Neil Gaiman’s been sitting with his arm in a bowl of iced water and he’s moved our interview from morning to afternoon because, after signing for and chatting to 1,000 fans until 1am, he’s on the verge of losing his voice. Such are the pitfalls of embarking on a nine-week signing tour.
‘I enjoy meeting the people,’ he says. ‘They want to say thanks – it’s wonderful and touching and magic. A thousand people a night is like a marathon, though. Around hour three, you look up and the line doesn’t seem any shorter and you have to keep going.’
The promotional push is for his latest novel, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, which has spent six weeks on the top ten bestseller list.
His first adult novel since 2005, it’s the story of how a boy’s life is disrupted when a malevolent supernatural entity moves into the family home. It’s partly a gripping, unsettling portrayal of how powerless children are in a family dynamic, while the bits set in a good witch’s house down the road are a cosy, nostalgic celebration of the comforting power of jam sponge and custard.
Gaiman’s first book – if you don’t count the Duran Duran biography he wrote when he was still a journalist in the 1980s – was 1991’s Good Omens, with Terry Pratchett. However, he was well-established before then in ‘geek’ circles, thanks to his comic book series Sandman.
A fantasy/horror series relating the antics of Morpheus, the personification of dreams, the series played a big role in changing the perception of comic books and getting ‘graphic novels’ reviewed as legitimate literature.
‘Back then, people at the signings would be males aged 16 to 25, and I’d look at the line and know who was the fan and who was someone’s mum,’ he says. ‘Now there’s no rhyme or reason. There’s gender and age parity. My fan is as likely to be a child clutching a copy of children’s book Chu’s Day as a 75-year-old lady with a copy of Stardust.’