NEIL GAIMAN: CILIP Carnegie Medal Winner 2010
Neil Gaiman was born in Hampshire, U.K. and now lives in the United States in Minneapolis. Described as a 'bookish' child, his parents gave him the materials for a shed for his tenth birthday and built it for him at the bottom of their garden. It was in the shed that he discovered his love of books, reading and stories, devouring the Narnia books, Roger Lancelyn Green, Dracula, and GK Chesterton. His family were Jewish of Polish descent but instead of studying for his bar mitzvah he got his instructor to teach him bible stories and to his parents' dismay he spent his bar mitzvah money on American comics.
Early Writing Career
Gaiman did not attend college and started his writing career in England as a 'journalist for hire'. His first book was a Duran Duran biography that took him 3 months and his second was a biography of Douglas Adams. Gaiman described his early writing: 'I was very, very good at taking a voice that already existed and parodying it.' And even having reached his current iconic status as a writer, he is still happy to write on demand, composing for anthologies, and special occasions. The difference being that he is now read so widely even his smallest creative output will be published successfully.
Established Writer & Creator
Neil Gaiman has long been one of the top writers in modern comics as well as writing books for readers of all ages. He is listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as one of the top ten living post-modern writers, and is a prolific creator of works of prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics and drama.
Gamain has achieved cult status: an article about him earlier this year in The New Yorker called him 'Kid Goth' and The Times described him as 'the most famous person you've never heard of'.
Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Social Media
Audiences for science fiction and fantasy form a substantial part of Gaiman's fan base and traditionally creators of these genres have been more inclined to interact with their fans. Gaiman is no exception and social media has long proved invaluable to him in making this possible. In 2001, he became one of the first writers to establish a 'blog' and now has over 1.4 million followers.
Neil Gaiman also 'tweets' several times a day and in keeping with his interactive approach has been known to consult his fan base during the creative process. He recently asked 'if broccoli is funnier than kohlrabi as a vegetable'. His next post on the subject read 'so far the broccoli/kohlrabi votes are pretty evenly split. Although several of you think 'rutabaga' is funnier than either'. Not long after that he posted: '(Okay. The line now reads): 'Java dreams of giant vegetables. Chiefly rutabaga and unusually knobbly turnips. But not broccoli.' Gaiman attributes his success to this direct communication with his fans: he tells them to buy a book on a certain day and they do. This may be what has assured his Number One spots in the bestseller lists, certainly in America.
Gaiman recently won the Twitter category in the inaugural Author Blog Awards and his adult novel, 'American Gods', has just been announced as the first selection for the One Book, One Twitter (1b1t) book club.
Gaiman was the co-writer/creator of the long-running horror-weird series 'Sandman' for DC Comics. 'Sandman' won a large number of US awards including nine Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, three Harvey Awards and was the first comic ever to receive a literary award: The World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story.
Writing for Children
His first children's book was 'The Day I Swapped My Dad for two Goldfish' (1997), illustrated by Dave McKean. He also wrote the script for the film 'Mirrormask', directed by Dave McKean: it was later published as a book with artwork from the film.
Gaiman's books are genre works that refuse to remain true to their genres. Gothic horror was out of fashion in the early 1990s when Gaiman started work on 'Coraline', for readers of 9-12 years. It was a reworking of a deeply unsettling Victorian children's story "The New Mother", published in 1882. Originally considered too frightening for children, 'Coraline' was finally published in 2002 to critical acclaim winning the American Elizabeth Burr/Worzalla, the BSFA, the Hugo, the Nebula and the Bram Stoker awards. An animated feature film based on the book and released in early 2010 secured a BAFTA and was also nominated for an Oscar.
Writing for Adults
Gaiman's adult novels include 'Neverwhere' (1995), 'Stardust' (1999), 'American Gods' (2001) and 'Anansi Boys' (2005). As well as the novels, he has also written screenplays for the films of 'Neverwhere', 'Stardust' and 'Coraline' as well as the original 1996 TV series of 'Neverwhere'. With Roger Avary he wrote the screenplay of 'Beowulf' which starred Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie, and he also co-authored the novel 'Good Omens' with Terry Pratchett in 1990. Gaiman's collection of short fiction 'Smoke & Mirrors: Short Fictions & Illusions' (1998) was nominated for the UK's MacMillan Silver Pen Awards as the best short story collection of the year.
'The Graveyard Book'
This is Gaiman's latest book: published in the UK at the end of 2008, it has already won the UK's Booktrust Prize for Teenage Fiction and U.S. Newbery Medal, the Locus Young Adult Award and the Hugo Best Novel Prize. Now the award of the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2010 makes Gaiman the first author ever to win both the Newbery Medal and CILIP Carnegie Medal with the same book. 'The Graveyard Book' with its illustrations by Chris Riddell was also shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration – the first time a book has made both Medal shortlists in 30 years.
Gaiman's inspiration for the story came from some time he spent looking after his 2 year old son, who was riding his tricycle in an East Grinstead graveyard in West Sussex. Gamain explains that at the time they lived in a very tall thin house with lots of stairs and no garden, so tricycle riding at home was impossible. He remembers making a connection then with Kipling's 'The Jungle Book' - the story of a small boy whose parents are dead and who wanders into the jungle pursued by a vicious killer. He is adopted by animals and brought up in the ways of the jungle. He thought: how about a story of a boy whose parents are murdered, and who ends up in a graveyard being brought up by dead people? He started to write the story straightaway but then set it aside saying "You know what? This is so much better an idea than I am a writer, aged 24. I'll put it aside until I'm good enough." And so he did, and the rest is award-winning history.
When asked to confirm rumours of a forthcoming film of "The Graveyard Book", he replies that 'you can never confirm a film until the day everybody's sitting at the cinema'. But yes, the film has been in production since 2009.
Gaiman on libraries
"We're now in an age of Too Much Information. Libraries and librarians are more important than ever."
"My first memory was being taken to the library by my mother aged six, and getting my library card, and being told I could get out three books with it, and when I had read them I should take them back and get out another three books, and trying to work out what the catch was."
"I wouldn't be who I am without libraries. I was the sort of kid who devoured books, and my happiest times as a boy were when I persuaded my parents to drop me off in the local library on their way to work, and I spent the day there. I discovered that librarians actually want to help you: they taught me about interlibrary loans. They made books appear. They made me realise what a fine and exotic and important thing it is to be a librarian, and to know where all the knowledge is."
"Children want stories. They want information. They want knowledge about the strange world they're in. Saying that the Internet can be that is like setting a child free in a jungle and expecting them safely to find things to eat."
24 June 2010