I met Neil Gaiman. He is, in fact, very awesome in person. He is witty, and smart, and nice.
And it’s a good thing he’s nice, because having never helped with a signing event of this magnitude, I had no idea what I was in for. Or what he was in for. But I now understand why it is his last signing tour.
Before the signing event. There is a team of people, both from Indigo and Neil’s assistants and editor, helping him sign more than a thousand books which will be for sale in the lobby of the theatre. So nobody’s here yet, and he’s already signing. Before anyone had arrived, he had signed more than a thousand books.
There were 1200 people at the event. The rule was they could have as many copies of The Ocean at the End of the Lane signed as they wanted, and one other item of their choice. They could also have one signed item personalized. This meant, that at bare minimum, he would be signing at least 2400 more books. It was probably upwards of 3000, at a guess.
Neil’s presentation started at 7 pm. He had already done interviews for local and national news earlier, by the way. The presentation was fantastic, with readings, and some excellent questions from the audience, which resulted in an amazing anecdote about Shirley Maclaine asking to touch his hair, and the information that the maximum number of cats you should ever own is eight.
He then took a minimal break, and started signing.
He signed books, he signed posters. He signed a violin. He signed dolls. He signed e-readers.
I gave him a band-aid out of my purse, to hold his thumbnail on. It was falling off from signing so many things. And apparently his previous tour had been worse.
My job was to keep the ink for his fountain pen available, and to hand him various coloured Sharpies. This does not sound like a difficult job, right? Unless you’ve been holding your hand in the same position for so long that it cramps, and the stage lights are making your hands sweaty, and after a while markers are flying everywhere and it’s incredibly embarrassing that Neil Gaiman is witnessing your inability to simply hand someone markers. Sigh. Which he was very nice about.
Despite the fact that he was signing books for so very many people, he made a concerted effort to make a personal connection with each one. He seems very aware of the fact that he is, for some people, very important to them, despite being a perfect stranger. One of the other women there and I were discussing how you could do an amazing series of photos, just capturing the expressions of the people meeting Neil. These weren’t just squealing fans, these were people whose lives had been touched and transformed by him.
Despite being in excruciating pain, how could he leave before he saw everyone? Before the woman who he hugged as she broke down, saying that his work was the only thing that got her through high school? Before he was handed beautiful art, paintings and sketches and crafts? Musicians and writers who brought their newly published first book, first cd, and credited him with inspiring them? Before the couple who had FLOWN IN FROM AUSTRALIA? And he truly was happy to see them all. So he couldn’t say no partway through the process, and so he has to say no to the process. Before his hand falls off. Or worse, it becomes something he no longer enjoys.
Edit: Since so many of you have asked, the signing finally finished after two in the morning, and we were all a little loopy. There was a big bowl of ice waiting for Neil’s hand, and we all sighed with relief when he plunged his hand in.
I am so glad I got to meet him (and get my own books signed!), and I learned a lot. Neil Gaiman is a pretty amazing person, aside from being a pretty amazing author (the two things don’t always go hand in hand, sadly) and his legions of fans are lucky to have him.
Oh, and although The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an amazing, amazing book (and I highly recommend picking it up, I guarantee you’ll love it, it’s so beautiful), what was even better was him reading it aloud. So go get a copy of the audio book as read by him, in preparation for which he apparently stayed up nights listening to Sussex farmers speak so he would get the accents right.
Happy, happy reading/listening.