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First Person

The Experience Questionnaire: Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is a writer of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre, and films. 

Where do you come up with your best ideas?
Watching bad middle school drama. You cannot leave. You cannot even look bored. So you go deep inside your head…​

What is the best non-material gift you’ve received?
Love and trust from my children. You need to become the person they think you are.

What is the best non-material gift you’ve given?
I wrote a song for [my wife] Amanda’s birthday, early in our relationship.​

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Having to stay good at what I do when it feels like nobody minds if I’m not good, as long as I show up.

If you had to choose a different profession, what would you do?
Starve, probably. I’m not sure what else I could succeed at.

I wish I’d sent David Bowie a copy of “Trigger Warning,” which had a story he inspired in it. I had an address to send it to, but I chickened out.

What is the most useful mistake you’ve made?
Losing the film rights to a short story​ due to a clever piece of contract writing. It taught me to read contracts from a worst case “yes, but what if they did that?” sort of place, which has served me well.

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had?
Life. It’s so WEIRD.​

What opportunity do you regret passing up?
I sometimes wish I’d taken Kathy Acker up on her invitation to me to come and stay with her at William Burroughs’ place for a few days, back in around ’94.​ I said no, because I wanted William Burroughs to remain a person more or less in my head, and not have to deal with the reality, as a houseguest. But there are conversations I would have loved to have had. And I wish I’d sent David Bowie a copy of “Trigger Warning,” which had a story he inspired in it. I could have done it: I had an address to send it to, but I chickened out.

How do you relax?
Badly. Sometimes I think I’m relaxing and then I realise I’m actually working.

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
The Isle of Skye.

What is your most indelible childhood memory?
I was 23 months old, and my sister was being born. My grandmother walked me down to the footbridge to watch the steam trains going by.

Describe a perfect day.
I wake up, exercise, walk, make myself some lunch, then settle down and write. Somewhere in there I go and play with Ash, my son who is not yet three. And I read him some books. And we have the kind of wise conversation you can only have with a nearly three year old.​

When you’re stuck how do you get unstuck?
Go for a walk. Look at the world and the trees. Put whatever I’m working on away for a week, then try and read it for the first time.​

What is your proudest moment?
Winning the School Art prize, aged 9. When the other boys came and told me I’d won, I thought they were teasing. I’d never won anything before.

What would you like to experience before you die?
I’d like to fly. But Superman-style.

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