Neil Gaiman is a writer whose list of titles spans many forms from novels, including American Gods, to children’s stories such as Coraline and the comic book the Sandman. Neil grew up in East Grinstead and after finishing school he became a journalist and then wrote short stories and books. One of his early commissions was writing a companion to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. In 1989 he began to write the Sandman series for DC Comics which were illustrated by his friend Dave McKean. The Sandman became the first comic ever to receive a literary award - the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story – and is credited with bringing comics from an underground art form into the mainstream. It is currently in production as a television series. Neil started writing what became the fantasy novel Good Omens in the 1980s but put it aside to concentrate on the Sandman. When his friend Terry Pratchett suggested they go back to it and finish it together, they turned Neil’s initial 5,000 words into a novel which was adapted for radio in 2014 and became a television series starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen. Neil wrote his first children’s book, The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish, in 1997. His next children’s book Coraline, about a little girl adrift in a parallel universe, was initially deemed to be too frightening to publish but is now a family favourite. Neil is married to the musician Amanda Palmer and lives in upstate New York. DISC ONE: Rock 'n' Roll Suicide by David Bowie DISC TWO: Love Unrequited (The Nightmare Song) composed by Gilbert & Sullivan, performed by The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, John Reed (baritone) and The New Symphony Orchestra Of London, conducted by Isidore Godfrey DISC THREE: Soho (Needless to Say) by Al Stewart DISC FOUR: The Ballad Of Sweeney Todd: "Attend The Tale Of Sweeney Todd", composed by Stephen Sondheim and performed by Len Cariou and the original Broadway Cast of Sweeney Todd- 1979 DISC FIVE: Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed DISC SIX: Tear in Your Hand by Tori Amos DISC SEVEN: Bees in Trees by Michael Nyman DISC EIGHT: Holding Your Hand by Thea Gilmore BOOK CHOICE: The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe LUXURY ITEM: A Victorian accounts ledger, a fountain pen and an unlimited supply of ink CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Bees in Trees by Michael Nyman Presenter: Lauren Laverne Producer: Paula McGinley
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Pvc sounds music, radio broadcasts, hallo unlearned event, and this is the desert island discs. Podcast. Every week I ask my guest to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they want to take with them if they were cast away to a desert island. and for rights reasons the music is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening.
my castaway this week is the writer neil game and the author of stardust sandman, caroline american gods and the graveyard book he specializes in creating fantastic alternative realities which usually exist under the nose of the world. As we know it, you could say: he's pulled off this trick in his korea to These comic books, clinched literatures highest prizes, his fantasy stories slipped into the mainstream and his children's books, one steam to terrifying to publish of become family favorite. Yes, there is another world inside our own one in which forty five million neil game and funds have enjoyed a welcome breaks.
The humdrum through one of his books and many more via his stories on stage film and television colluding good omens with David tenant and Michael jean growing up in east grinstead, still is worn escape for him to back then he could usually be found. local library and when he was obliged to and family functions, have to be frisked for books on entry to Sure he didn't disappear as soon as he found a quiet corner. He says I never feel a past is dead. Young NEA listened around anymore. He still, there hiding in a library looking for a doorway that led him somewhere, safe where everything works, neo game, and why complete as island discs. Thank you so much so nails so much of your writing features secret door
is a magical poles to somewhere else. What are you searching for, or should it be running from? I think it's more of a searching for than are running from the search for infinite possibilities. When I was a kid, we lived in the servants quarters of a big old house which had been divided into two, but because I have been divided into two. We got one nice room which was the original drawing room and it had a door
on each side, one door would have led to the kitchens servants would have used, and that was open. One door would lead into the fancy main house, and that was bricked up and I used to try and sneak up on the door wide eyed approach it without looking at open it suddenly, and it would always be a brick wall, but I was convinced that if I just approach that door right and opened it correctly, it would take me somewhere what The few forms you haven't attempted yet is an autobiography. Although your novel, the ocean, at the end of the lane, infuses a fantastic adventure with detail,
from your own early life. Why did you take that approach? I love the freedom of making things up and I love the fact that you can draw conclusions in fiction. You can take things to places that you can't ever really take them in real life because you never get closure in real life. The people that you'd really like to talk to and get answers from are often dead, and I also think sometimes you can get truer in fiction than you can in real life, partly because fiction needs to be convincing and Real life doesn't need to be convincing. I think anybody who takes a set of clear eyed look at the last two years and in the world its incredibly unconvincing. It just happened to have happened.
the first is, that new game and not taking away. I was always a sucker for words, I loved words and I loved stories. So I fell completely in love with the rise and fall of city stardust and the spiders from mars, because it felt like there was a story. That was I even. If I didn't know the details and the song that it was ended on was rock n roll suicide. It seemed to be the story of a ghost whether a living ghost or a host death ghost I could never quite tell, but I felt like I was in a story and I felt like again- there was infinite possibilities. Time takes the lead in your mouth, you think the signal
lots of wireless calling, yeah, your rock and bold suicide david and rock and roll suicide new game, and I want to take you back to yourself as a little kids by grown account. You work schedule, lots and fear, often stalks your stories as an idle. What we frightened of as a little boy, you member I come you know what have you got deftly the dark shadows, witches anything that really did exist and anything that didn't and that's overactive imagination of
Please you, you couldn't switched off when you needed to. I used to genuinely envy kids, who didn't have imaginations, who weren't populating the shadows with things I knew I couldn't switched off, and I thought that as my big weakness and did not realise that one day I grow up it will be. My superpower, you born in poor chester in Hampshire and the eldest of three kids. You for the David, was a shopkeeper in your mother's sheila pharmacist. How well do you think your parents understood Gee? This bookish comic, loving, often frightened kid. I was kind of a cook who, in the nest- and one though, that they adored and they loved me for me, it honestly wasn't until my son Michael, grew up and became a hockey playing kid, and I saw the incredible amounts of pride with which-
sporty father regarded my sporty son. I thought oh, I never got to see this thing that never happened with me. I was a kid who could never score? go or run or actually accurately catch a ball or anything I can enable. I wasn't that kid. I was very good at dropping bulls and I was also very very good daydreaming on a football pitch. until something large witten leathery hit me in the side of the face, and people shouted because I should ve been paying attention and wherever I was, I wasn't really there one thing he didn't have in common with your father by the sound of it was an ability to tell stories. Your father was a rock on tat. He loved to hold an audience. How'd you picture menu Hence I would you think back to that. The kinds of adult parties that I would get to creep into an
I were, I would head over to him, and the rooms would always be completely filled with cigarettes smoked and I would creep in avoiding the cigarettes and he make everybody lean in and listen and as long as you're interesting, I realized he could set your own pace. Your mother taught you to read when you're full, what type of books did you enjoy? She ordered books for me from the local bookshop and then we'd go together to pick them up one time it was a children's hiawatha one time it was an ellis. Waited, I think the illustrates was margaret tarrant pied piper of hamelin, and then she got me a children's machado after I became a tiny, gilbert and Sullivan and his hair. Since I would have been three but she got me, these big illustrated books, and they were my delight. They were my life
it's time for a second piece of music new game in what are we gonna hear? Rather, unsurprisingly, it's a piece of gold and Sullivan. I was taken by my aunt diane, who would die at a very young age of leukemia couple of years later to the kings, the eta two c. I a lengthy, I would have been three years old and the words became almost a kind of invocation. If I would get to upset or too troubled, I would sing it to myself. And it's the nightmare. Some when you're lying await with a dismal headache, repose tabooed by anxiety, I can see you may use any language too, too, indulgent without impropriety or your brain,
on file a bender conspire usual slumber to plunder you, but you can't be those done. Comes your toes. The machines demurely proven view than the blanket english you feel tactics, people so terribly shop, is the printing and you're hot and crossing who tumbled and tossed it has nothing to do with the ticking. Then the battles of cream to the ground and a new and your pick em all along and attack the message from you and Sullivan's ireland performed by John John, the doily caught opera company conducted by Isidore godfrey neil gaming
written. I was not a happy child aloof from time to time. I was content. I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else. What did books give you that's the real world. Couldn't I wonder, comfort friends, I wasn't very good friends secured books, didn't let you down books would make fun of you. Books are sensible and do people lay down and make fun of you. I think sometimes I definitely felt like an outsider. Probably was it wasn't until I'd been a father three times that I finally came to the conclusion that actually the kids don't automatically alphabetize that book shelves. That was just me. I mentioned in the introduction nailed that you had to be frisked for books before family gathering, something that is pretty hard core. Who woods? Who would do the deed? He would come to patty down my dad, always my dad and he
would literally pat me down, because I had been known to hide books tween under my jumper and he would look them in the car. really worked, because wherever we were I could normally find something to read. It just wouldn't have been what I wanted to read, but suddenly, yet I built a family gathering and I'd be off in the corner, reading joys of yiddish by leah, rustin or something because that was the book. But I found Some will music, I think neo game and disk number three going to Heaven and why you taken this with you to the island, it's another case. Of so hoe in the nineteen sixties, but this whole the I came to ask And writer in the early nineties eighties wasn't that much removed from the soho that I'll still singing about, and it was one of the very few times I actually fell. Ah I'm I'm in my place this place this week,
denmark street a long gone pub called the cafe mention in which all of the people interested in comics would hang out. That was where my people were, I'm that was my life Wondering centred, please don't please, don't they don't come about whether ducks went up the sidewalk disappearing into the rainbow stand down by the newsstand waiting for us in our minds and our job is recognised. Needless to say, on a friday, so who, needless to say by AL stewart,
your game- and you said you didn't connect with classmates and somebody a teaches didn't know what to make of you either. I am thinking in particular of your english teacher MR rights under that was sir, because he was a teacher. I really did connect with and he took me aside somewhere in my first term and you said: look you are answering the question. and you know all the answers and your great at this and you're gonna get into trouble. Don't try to answer the questions and you should just be fitting it and tat. I went all ok, that's interesting. I thought it was my job till I get fabulous marks on things, but obviously it isn't I'm getting this entire thing wrong. Do you think he tell you gonna get picked him, probably yeah, I'm not sure that he was wrong. It's very hard for me to look back at decisions and things that happened and go
when I was a bad thing, because without those things happening, I wouldn't have become me when you were a teenager. You attended tat, wit, gift school nuts, high church anglican, but you yourself, a jewish ancestry and and parents who scientologists with senior roles in the church, what impact those contrasting religious doctrines have on you. Personally, I think the great thing for me was: you always fell on the outside of everything. It's not a bad place to be when it comes to religion or when it comes to anything for a writer I loved religion. I still do I love religions. I love myths of systems, of belief on I can loved them without ever feeling, but
one hundred percent a part of them. It's time you next disk, neil gaming, what's gonna be, and why, in about nineteen, eighty, two and eighty eighty, three, the national theatre, put on a production of swimming tired and I just moved to america and I had the kind of flight your flight is delayed and then its delayed again and then the plane they were gonna fly you out on didn't work. And, finally, it's two o clock or three o clock in the morning and a plain turns up and just before they take off. They apologise because no food, it was meant to be delivered. It wasn't deliver but their flying anyway, and you have this flight to the uk and land, and I just remember being so tired. So sad
so hungry and then going to see sweeney taught the cut his low sitting in the front row getting splashed by blood. I'm thinking this is the best thing that ever happened to me in the theater. This makes up for it everything tat s me skin was payment. His eye was but this is subject to a man who never thereafterward. It's me, David from the ballot We need to be performed by land, carry you and the original broadway cast for the musical sweeney told composed by stephen Saunders time, great tickets by signs of neo gaban front row row row I mean
he'll game and after leaving school, you decided to try a look as a journalist, but you didn't know any editors. How did you get started cheerfully lived appallingly and I would pick them articles and push them stores and they would say, oh sounds good will also be written for and that I didn't have any credits at that point. So I would lie I've written for a time out, typewritten for city limits, I've written for the sunday times magazine and actually over the next five years, I did make a point of honor to write for everybody. The I said that I had written for it wasn't a lie in the long run way, but I was chronologically challenge, but that was absolutely a lie, but you couldn't do it now. You would be googled
he began? Writing books ran this time to one of your ready. One was a companion to douglas items, the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy and that job sent you in another direction. Didn't it off the I'd written the hitchhiker book I felt like I wonder if I could write one of these myself and I started a book or at the first five thousand words book. At the time it was called william, the anti christ, and then Suddenly salmon happened. somewhere in, I think about six month, writing sam and when the phone rang- and it was my friend terry project, any city that thing that you sent me, are you doing anything with it, and I said no one currently up to my eyes and in salmon and stuff, and it's about, I know what happens next, so I think either you should so maybe the chunky rope or we should write it together, and I said we should
together, because that, for me was honestly the equivalent of Michelangelo ring you up and saying here you want to paint a ceiling together this weekend. I just know I'm never going to get the chance to have essentially an apprenticeship on a book and that's all, they get return, collaboration became good omens, which was published in nineteen. Ninety s, tent enemies, neil game in your fifth disk today. What have you chosen and why this song was actually where I found my daughter, holly's name and dumb years and years later, when Holly was, she was at college.
She said to me you know we should play me some of those songs that used to be on playlists along on cassettes. We go for a drive. What about working alongside used to play that- and I said yes in fact you are named after that- and I played her walk on the wild side and as it finished, she looked me and she said so hang on. She said I am named after a trans person in lieu rates, and I say yes, yes, you are She looked me so that I love you. Polly came from miami building. Hitchhiked away across Usa, loved. Your eyebrows on the way shape their legs and he was the chief says he babe I welcome the wild. Take a walk, the wild
blue, read and walk on the wild side. Soon Your game and you'd always read comics from childhood and by the mid eighties, you started writing script in graphic novels with your friend. The illustrated dave Mccain war is the appeal of the form to you particularly eightys. The biggest appeal was the idea that you had an form which was most we untouched that there was this amazing out form, but people had written it off as being solely for children or sub literate, and there was something gloriously perverse in the eighties about going. I think I want to do. I want to become a writer and I wanted to weaken comics when nobody's looking
one to be this isn't even gotta literature. This is this is way below the level of the gutter will looking up and we can see the gutter above us, and this is where we want to make. By nine stately nine neil, you started writing sandman series with dc comics am sandman changed everything for you, norman mailer called a comic strip intellectuals. It had sold superman and bought mine. It was the first comic ever to win age literary award. Did you enjoy the fame that along with a lot success. I was fully worried about disappointing people, a sort of feeling of going on- I'm not pre interesting, but I think I'll be somebody who wears douglas and a big leather jacket, so that at least people have an idea in their heads of of what an eel game and looks like can he can wear glasses in a big leather jacket? that when the uniform happened, that was that was the beginning of a uniform beginning.
I like this. What the uniform had the always in black uniform had happened in my late twenties. It just seemed incredibly simple. I looked at myself one day, I thought black t shirt black jeans, black sweaters black jackets. You don't really ever have to worry about what you're going to wear in the morning. The only problem is, if you're living out of a suitcase and everything is black, your kind to be doing your grabbing the things and holding them up to the light to try and figure out where the underpants are the socks. I think we could have some amazing new gaming disk number six, but I was at the san diego ec convention in nineteen ninety one young man. Meme grants hopefully came up to me handed me, a cassette answer
it diets by a friend of mine and she sings about Jan one of the tracks. Please don't sue her and I played it through and then put it back on and played it through again, so I called her and said: you're, brilliant and that was the aim and the song that she sang about me on and more importantly, that she sang about the salmon comics which had encountered he loved this coat. In your hand, on us in the day me and with due No tearing your hand by tory aim, us
the game and you wrote your first children's book the day I swapped my dad for two goldfish in nineteen. Ninety seven: where did the idea for that? Come from the idea, like most of my children's books was stolen from one of my children in this case my son, MIKE he would have been for maybe five years old, and I said something to him that he didn't like like possibly suggesting to him that it was actually possibly his bed time, and he looked up at me with a few worry that only a small boy can generate special and a fury he just said. I wish I didn't have a dad. He said I wish I had and then he paused, because he hadn't thought that through and and then he said, I wish I had goldfish and he stopped off. I just thought that is
brilliant and your daughter, holly inspired, caroline, which he wrote a few years later by the little girl. You discovers a frightening parallel world behind a pricked up. Do I started it for holly when she was about four or five years old, because those with this- or is that she would tell me she'd, come home and make up these nightmarish stories about little girls having their mothers kidnapped by evil witches who pretend to be their mothers and then imprisoned the little girls and they never have to escape, and I thought this is what she likes to write her one and I started writing it showed it to my then editor lovely man named richard evans, ga links, and he said. Oh, it's wonderful. He said it's one of the best things you've ever written it's on publishable, and I said why is that on publishable he said, while you're writing something aimed at both children and adults, and I don't know how anybody could publish that meets horror for children and that's not publishable before people make fun of him in context of ninety nine
one. He was absolutely right and I stopped writing it for some years and then one day I looked around and realized that maddie was four years old and the same age. That paglia been. I thought if I don't finish this book, she'll be too old for it too. So I I got down to work and constant fear, is an essential components of the books message. Isn't it? I just wanted to be able to tell myself as a seven year old terrified of the dark, refusing to walk home from another kids house to our house, insisting that my parents come and get me is. It was dark on the way and anything could happen, and I was terrified I wanted to go back and say: no, it's ok to be scared, being brave doesn't mean you're, not scared, being brave means, you're scared and you go on to do the right thing. Anyway, terrorism or music,
neil game and number seven more difficult for us. As I get older, there are more and more musicians, some writers that I find it difficult to listen to, because I stop and listen to the words more and more so I find I need instrumental music, but I mean instrumental music that isn't, Stop me working that I can enjoy as an environment to work, and I hate writing in complete silence. Some of my favorite music for the last thirty years has been Michael diamonds, film schools, especially his peter greenaway. I can put one on and it's just bliss, I smile and I start to write. So this is a track called bees into ease and its from drowning by numbers, which is one of my favorite films,
bees in trees by michael diamond from the soundtrack to drowning by numbers. Game and you married to the musician amanda palmer, the two of you open marriage. You ve been very open about that. But do you have any regrets about the honesty over time? We both have boundaries I'm not same place and I'm not in the same place. So I think she's had the police from where her natural boundaries would be in which she would love to be telling everybody everything and I've had walk several hundred yards beyond, where my boundaries end into a world of going. Ok. Well, I guess I'm gonna have to took the stuff which, as far as I'm concerned, his private life- and I dont want
when I talk about it, but a matter is so. I have two too. I am, I think, overall, looking back on the last, whenever we ve been together now thirteen years, I'm really glad that we did, because I think it's probably very good for me to be dragged out of my comfort zone over over old. I think Amanda always assumed that if she dragged me out of my comfort zone I would eventually go actually it's fantastic came out of my company. That's all! I love it here. I'm here in this fabulous party place with you, and this is the place that I. Why was I am that comfort zone and instead, I think after thirteen years she's gone now he really likes it pickin that conflict. So that is what is actually his comforter sounds like a place of progress with both of you. I think it is
so now, I'm about to cast you away from your comfort zone. Of course you are adept at creating fantasy worlds. I wonder if you have a vision of the island that awaits you, I read robinson crusoe at a very young age and swiss family robinson and several of those books. So I think I assumed by the time I was seven or eight that at some point in my life I would definitely guy cast away on a desert island. I used to make sure that I travelled with a tiny book that I picked up. In a second hand, shop could survive, evil, which was the? U S, air force guide to surviving if you wish, top down whether it was on arctic tundra
or in on a desert island or in africa whatever, and it showed you how to harvest bread fruit, I will always get lonely than I think I'm gonna get, but I also love the idea of getting down to work on my own schedule and assuming that there is recognisable bread, fruit and and so forth, copy. Ok, while one more disk before you get to find out new game in Malta can be your final choice today, like most of the songs, I think I love it, because it's a story and because the edges feel permeable
and I can wonder who the people in the story aren't. I can wonder about whether or not it's love song or a ghost story, whether it's about comfort. I love the idea. There aren't really any answers there, but it always makes me wonder and sung by english sing a song writer fear gilmore, and it's called holding your hand play stop ago more and holding your hands all right, then,
neil game. In its time, I'm gonna send you away to the island, I'm giving you the books to take with you, the bible, the complete works of shakespeare, and you can also take a book of your choice, was lapping. The book of the new some by jean wolf dream died a few years ago. He was a friend of mine and inspiration and it's a book that gets deeper and wiser and stranger as I come back to it older, and it would also bring me back my friend jean who is no longer with us when it pleasure to give you that you can also choose a luxury item. Neil load, you, like so might luxury item. Unsurprisingly, is also a book and this particular book I bore almost thirty years ago now,
in a very strange kind of bookshop. It was actually a converted hospital outside of minneapolis owned by a man called MC cautioned, schoolma, cautious house of books, and I bought an accounts ledger published. I think about the eighteen in the seventies and I bought it and I took it home and I went I'm going to write a novel in you one day and I'm going to to novel in you and if we written longhand in ink with scratching fountain pen- and I wouldn't obviously need a pen- probably not a scratch old fountain pen, but preferably maybe a nineteen twenties waterman flexi neighbour pen- to go along with it so that I could
least make my handwriting look interesting and I'd like an unlimited amount of ink perfectly sepia color, because it needs a sepia color. It needs to look like it was all done. Beckoned dickens this time. Of course we have that and finally, which one track of the eight that we heard today would you saved from the waves. I think I would take bees in trees with me, not because I love it the most, but because I could write to it the best nail game and thank you very much for letting us here. Your desk the disks. Thank you. I hope you enjoy my conversation.
With me. I'm going to leave him to start that novel in the accounts. Let you know. I hope you find some breadfruit down when it gets package, We passed away many other writers, including kate, makinsons, eighty smith, jelly cooper. You can find their episodes. A desert island discs programme archive and through Bbc sounds along with his friends, terry project and douglas Adams next time. My guest, be the writer and naturalist Helen Macdonald. I do hope. You'll join us, hello I'm professor Steven pinker. We all want to reason more clearly and to make better choices about every. From life and love to medicine and money, but even the best of us get things wrong. I wouldn't have twice the very best so I just met with him. I mean, of course,
you can always learn from other people's mistakes. Detailed know that each episode is a conversation with an expert on rationality and someone who deals with our corresponding irrationality in real life. Rarely do we sort of walk around living out probabilities. Oh my god. I wait. Ninety percent prevalence it's hard to hold onto that in real life. I hope you'll join us as we try to make sense of making sense and hopefully to make better decisions. That's think, with pinker from BBC radio four subscribe now on BBC sounds.
Transcript generated on 2022-06-05.