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23 March 2022updated 24 Mar 2022 5:35pm

Neil Gaiman Q&A: “As long as there’s a Tardis, all’s right with the world”

The author discusses his favourite unflappable literary characters, his love of the Isle of Skye and Doctor Who.

By Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman was born in Hampshire in 1960 and is an author of novels, comics and children’s books. His Amazon Prime adaptation of Good Omens, the novel he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett, stars Michael Sheen and David Tennant.

What’s your earliest memory?

My grandmother taking me to a bridge in my pushchair to watch the steam trains go by. I was 23 months old. I also remember her venting, months later, about the Beatles song “She Loves You” and how their use of the word “yeah” instead of “yes” meant we were now all living in the end times.

Who are your heroes?

As a boy I loved urbane and unflappable literary characters, such as PG Wodehouse’s Rupert Psmith, and indomitable heroes on television – Adam West’s Batman, Adam Adamant, Doctor Who, and the Monkees. When I was a teenager the Stranglers released “No More Heroes” around the same time that David Bowie sang “Heroes”. I listened to them both and thought we are meant to be our own heroes.

What book last changed your thinking?

Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons In Physics, which upended how I view time, cause and effect, chaos, entropy and death.

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What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

When I was aged 7-14, it would have been the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. These days I know so much but it’s a sludge of semi-composted information. I’d hesitate even to commit to the life and works of Neil Gaiman. (When people do choose me or my books on Mastermind I know most of the answers, but too many of them have been eroded by time.)

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

In a 20-minute walk around my house on Skye I can run into evidence of human habitation from hundreds of years ago, 1,000 years ago, and, local archaeologists have assured me, 12,000 years ago. I’d love to sit on the hill and watch the people come and go over that time.

What TV show could you not live without?

Doctor Who – as long as there’s a Tardis and the odd Dalek, all’s right with the world.

Who would paint your portrait?

I’ve had my portrait painted by Lorna May Wadsworth. Of painters that are now dead, I’d love to see what Arthur Rackham would have made of my face and limbs. Or Francis Bacon, for that matter.

What’s your theme tune?

On my bad days it’s Stephen Sondheim’s “Franklin Shepard, Inc”, as a reminder not to become that person. On my good days, Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song”: “I ache in the places where I used to play…”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Probably when Harlan Ellison told me that if I rub conditioner on my stubble before shaving it will make shaving much easier. Yes, I have followed it. Yes, it works.

What single thing would make your life better?

Time. I wish I could sign up to a subscription service that would send me boxes of dehydrated time, and whenever I needed some extra I could just add water.

When were you happiest?

I suspect it was an afternoon in 1988, when I realised I was going to be able to feed my family by writing fiction, just as I had dreamed I would. I put on Iggy Pop’s “Success” very loudly and danced, all alone, around the room.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

Anything that allows me to stare vaguely off into the distance, making things up.

Are we all doomed?

Utterly doomed. My grandmother made that very clear to me when the Beatles sang “yeah, yeah, yeah” instead of using proper English.

[See also: Lee Child: “I never believed in writer’s block”]

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This article appears in the 23 Mar 2022 issue of the New Statesman, A Dream of Britain