Rachel Harper suggested this topic on Facebook, and since she's an adorable reprobate*... here we go with the first piece about someone I admire and who inspires me. I thought we'd start in the land of the living this time, I can't guarantee all the people I focus on will still be with us.
Today's Person I Admire is Neil Gaiman, author, poet, sort of Goth and now Professor of Creative Writing at Bard College New York... not to mention a man with remarkably fecund loins. I have been a fan for... ooh twenty odd years and love his work. Even The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which is probably his weakest novel, though ironically it also says the most about the human condition.
I discovered his work via Sandman, as that comic series was drawing to its close, and adored it. It hit me at the point where I was growing tired of the conventional arena of men in tights comics, and where I was becoming a Goth. The complicated mixture of mythology and horror was just the ticket, an intelligent comic for an intelligent audience. His novels, which I read later, inspired me, filling my head with a world stranger than the one I had read before; and which was just around the corner from the one I lived in. We may all be the children of Michael Moorcock and Angela Carter, but Gaiman creates worlds that feel solid, as if you could turn down the street the wrong way and encounter the strange and wonderful, the terrifying and, occasionally, sick. Novels like American Gods, Anansi Boys, and even Stardust filled me with joy.
So far, so Urban Fantasy, I hear you say. But it's not bog standard stuff, there are no magical detectives here, or legions of monsters apparently hiding from a human world. Instead the spots of strangeness beckon us towards the uncanny and the sublime. Nothing is normalised here, or standardised. Nothing is down to a magic spell or miracle, that could be mass produced or manufactured. Gaiman specialises in the one offs, the monsters who stand alone, and the unashamedly reaches back to the old myths we think we've slewed off like old skin, bad haircuts, or torturous teenage poetry. Perhaps more to the point, the monsters in his books are worryingly human, whether they be life drinking Velvets under London, or Mr Wednesday, an old god plotting a terrifying return to power in American Gods (soon to be an HBO TV series).
The other thing I like about his work is that he isn't afraid to use small moments, almost shying away from the climactic battles and explosions school of storytelling. There are so many beautiful things in his stories; the moment in Stardust the Witch Queen says that the tree that will grow into the cradle for the hero who will kill her and her sisters hasn't been planted yet, and the scene ends with a squirrel forgetting where its buried its nut for example. It's a small moment, forgettable but it tells us so much about the workings of the world, and it is beautiful. Never mind that it barely adds anything to the story of Tristan and Yvaine.
Of course there are other stories, the incredibly Gothic Coraline, the picture books he's created with Dave McKean and others, the poetry he's written. He has books of short stories to his name, and stories in them that make me want to weep in wonder. My favourites are Sun Bird and Murder Mysteries, though that might change when I read Trigger Warning.
Enough, though, about Neil the writer. That's only half the story,
The other half concerns the man, the man who is courteous to his fans when they come to signings, who waves to the Goths as he walks past, knowing we've followed him every step of the way. The bee keeper, the cat lover who rescued animals that were dumped near his house that wanted to be Gormenghast when it grew up because there was no one else to. The lover of old British TV comedy (who spent many hours watching the Goodies with his youngest daughter) and of obscure bands that I almost inevitably end up listening to on You Tube and who used to have a kitten that tried to carefully insert himself into your nose. The man who is just occasionally flat out wise and who espouses making good art when life hands you lemons, Who supports people for being people regardless of who they are, or who they fall in love with (something he probably owes to his Punk past), and doesn't shy away from including diversity in his creations. His work was the first time I saw transgender characters in a story, the first time I saw lesbian and gay characters too, for that matter..,. and it wasn't a big deal, the character were just who they were. They weren't sacrificial victims, or anything like that. They were just people, something it feels like the rest of the world is in some ways only just catching up with.
But we've cycled back into talking about writing again, because in some ways it feels like you can't separate the two, the man and his words. I want to say too, that he's incredibly generous, almost by accident. Two of my other favourite authors have benefited from the worlds he created, Mike Carey in the form of Lucifer, which in the comics is almost an atheist's meditation on the nature of gods, and Caitlin R Kiernan, who penned much of The Dreaming. Both series span out of Sandman, and my life would be poorer for not having read them.
He's funny, he's weird, he's a few piccolos short of an orchestra, and as far as I can tell he's a great dad.
I admire and respect him as a person, and he inspires me as a writer, and as a man. Almost alone in the men I see in the media, he speaks to me. His form of masculinity seems to chime with my own, even if he has made me realise what a horrible coward I can be. I know I will probably never be as good a writer as he is, but I torment myself with his work nonetheless because he sets a challenge; a goal if you like. His words, his life, his character all work to inspire me, and he's a genuinely nice guy on top of it all, too.
*All my friends are reprobates, its a mark of me liking you.