My writing process is in my title. Procrastinate Ad Eternum. Yes, that’s me.
Why am I telling you this?
Because in this week’s Trifecta challenge we were asked to describe our writing process in three words.
Because one of the Trifecta editors has recently been lucky enough to have been present in the aura of Neil Gaiman, who happens to be my favouritest author in the whole wide word. In the Q&A that followed the reading of the Master’s third chapter of the new book The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the Reigning Monarch in Fictiondom was asked “Can you tell us your writing process in three words?”
His Awesomeness replied, “Glare. Drink tea.”
That was a cool and insightful question to ask the Conqueror of the Pen, and I wish it came to me when I met His Greatness at the 2011 Fringe Festival. Alas, that is not how my rendezvous with my idol in fantasy fiction went. And if you want to know how it did go, read on.
When I bought the tickets to the above mentioned Fringe Festival in Edinburgh and found out that Neil Gaiman will be there in the same time that I was going to be, I was in raptures. I cried tears of joy, smiled foolishly all day and lost my appetite. I counted down the days and went out and bought a brand new copy of The Graveyard Book.
I had just heard the whole thing as an audio book while out in the evenings walking my dogs. Neil Gaiman’s pleasant voice serenaded me for a whole week as I struggled to forget that my heart was popping out of my chest from the effort of keeping up with my hounds; that I was sweating like a pig underneath my tracksuit; and that my unoiled knees were giving way. I enjoyed that book immensely and didn’t even realise that it was in fact a children’s book until I was sitting in the audience in Edinburgh gawking at Mr Gaiman himself as he spoke about Nobody Owens. I suddenly felt very stupid. There I was ready to proclaim myself as my favourite author’s number one fan while I held out a copy of a children’s book for him to sign. My friend didn’t encourage me much, he had with him a first edition copy of Sandman.
The self-reproach did not make the two-hour wait under arduous conditions any easier. In true Scottish summer style the rain was pouring and after the first half hour, the line moved out into the open, so we were directly assaulted by the offending fat drops. It was cold – hey we were in northern Britain, what did I expect? The line was full of noisy children – he had just released a children’s book – duh! – which did nothing to help me forget that I was shamefully holding in my hand a copy of a children’s novel, as evidence of my idol-worship.
To while away the time and take my mind off things, my friend and I practiced what to say when we came face to face with Neil.
“Should I say that I want to be a writer?”
“’Course you should!”
I bit all my nails and when no more keratin was available I turned to the skin on my bottom lip.
“Okay, if he asks which book was my favourite would I sound cheesy if I say American Gods?”
“No, just be honest.”
The queue snailed its way forward and we were at the end of it.
Eventually… eventually we got there. I saw him. Half a metre away, he was smiling at me. I opened my mouth to speak and this is what I should have said:
“Hello Neil, you must be tired after all the signatures – laugh lightly to mark the humour. I am a great fan of yours, as I think you have been hearing all afternoon. But I really am. May I shake your hand, sir?” He would offer his right limb and shake mine solidly – writer to writer. “I loved your episode on Dr Who – wouldn’t it be every man’s dream to have his ride turn into a beautiful woman for just one day? Loved it!” Here he would humbly note the compliment and I would smile and give him my book to sign. “We do have something in common, you know. I write fiction too…yes really. I have written two novels so far, nothing to your caliber but you know, you have to start somewhere.” Here he would say something encouraging and I would smile gratefully. He would then hand me back my newly signed copy and I would say, “Thank you for your time, keep up the good work!” and he would say thank you and wish me luck with my writing and I would have been the happiest, most motivated newbey writer in the whole wide world.
What in fact happened was the following.
On entering the warm room where one of the best authors on the planet was signing autographs I realised, to my relief, that there was a book shop and the shelves were covered in American Gods copies. So I bought one to have signed along with the children’s fiction; I could always make an excuse that the latter was for a nephew. I arrived at the table, finally, and handed over my copies.
Neil smiled at me, he did look tired, and he asked; “Who should I address this to?”
Through my wide open mouth which was stretched as far as it would go in a smile that must have made me look like a mad hag, I made a sound, an incoherent mumble that could have been my name but wasn’t.
He said, “Excuse me?”
“Alexandra,” I spat out.
“Both of them?”
My brain thought; No, one for Alexandra and leave the other open please.
But my mouth didn’t speak, my head nodded dumbly and my lips kept stretching.
With a slight, barely visible, nonplussed frown at his forehead, he signed both books with my name on them and gave them back to me. I nodded again, smiled, somehow even wider than before, and left. Not even a “Thank you,” came out of me.
My cheeks hurt for a while after that from all the smiling. The flush that had crept up my neck stayed with me until I was forced to remove a scarf and thus went on to catch a cold.
Now I have two books with identical autographs on them. During the whole week that I spent in Scotland I was also burdened by the guilt of a fudged-up opportunity and with every sneeze from my newly-earned cold I was reminded that my mind had turned into a black hole when faced with my idol. Shame. Shame. Shame!