiography, Duran Duran, with editions reaching a colossal $10,000. Looking back at the era in which it was produced, Gaiman was a starving journalist, keen for a pay day. A day which, unfortunately, did not eventuate, as the publication folded; he had penned the piece for free. He recently managed to score a copy for $800, a memento of harsh lessons learnt in tender years.
Gaiman admitted to being flattered by fan tattoos. However, please tell him if you’re having his signature permanently adhered, so he can scribe with more precision. The most shocking, albeit amusing tattoo he has ever seen, was on a female fan, where upon the exposure of her upper thigh he was confronted with his own face. A sight to which he is not accustomed upon the limb of another, but a fan memory he’ll never forget.
In response to which book’s his favourite, Gaiman stated: “The next one, it’s always the next one because that’s the one you hope you’re going to get right.” He considers himself a gardener of storytelling, rather than an architect; planting ideas and watching them grow, in contrast to constructing them in a stringent format. When the question arose as to whether he knows the ending of his novels before he writes, he spoke of an analogy from his friend and peer, the late Terry Pratchett: “It’s a process, step, by step, walking along a cliffside surrounded by fog, and you can see only what’s before you. And so you hold the wall of the mountain, travelling along the narrow path, and step, look, step, until you reach the summit and the clouds part exposing a vast field of colour and you know you’ve reached the end.”
Gaiman relates most to his unnamed protagonist in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a tale which he wrote for Palmer, to provide an insight into his younger years. He also compares himself to Merv Pumpkinhead from Sandman, who “Can’t believe the idiocy of all those around him.” Gaiman wouldn’t wish to write more books in which he is the protagonist, though. He stated, “The very point of literature is to be placed into someone else’s head, and view the world from their eyes, feeling and experiencing what you may not otherwise.” This led to another question, regarding representation in literature of marginalised communities. Gaiman asserts that he only wants to get it right, so seeks out advice from communities themselves to ensure his voice honours and respects their perspectives, regardless of how many re-writes it takes.
Throughout, Gaiman forged a deep connection with his audience. Spellbound, patrons perched motionless, breath bated, as he read aloud, the power of his voice permeating every aspect of their soul. Poetry is supposed to be read, to be felt, to be experienced, and Gaiman made it most surely a life-altering experience. Each tale was as an inspired as the next: a feminist poem, The Mushroom Hunters, born from a twilight experience with his son, and a keen interest in the worlds of science and nature ; a poem for Australians, in which megafauna reigns supreme against racist ideologies and an insulting national holiday; and a love story woven from the intricate relationship between a Djinn and his master, the crowd’s hearts affected by a simple “Nah, I’m good.”
An interior scar was left by The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury; a tribute to Pratchett. How harrowing it was to feel the ache of grief as Gaiman’s words penetrated the psyche, delving into the essence of human memory, not wanting to forget, not wanting to be forgotten. The mnemonic devices utilised to hold onto one’s past, the notion that it’s all going to cease to exist, regardless. Gaiman’s final words on the piece, as light reflected from the tears in his eyes, were a deeply-felt “I still miss him.”
Ultimately, Gaiman reminds us that art, in all its various forms, is the means by which we make sense of the world. It connects us, shows us we’re not alone, and provides strength to banish demons through artistic expression. Fans departed feeling fortunate to have been in Gaiman’s presence, forever grateful for the intimate and transformative two-hour experience.