The story of the time I met Neil Gaiman and he said something extremely lovely to me

I have been reading to Social Sister for more than eighteen years now — off more than on, since we went to college, just as a function of our never being in the same place for very long, but still: Eighteen years. A whole person who can vote. She got brainwashed early into thinking this was a good form of entertainment, and I enjoy it because there is nothing quite like seeing someone else experience a book you love in real time.

Anyway, we just finished reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I was reading for the first time while I was reading it to her. I’ve finally read it now!, and hence, I shall tell you about the time I met Neil Gaiman at an event pertaining to the 2013 release of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. (No pictures, I’m afraid! They might have been allowed (I can’t remember, actually), but I hate pictures of myself too much to have even considered taking any.) There was a talk first, in which Neil Gaiman issued a rousing endorsement of semicolons, and then I did a thing I have never done, which was to stand in line to have a book signed.

I had brought Reflections on the Magic of Writing, a book of Diana Wynne Jones essays to which Neil Gaiman wrote a foreword. When I gave it to Neil Gaiman to sign and told him (though probably very incoherently) why I wanted him to sign it, he said, “I miss her. I wanted to give this book [The Ocean at the End of the Lane] to her when it was finished. I think it’s more like hers than others I’ve written.”

I wanted to say “Yes, it sounds like it is very her; her books are all about the way children understand things.” I said probably some very stammery incoherent version of that instead; and Neil Gaiman said, “I think it’s quite like Time of the Ghost in some ways.”

Fact about me: When someone mentions a lesser-known book of Diana Wynne Jones to me (such as Time of the Ghost), I lose all reason. Ask my friends if you don’t believe me. I did it this time too. I shrieked “I LOVE TIME OF THE GHOST I JUST READ TIME OF THE GHOST,” which is true and is what I would have said to anyone; but it was embarrassing because I wanted to be cool 100% of the time I was talking to Neil Gaiman and shrieky 0% of the time. So then I was embarrassed and I said thank you and left.

Oh well. You cannot be cool all the time, especially if you actually are not cool. I am pleased to know that Neil Gaiman thinks that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is quite like Time of the Ghost in some ways. It pleases me in the way that I am always pleased when somebody says something that displays the same affectionate and easy level of familiarity with Diana Wynne Jones’s oeuvre that 1) I have; and 2) is her due because she is an amazingly gifted writer and her books should be standard childhood books that all children read. Except it made me happier in this case than usual because it was an author I also love who was saying it.

And now I have told you about it (over a year later). And hopefully when you have read The Ocean at the End of the Lane (or before then!), you will think, “Oh, I am intrigued by the stated similarity to Time of the Ghost. I had better rush out and read Time of the Ghost, a book I now know is Neil Gaiman-endorsed.”

The end.

  • Karen K.

    Wow, that’s really cool — first, because you actually MET NEIL GAIMAN

  • Karen K.

    (Sorry, I accidentally hit return too quickly) — was going to add (with a semicolon, naturally):

    Secondly, because he loved the book that you love. I’m not cool either, I’m sure I would have been all gushing and fangirly. And now that you mention it, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was rather like DWJ, whom I love. Great post!

    • Gin Jenny

      I know, isn’t it? Once he said it, I could totally see it.

  • That’s a very cool story! Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors.
    What does a rousing endorsement of semicolons sound like? Somehow, I can see him pulling it off. 🙂
    I’m not familiar with the lesser known works of Diana Wynne Jones like I am with the lesser known works of Neil Gaiman, but now that you’ve read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, what do you think of it in comparison with Time of the Ghost or in general?

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahahaha, I don’t even remember now! It’s what I wrote in my notes.

      I think it’s very much like Time of the Ghost. For whatever reason, many of Neil Gaiman’s books seem to correspond to books of DWJ’s. Stardust lines up with Howl’s Moving Castle; Mirrormask lines up with Charmed Life; Ocean at the End of the Lane lines up with Time of the Ghost. I like the closeness. It always reminds me that they were writers who admired each other.

  • This is such a lovely story. How wonderful when a writer you admire turns out to be so nice and so in tune with your own opinions.

    Also, you have recommended Dianna Wynne Jones so many times to me, I really should pick up some of her books.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yes you should. You definitely should. But be aware that she’s better on a reread. If you don’t crazy love a book of hers the first time, give it a second try. It’s true. People other than me have agreed with this opinion.

  • What a wonderful story! I have never read Wynne Jones but I think I will have to now, not because Neil Gaiman likes her but because of your story and how much you love her. As for being cool, well, at least you managed to talk to the man. I can never manage more than a strangled hi and thanks when and author signs a book.

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahaha, I’ve gone to so few author signings. I’m so nervous at them. I went to a Helen Oyeyemi event one time, and I was so overcome with nervousness that I left without having her sign a book for me.

  • This post made me smile. =D (<— See, there it is!)

    Also, I really liked The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I may just have to read this Time of the Ghost that you speak of. 😉

    • Gin Jenny

      Do! But be warned that it’s among the weirdest, if not THE weirdest of her books. If you find it deeply deeply weird, just know two things: 1) that is exactly what her real family was like in real life, except for weirder; 2) Diana Wynne Jones is better on a reread.

  • That is an awesome story. Now that I can’t meet DWJ any more, I wish I could meet Neil Gaiman so I could tell him how much I love DWJ (oh yeah, and he’s pretty good too). However, I would probably be paralyzed with shyness like I was when I met Susan Cooper. Total silence from me, it was awful, and there were only like 10 people there too. 😛

    Ha, I SAID Ocean was the most like a DWJ book! I feel so smart now. I may have to read them both together and compare.

    • Gin Jenny

      You ARE smart! I want to read them both together, to see how I feel.

  • I’m delighted to hear this, because when I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I kept thinking it was a lot like Time of the Ghost. It pleases me greatly to hear Neil Gaiman himself thinks so! I also thought it was a bit Fire & Hemlock-y, but then I think TOTG and F&H are very similar really.

    (I was spectacularly uncool when I met Neil Gaiman the first time*. I literally went round the corner and had a bit of a meltdown right afterwards – until that point I did not know that squeeing was something you could actually do in real life.)

    *I say first time there like I’ve met him loads or something instead of precisely twice, both to get books signed!

    • Gin Jenny

      Oh God, when I left the signing, I was a mess. I was so mad at myself for not being cooler. The imbalance when you meet an author you love is very difficult to surmount — their work can be SO important to you, but you are inevitably NO ONE to them. It’s a very strange situation.

  • OK – I haven’t read either one, but now I must read them both so I can play with the big girls!

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahahaha, I am DEFINITELY not the big girls. But yes! You should read them both!

  • I’m glad that I wasn’t the only one who got Reflections signed by Neil. I felt a little bad not bringing him one of his own books (besides Ocean, of course) but he didn’t mind at all and was so lovely about talking about DWJ. I love him.

    • Gin Jenny

      Me too. I was thrilled when you posted about bringing him Reflections to sign.

  • I love this story :).

    • Gin Jenny

      Thanks! 🙂

  • Love it!! You did so much better than I! I did good to get a hug. He gives great hugs.

    • Gin Jenny

      Oh Lord, I wouldn’t do a hug. I feel so anxious doing hugs with strangers.

  • That is such a lovely story! And I am quite sure Neil Gaiman liked you a trillion per cent better because you shrieked out that you loved Time of the Ghost. Which is utterly fabulous. On the few occasions when authors have been unlucky enough to meet me, pretty much always at book signings, I have been unable to do more than whisper the name of the person to whom I’d like the book dedicated and then stare. This is both boring and a little creepy for the author. Enthusiastic people who can say clever things about Diana Wynne Jones must be far more pleasant for them to encounter.

    I am touched that Neil Gaiman wanted Diana Wynne Jones to read his book and misses her. That makes me want to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane now.

    • Gin Jenny

      I was touched too. And sad. You know, I was so sad when Diana Wynne Jones died, and I only knew her through her books. Imagine how much worse it must have been to have loved her as a person AND loved her books. Poor him.

  • Time of the Ghost. Going on my list. Eleanor also met Neil Gaiman, and he was very nice to her. I think he must be a very nice man.
    Last weekend I had yet another experience of being utterly tongue-tied at meeting a famous person. I stood by him and was photographed (an act of bravery for which I am not getting enough credit) but I couldn’t say a single thing. Sigh.

    • Gin Jenny

      It sounds like Neil Gaiman is indeed a very nice man. I’ve never heard anyone tell a story of meeting him where he wasn’t completely lovely to them.

      That sounds awful! I praise you for being photographed with him! All the praise from me. I don’t even like being photographed with people I know!

  • Please, you are very cool. Also, your meeting Neil Gaiman story is much better than my Neil Gaiman story. I waited in line for sooooo loooooong that it was past midnight by the time I reached the front. So I said, “Thank you for staying so late to sign everyone’s books.”

    And he said, “Oh, no trouble. It’s my pleasure.”

    Then he signed my copy of BRIEF LIVES, and my friend’s copy of STARDUST (he’d sign two things if you bought one of them from the bookstore and I only had one thing I wanted signed, so she gave me her newly-purchased book to have autographed on her behalf), and I left.

    I had such a terrible sleep hangover the next day, lemme tell you.

    If I hadn’t been so tired, I’d probably have been horribly unsuave. Like, I met Maureen Johnson at a BEA signing, and she told me my name was lovely, and I said, “I rather thought so.” Which is the most pretentious thing I’ve ever said to a stranger.

    She probably thought I thought I was beyond such childish things, because then she asked if it was all right if she wrote “Coolest name ever!” above her signature. It was. It delighted me. And I wish I could’ve told her how much it delighted me but I was too busy feeling bad about being so pretentious.

    To make matters worse, I tried to apologize when I attended another of her signings a couple of days later, and I got totally incoherent and started ranting about how 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES made me feel like it was okay to travel a lot and stay in hostels (because nobody killed Ginny).

    Now I’ve left a super long, rambly comment on your blog. THIS IS JUST LIKE THE TIME I MET MAUREEN JOHNSON.

    • Gin Jenny

      Ahahahahahahaha, I am laughing so hard at this story. It’s ridiculous how much my own moments of minor pretentiousness HAUNT MY DREAMS.

  • What a great story! You did much better than me. When I met Julian Barnes, I was star-struck to the point of being totally SILENT. I had thought we might run away together. I didn’t need the power of hindsight to realise why it didn’t happen. I am so glad Neil Gaiman was lovely and I am raising a toast to the wonderful and so sadly absent DWJ.

    • Gin Jenny

      I clink my glass to that toast. I miss her books. 🙁

  • Awww. This is the best story.

    • Gin Jenny

      IS IT? Because it is sort of an embarrassing memory. :p

  • Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    Now I have to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, if it resembles The Time of the Ghost (excellent book). I’m a little put off from some of Gaiman’s books because they are said to be creepy and I don’t do creepy books. (I did like the ones I have read: The Graveyard Book and Stardust.) I don’t know why the creepy elements in DWJ (human sacrifice, anybody?) don’t scare me! But I have never had trouble with them as I have with some others.

  • Ah, you are so cool. Really.

  • Neil Gaiman is also one of the few people whose books I love so much, enough to motivate me to queue up for a signing (star dust I think, on a very rainy night in an obscure theaterette on some out of the way university campus, somewhere in Sydney- subsequently quite a small gathering in NG books). I don’t think I managed to utter anything cool or coherent either. As for DWJ I love “The power of one” and “Deep Secrets” Great stories people!

  • Aw that was a lovely encounter 🙂 I love when writers display such affections toward each other and acknowledge each other’s influences. Especially when it’s Neil Gaiman and Diana Wynne Jones (who I should read more)

  • This is such a great story! I loved Ocean at the End of the Lane but now I need to read Diane Wynn Jones, who is new to me.

  • Such a cool story! I recently read Ocean at the End of the Lane and know many people in my book club who would love to hear that Gaiman suggested Diane Wynn Jones.