For more than 20 years, Neil Gaiman has been a top writer of modern comics and a best-selling novelist. His work has appeared in translation in more than 19 countries, and nearly all of his novels, graphic and otherwise, have been optioned for films. He was the creator-writer of the monthly cult DC Comics series Sandman, which won many awards, including a World Fantasy Award. He is the author of the critically acclaimed "American Gods," awarded the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, SFX and Locus awards, and his novel "Stardust" was a winner of the American Library Association's Alex Award as one of 2000's top 10 adult novels for young adults. His children's books include the international best-selling novel "Coraline" (2002), a winner of the Bram Stoker Award and the Hugo Award. His latest novel for young readers is "The Graveyard Book" (HarperCollins, September 2008). He lives near Minneapolis.
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
From the 2008 National Book Festival
You have been creating/writing adult books and modern comics for some years. How did you get started writing books for children?
I mostly did it to try and convince my own children that I had a real job. But the first book I ever wrote, when I was about 21, was a children's book. It was terrible and nobody published it. My second was The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish, which Dave Mckean illustrated. And then I did Coraline, and people noticed. And then The Wolves In The Walls came out, and now I was a proper children's author.
What sparked your imagination for your newest novel - The Graveyard Book?
When I was a much younger man, a journalist with dreams of one day writing novels, we lived in a tall house with no garden. This was a problem, as I had a small son with a tricycle and nowhere to ride it. But an easily solved problem -- across the road was a graveyard, and I would take Mikey and his tricycle there and watch him ride around on the paths between the gravestones.
"I should write something like The Jungle Book," I thought one day, watching him. "I should set it in a graveyard. Make it about a boy being brought up by dead people."
I went home and wrote a page or two, realized that I wasn't as good a writer as I thought I was and put it away.
Time passed. I went cold on the idea. One night I watched a documentary in which a woman talked about hiding in a graveyard from bad things that had happened to her as a child, about a graveyard as a place of safety. I tried again to start The Graveyard Book, but it still wasn't anything more than an idea. I put it off again until I was going to be a better writer.
And then, over twenty years after I watched Mikey (now Mike) peddle his tricycle between the gravestones in a little country church, I started to write. I got a page or so into it and, as I had always done before, decided it wasn't any good, and that I should give up. But my daughter Maddy, aged 11, asked what I was writing. So I read it to her. "What happens next?" she asked. And I had to keep writing, in order to find out. That was a story called "The Witch's Headstone", which turned out to be chapter four of The Graveyard Book.
What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is just finding the time to write -- or rather, making the time to write.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?
Daydream. Let your mind wander. Ask yourself questions like WHAT IF...? and IF ONLY... And after you've daydreamed...WRITE! That's all. It's that easy and that hard. You just write. And then you finish things.
Can you suggest a fun writing topic to get them started?
What would happen if you shrank to mouse size? Or grew to house size? What if you discovered that your teacher was planning to eat one of your class at the end of the semester? (And who? And why? And how would you stop him or her?) What if you turned invisible after eating ice cream?
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
There are too many to list -- authors I loved as a child and loved reading to my children would include Diana Wynne Jones, P.L. Travers, Daniel Pinkwater, C.S.Lewis, Roald Dahl, J.R.R. Tolkien, Noel Langley.
How do you decide on themes for your books?
I think they find me.
How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?
Not really. Mostly I just make it up.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Read to them. Make reading time for both of you -- for you and the children-- something special. Nothing's more important than that time (and truth to tell, nothing is).