Where Shaun Tan’s address had pictures behind and through it, Neil Gaiman had poems.
He spoke about crossover books, risks, journeys, the good things about bad books and the power of imagination.
He began with “Locks” – a Goldilocks tale, or a tale of telling Goldilocks, for “we owe it to each other to tell stories”.
- The freedom of comics, that no-one seems to mind what your write because “it is a medium people mistake for a genre”.
- That Coraline would not have been written unless there was someone waiting for it, unless it was going to be read.
- It helps in writing crossover books to already have a large and loyal audience and supportive publishes.
- The different covers for The Graveyard Book – some clearly for children or adults, some which left no-one out.
- That there are difficulties with crossover books: shelving, publishing, etc, and you have to take risks, but they should be risks you enjoy taking.
Then he read “Observing the Formalities” (only found the video of this), about manners and christenings and funerals.
- Thinks the imagination is the most important thing we have – dreams come first.
- Children are not savages, but explorers who arrive without a guidebook in an old land. It is their taks to codify.
- Adults, eyes dulled by familiarity, assume they live in a world where there are no mysteries and need children to remind them.
- Likes stories which take people from “the fields we know”, then “there and back again”.
- Knows dream logic isn’t story logic, gold turns to leaves on waking, but we can bring things back from dreams – atmosphere, etc. As a boy, he dreamed of houses with endless hallways and doors.
- He tries to write a book he would have loved. To write his best so that people don’t have that as their first experience of the genre and think they hate something they would have loved.
Then, “Instructions“, about getting there and back again, which was a beautiful poem.
- Sturgeon’s Law (90% of everything is crap) [note: apparently actually his second law] applies to every field. The corollary is that 10% is excellent. Strive to be part of the signal and not add to the noise.
- Many books are unjustly forgotten, but doesn’t think any unjustly remembered.
- Miracle of prose: begins with the words. What we give the reader is a raw code, a rough pattern, a loose architectural plan that they use to build the book themselves.
- Therefore, there are no bad children’s books. Any book is a collaboration, and even when an author is not doing her part, the children are.
- When go back as an adult, the book loved as a child sometimes isn’t there.
- Even a bad book is a seed and grows magic beanstalks.
- Are some that age like wine, but don’t stop kids reading the 90% crap. Don’t disparage crap – can grow fine things in it. They teach children how to imagine.
- China found that people who worked creatively (e.g. Google etc) read SF and Fantasy and children’s books and now condone if not fully endorse the genres.
- Books change people’s minds because they make you imagine. Everything you see was first imagined by someone.
“Inventing Aladdin“, about 1001 tales, for “we save our lives in such unlikely ways”.
- If world didn’t grow on its own, it had to be imagined first.
- The most important question: “What if?” = it doesn’t have to be like this.
- “Write about what you know”, so he does – because he knows what it would be like under London, if a star fell and sprained her ankle and swore, about an America filled with gods.
- GK Chesterton spoke about dangers of looking at things over and over. The 100th time can be the first.
- Fantasy is a mirror – can distort, vanish, etc.
- “Escapism”. Sure – Chesterton: only gaolers complain about escapism.
- Escape, like a holiday, is vital – see, learn, experience new things and house is not the place you left.
- Power of all fiction: fresh eyes. Takes us into the heads of others and teaches us there are no others just us.
- All fiction is fantasy. Only rule is imagine and daydream and play “lets pretend”.
“Boys and Girls Together” a rather bittersweet poem which seemed to me about the disappointment of unwanted dreams.
“The Day the Saucers Came” about not noticing, with some very funny cumulative lines.
Lili has blogged about the speech here – and much more succinctly and lyrically!