Neil Gaiman: 'Short stories are like vampires'

By Tim Masters
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News

Image caption,
Neil Gaiman wrote the graphic novel series The Sandman

Neil Gaiman - the best-selling author of fantasy novels like Coraline and Stardust - used to keep quiet about his publishing debut.

It was a book about Duran Duran.

"It was my dark secret until I met Simon Le Bon," admits Gaiman, as we begin our interview in the plush library of a Covent Garden hotel.

"We'd spent a couple of days together and I thought this is becoming kind of awkward, so I sidled over to him and told him when I was a very young hungry journalist I wrote a book about Duran Duran.

"He asked which one and when I told him he said: 'We liked that'. I relaxed a little - my 23-year-old self was gratified."

That biography was in 1984 when Duran Duran were well on their way to global domination.

In 2010, Gaiman is in a similar position - and he has something of a rock star aura about him too.

Stardust and Coraline were turned into successful films (his 2008 novel The Graveyard Book is also set for the big screen), and he is one of the most followed celebrities on Twitter.

He's also just delivered his script for an episode of Doctor Who. Fan excitement on the internet has been frenzied.

Gaiman points out "there was no web" when he researched his Duran Duran biography. He paid to photocopy the contents of the BBC clippings library.

"I took it away and basically typed it up into a book," he confides.

It's not lost on Gaiman that the title of his latest project - an anthology titled Stories - doesn't work well in a web search engine.

"From a googling point of view it's rubbish," he laughs.

Vampire tale

Stories includes short tales by writers as diverse as Roddy Doyle, Joanne Harris, Jodi Picoult, Peter Straub, Chuck Palahniuk and Michael Moorcock.

Gaiman co-edited the anthology with the horror and fantasy writer Al Sarrantonio.

Is the short story an underrated form of literature?

Gaiman responds: "For at least as long as I've been alive - which at this point is about 50 years - people have been announcing that the short story is dead, and the short story anthology is dead.

"Like some kind of particularly tenacious vampire the short story refuses to die, and seems at this point in time to be a wonderful length for our generation. It's a perfect length to read on an iPad, your Kindle or your phone.

"I think the short story is a very underrated art form. We know that novels deserve respect. The short story is still like the novel's wayward younger brother, we know that it's not respectable - but I think that can also add to the glory of it."

He enthuses about the first story in the anthology - Roddy Doyle's Blood.

"Watching Roddy Doyle reinvent the vampire story is just a joy. It's like a master classical pianist sitting down and playing jazz.

"The Roddy Doyle-ness of it is there. Nothing is cliched. On the one hand it's a beautiful, heartbreaking study of a mid-life crisis and the failure of a marriage, and on the other it's Roddy Doyle doing his first vampire story."

Global book club

Meanwhile in the world of Twitter, where Gaiman has 1.5m followers, his novel American Gods was chosen last month to launch the global project One Book, One Twitter.

The idea, conceived by Wired editor Jeff Howe, aims to get thousands of people all reading and "tweeting" about the same book over the summer.

Gaiman admits he had reservations: "For me it was a very odd choice because American Gods is the book of mine that's won the most awards, but it's also the most divisive."

But he's been delighted by the 8,000 or so people who have been actively tweeting their thoughts on each chapter.

"I've been genuinely impressed at the hive mind of Twitter - how much wisdom and knowledge it has," says Gaiman.

"It's fun as an author to realise how far this thing has travelled. It looks like there are people doing One Book, One Twitter from everywhere except the Antarctic and mainland China."

When it launched in May, the author admitted he wasn't sure how the idea would develop. He now describes the project as "anarchy in the very best sense".

"It's like a traditional folk game in which the rules are never actually written down, but players agree amongst themselves that actually those trees over there are out of bounds.

"That's how this is going."

Stories, a short story anthology edited by Nail Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, is published on 15 June.

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