On Neil Gaiman

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Well folks, I think it’s time I expressed my gratitude and indebtedness to the great Neil Gaiman. Without Neil Gaiman there would be no Chronicles of Dan Lee O’ Brien and no Bhikku’s Tale.

If you are unfamiliar with Gaiman’s work you really don’t know what you are missing. Gaiman writes fiction with a dark cast to it. It isn’t pure fantasy as it is rooted in the real world, not unlike the work of fellow Brit, Clive Barker, to whom I am also deeply indebted. Many people have said my work is original and fresh. This may be the case in the world of Irish fiction but it’s time I made it known that Neil Gaiman has been doing it for decades for millions of readers around the world.

So, what exactly is it that Gaiman does?

Well, a lot of it is playing around with mythology and legend, often putting them into a modern context. His is an inclusive, pluralist vision of not just the gods but society in general. The word postmodernism has been associated with him a lot and rightly so. Someone once described him as a mad chef putting all kinds of different ingredients into the cake mix.

My favourite work of his is the Sandman. An epic, ground breaking adult comic that ran to 75 issues in the 90s. What do I love about it? Many, many things but above all, its wisdom. The author Aldous Huxley once said that when he took LSD he got the feeling that all is well with the universe. There is no need to take acid to feel this: just read the Sandman.

There is such intelligence and perceptiveness in what Neil Gaiman does. His style is spare and deceptively simple and direct. Behind it there is a high calibre, very well read mind at work. Gaiman is obsessed with stories, and mythology offers a treasure trove of them. Whether it is Greek, Norse, Irish, Slavic or African Gaiman will find a use for it.

So, is there much Irish mythology in his work? There is a scene in American Gods where Shadow, the protagonist, gets into a fist fight with a Sidhe (Irish faery) named Sweeney. Gaiman makes the Sidhe very tall and thin, completely bypassing the conventional notion of the ‘little people’. I thought this was such a good idea that I made the Sidhe in the Chronicles of Dan Lee O’Brien predominantly tall and thin. There is another great scene in the book where Sweeney, after dying, comes back to life in the morgue and, speaking at his own wake, tells Shadow the histories of the Tuatha De Danann and other waves of settlers in Ireland as they are recorded in the Old Irish manuscript, The Book of Invasions. I was happy to learn that Gaiman had written a substantial portion of the book in Kinsale, Ireland.

Although there is much darkness and creepiness in much of what he writes, Neil Gaiman has a sweet voice as a writer – he just comes across as a very nice, decent human being. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying that. Many of his books are short and sweet. Many of his stories end happily but some don’t. The end of Stardust comes to mind immediately but I’ll say no more. Don’t want to spoil it for you.

Neil Gaiman has had a stellar career as a writer, going from strength to strength and picking up many awards and much praise and acclaim along the way. He deserves it all.

I just wanted to say thanks, Neil: it’s great having you in my life.

Know Thyself: The Autobiographical Nature of Writing

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Someone once said that all writing is autobiographical. I tend to agree with this. When we write, in any field, what else do we have to go on but our own knowledge and experience of the world? What else can you put into your writing other than yourself? No matter how hard you try to keep it remote from your own experience, all you are ever doing is writing about yourself. It’s inescapable.

This might seem negative and limiting but, looked at in the right way, it is actually liberating. Writing is often seen as therapeutic because it makes us more aware of feelings and thoughts that were buried or half buried in the sub conscious. If you dig hard enough you will get to this layer. Greater self-awareness can only be a positive thing in your life as it leads to a better understanding of your wants and needs. It helps us to see where we are going wrong and puts us on the road to a happier, more full life. The ancient Greeks knew this. One of their favourite sayings was, simply, ‘know thyself’.

An awareness of the autobiographical nature of writing leads us to an appreciation of how important it is for writers to seek out new experiences and gain fresh knowledge and understanding. The more experience you have the better for your writing. This doesn’t necessarily mean travelling around the globe or joining the French Foreign Legion. One of the things that sets a writer apart from the rest of society is a greater capacity for thought and feeling and a heightened sensitivity to the world so that he/she will get more out of an experience than a ‘normal’ person would. This is why Franz Kafka was able to write such great literature – the richness of his inner life allowed it. And there are many other writers that fall into this category. By inner life I mean thoughts, feelings but also, of course, imagination. Imagination is another power that is uniquely yours. It is a treasure trove for any writer or any person who wants to live a fuller life. Of course, there are also writers who have lived apparently full lives – men of action such as Ernest Hemingway, and this also contributes to great writing. The lesson is never to give up the quest for fresh knowledge and new experiences and become a more powerful writer through greater self-awareness. Self-awareness will give your writing more layers and depth. It gives you more command over what you are writing and this can only be a good thing. So, if you are writing just for therapy or you are aiming for something more literary or both, don’t be afraid of what you learn about yourself. Make it work for you both in your life and in your writing.