Welcome to a new feature on Inkings and Inklings – the author spotlight. After discussing favourite authors with friends, introducing Little Sis to some authors she’d never tried before (more on that later), and after Ana’s little piece introducing newbies to the genius of Wodehouse, I decided that I would put the spotlight on various authors so that the uninitiated can discover new wonders.
Now, before I begin, I would like to give a nod to the hilarity that is the Tumblr Fuck Yeah Neil’s Hair from which I got the above picture! Enjoy.
Right, and on with the author spotlight.
Meet Neil Gaiman – premium word-wrangler.
As an idea of how broad, popular and fantastic Neil Gaiman’s books and stories are, over the years his works have collected: 4 Hugos, 2 Nebulas, 1 World Fantasy Award, 4 Bram Stoker Awards, 6 Locus Awards, 2 British SF Awards, 1 British Fantasy Award, 3 Geffens, 1 International Horror Guild Award and 2 Mythopoeic Awards.
His writing career began life in the form of a Duran Duran biography and Don’t Panic: The Official Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion, a Douglas Adams biography, before he migrated to Violent Cases – a collaboration with artist Dave McKean that gave birth to the DC Comics graphic novel Black Orchid series.
This ground-breaking graphic novel horror series is a cult classic, and there is no way to sum up this series in a mere paragraph, so epic its scope… the best summary I have found is here if you want to know more. The seven brothers and sisters – Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Delirium (who used to be Delight), and Destruction – are the centrepoint of the collection of 10 stories, with Dream the overall key. The series covers everything from Lucifer to Barbie, Caesar Augustus to werewolves. Get the full collection here, or start with Preludes & Nocturnes here.
I’m not a graphic novel expert. I don’t even pretend to be. I’ve dabbled with the superhero comics (from Avengers to X-Men to Batman), and coveted the artistry of The Walking Dead, but that really is the extent of my knowledge. The Sandman series requires a dedication to get through it (it really is vast), but it’s definitely worth it. It was the first time that I realised that the graphic novel wasn’t just great art with a bit of story. The compelling characters and absolutely beautiful artwork run in tandem with one another. I wouldn’t recommend them to graphic novel beginners, but to those who want more.
From graphic novels to adult books, Neil Gaiman has gone on to publish yet more award-winning stories in the form of American Gods and Neverwhere…
Shadow has had a pretty tough time of it already – recently released from prison and a recent widower, he then meets Mr. Wednesday, who claims to be king of America. Thrown in to a world of gods and magic, Shadow discovers that the world isn’t quite as straight forward as it seems…
American Gods was the first Neil Gaiman book I ever read. I was instantly drawn into the complex, yet simply written, world that Gaiman has created. It’s easy to see why it won awards – the cleverness of it is unmatched. I always tell people to start with this or Neverwhere if they’ve never read Neil Gaiman before, and often go back to it to feel inspired in my own writing (if you need demonstrations of great writers to aspire to, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King are the best starting points because of their clean prose and sprawling yet watertight plots). There was an episode of Supernatural a while ago that reminded me of this book, and prompted me to read it for the third time; each read unwraps another layer, and that’s the best bit of Neil Gaiman’s worlds – that they’re never finished telling you about themselves.
I handed Little Sis my much-thumbed copy of Neverwhere recently, and now she’s hooked. I was reminded of it by the Radio 4 play and as she was looking for something to read, I thrust it into her hands and begged her to give it a go (her usual choices are variants of Jodi Picoult). She had never read magical realism before, and curled her lip whenever I offered her a fantasy book. I thought she would never discover the joys of fantasy, magical realism and sci-fi, but thanks to Neverwhere, it seems there is hope yet.
Neverwhere is the story of Richard, whose encounter with Door – a girl from London Below (a London much more magical and mysterious than our London) – throws him in to her world, and all the perils it entails as he battles to get back to London Above. I think although American Gods was my introduction, Neverwhere was the moment I fully realised how brilliant these stories were. There’s a small part of me that wonders if there really is a London Below… because it’s just too real to be made up.
From Neverwhere and American Gods we have his YA fiction, children’s books (try Chu’s Day to read to the little ones and The Graveyard Book, illustrated by Chris Riddell, for the slightly older ones to read), and his short stories (Fragile Things is my favourite collection, which I first bought as an audio book for my trips to and from Bath).
But Neil Gaiman is not just a writer of books and short stories. Oh no. He also writes for television, film and radio – including collaborating on adaptations of his works (see the latest BBC Radio 4 play). If you’re a Doctor Who fan, expect to be thoroughly entertained and spooked by his episode Nightmare in Silver, and if you want further demonstration of his skills, HBO have signed up an adaptation of American Gods for a 6-season run, The Graveyard Book is heading for a film adaptation from Disney and the author himself is promising (hinting?) at an AG sequel.
I tend to recommend Neil Gaiman as a starting point for people who haven’t really read fantasy or sci-fi before. It’s a gentle introduction, but they’re so good it does mean you’ll never look back. His clever prose is never too heavy, and he weaves a story that honours the art of magical realism.
You’ll never look at things the same way again.