Neil Gaiman is a genre-bending whirlwind of a writer. He is the author of the novels Neverwhere, originally a six-part BBC Television series, Stardust, a fairie storie, Coraline, a children's novel, American Gods, and Good Omens, a comic novel co-written with Terry Pratchett; the Sandman series of comics as well as other comics; Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Companion; children's books, short stories, and a number of screenplays. His latest novel is Anansi Boys, which explores the lives of Fat Charlie Nancy and his brother Spider, sons of Anansi, the West African spider-trickster god.
Everything Neil Gaiman touches has been turning to gold lately, or at least film. MirrorMask, a film project he worked on with Dave McKean has received great reviews at the Sundance Film Festival and is being released in the Fall of 2005; Beowulf, for which Gaiman wrote the script, is in the process of being filmed by Robert Zemeckis; and the film version of Good Omens directed by Terry Gilliam is back in the works.
Neil's Anansi Boys tour begins on September 20, 2005, the book's release date. You can find the tour dates on the Where's Neil? page of his website. I was fortunate enough to speak with Neil by phone before he headed off on his grueling tour schedule.
Mark Flanagan: Let's talk about Anansi Boys. What's it all about?
Neil Gaiman: It's about how to survive family; it's funny; it's the story of a young man named Fat Charlie whose father dies and who winds up discovering after the funeral that his father was in actuality the spider-trickster god, Anansi and everything that sort of comes after that, and it's a thriller, a ghost story, a love story, definitely a romantic comedy, and it's scary... I may have left some things out.
MF: What shelf does something like that go on in the bookstore?
Neil Gaiman: Well, the joy of being a best-selling author is that you don't have to worry initially about what shelf you go on because you'll be in piles at the front of the shop (laughs).
Unfortunately they don't have genre-fusion shelves. Genre is such a relatively new invention - bookshop style genre, where you are actually put in the bookshop. There was no fantasy genre per se until the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line early in the 1970's. The idea of putting science fiction and horror off on their own is relatively quite new. The whole point of Anansi Boys is that I got to write all sorts of stuff.
MF: You mentioned that Anansi Boys is about family. Fat Charlie and his brother, Spider, contrast sharply with their attitudes about life, don't they?
Neil Gaiman: If you put them together you get more or less the two halves of the whole person, and in the meantime they are very very different. I came to the conclusion that everybody I know has a little bit of Spider and a little bit of Fat Charlie in them. Probably the inspiration for them came from my friend Lenny Henry who did the audio book and is an English comedian and actor. On the one hand he's a very private, quiet, scholarly, reserved person, and on the other hand is an absolutely wild, outgoing, over-the-top, huge, funny dude. And both of these things are true. And I love the fact that both of these things are true.
MF: With which brother do you identify more closely?
Neil Gaiman: I think everybody identifies more closely with the Fat Charlies of the world. I know that I do. I loved writing Spider, and I love those occasions in life when I get to go out and sort of do Spidery things. All of a sudden, you're at the movie premiere and it's your movie! That stuff is enormously fun.
But on the other hand, you can be fairly sure that you will go home and you'll be back in Fat Charlie land. It will have been midnight; you will be naked; you will get up to go to your hotel bathroom; you will head back through what you thought was the hotel door to your bedroom; and you will be locked outside in the corridor with no clothes on at four o'clock in the morning.
Because that is what the Fat Charlies in this world do. And apparently it's what the costume designer for MirrorMask wound up doing. Dave McKean and I were chatting a couple of days ago and he told me that story. I thought it was hilarious.