As Doug Curtis, CEO of AT&T Performing Arts Center, took the stage Friday night, he joked about the pressure of introducing an artist with such a devoted following. The Neil Gaiman fans were out in force at the sold-out Winspear Opera House, and for the two-hour performance, one of four in ATTPAC's #hearhere series this season, the author treated fans to everything they could have hoped for.
Armed with a stack of his books, a thick handful of cards and some mysterious papers, Gaiman followed Curtis out to the Winspear stage. “I have no plans for tonight, and when you have no plans, nothing can go wrong,” Gaiman began, to the delight of the eager crowd. He joked that he’d never seen a light fixture with its own Philip Glass music and hopes somewhere there are Philip Glass stairs.
He began the show with the stack of index cards — questions submitted by audience members before the show. He discussed his method of choosing questions for the evening: nothing too specific about his comics and stories. “That’s for you," he said. "I can’t tell you."
He answered questions about how he came up with Coraline (his young daughter asked for a really scary story); his favorite cartoon (Fantasia); and whether he'll expand on his short story, "A Study in Emerald," (yes, but he has to write it first) earnestly and with good humor.
Interspersed throughout the evening were readings from some of Gaiman’s novels, short stories and an “experiment" that he alluded to early on. The first reading came from A Calendar of Tales, which Gaiman created by positing questions on Twitter like, “Why is January the most dangerous month?”
He read “October Tale” and explained the origin story. His former assistant asked for a genie story, and although Gaiman insisted there were no genie stories left to tell, she insisted he keep trying.
Gaiman explained how his latest publication, Norse Mythology, came to be. In 2008, he was asked to write some myths. After ruminating on the idea for a year, Gaiman said, he settled on the Norse myths. Over the next seven years, he treated writing the myths like knitting — taking the project out at slow times, working on it a little bit and putting it away. Gaiman then read “The Master Builder” from the collection.
During the performance, Gaiman answered several questions at a time and then returned to readings, ultimately reading from four of his published works.
His reading of “Click Clack, the Rattlebag,” from 2015's Trigger Warning, was an especially creepy treat. “I promised Austin nothing but funny stories, but I don’t owe Dallas anything,” he joked before beginning.
Gaiman concluded the evening with a poem, "The Day the Saucers Came," and said he’s told is often read at weddings, to his delight and confusion.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the alluded experiment. The mysterious stack of papers resurfaced toward the end of the night. Gaiman first answered a question about who he’d like to see play the characters in 2006's Good Omens and then shared some news with the audience. “You’ll find out in four to five days when a press release comes out," he said.
The shocked crowd erupted in applause as Gaiman revealed a new BBC adaptation that will run on Amazon Prime. In fact, many of the questions Gaiman answered throughout the night were nods to the novel. He discussed how he first met Good Omens co-author Terry Pratchett and their 30-year friendship, as well as how Pratchett came to work on the story with him. The experiment was a reading from several cut scenes from the new series.
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Perhaps the most endearing aspects of the performance were Gaiman’s gentle nature and anecdotes about his family. He discussed his delight that his 21-month-old son has discovered — and loves — the movie adaptation of Coraline (which Gaiman disclosed is his favorite adaptation of his work); his first date with musician Amanda Palmer, to whom he is now married; and the experience of raising three children into adulthood, which he said is his proudest accomplishment.
The questions Gaiman answered ran the gamut. Devoted fans now know that Silas is for sure a vampire, that Gaiman loves Matt Smith as Dr. Who and that he can’t remember why he chose to give Coraline’s parents buttons for eyes.
But he also made room for guests less in the know about his work. A question about his feelings on public libraries garnered strong applause when he answered that any culture is only as good as how it looks after its libraries. Tips for how to write dialogue and what makes a good writer were fascinating glimpses into his creative process.
Those familiar with Gaiman’s audio books and recordings were treated to a familiar voice, and the night felt like it could have gone on for hours. And although there are hundreds more questions to be asked and answered, Gaiman gave the audience just enough to keep things interesting, much like his stories.