They say you should never meet your heroes, and they couldn’t possibly be more mistaken.
Me, I’m prone to fangirlism, so for my heroes’ sake, I probably shouldn’t meet them. The prospect of talking to someone I admire to that extent is both terrifying and exciting, and I spend weeks if not months imagining what it will be like when faced with that prospect. The way I imagine it I’m always very cool and relaxed and talk to them like an adult.
That is never the reality. The reality is that I go white as a sheet, get slightly queasy and lose my ability to speak.
Tonight, I met Neil Gaiman in a bar, here at the hotel. Morten and I were just sitting in the bar, having a drink, when he walked in with his assistant and some friends, and he talked to people he knew, and hugged people, and he had a friend who did card tricks. And I just sat, feeling sick, and I choked up and couldn’t think, because he was in the same room, in a social situation.
I have to back up a bit now, I think. I’ve been writing since I was five, for as long as I’ve known the alphabet, and I’ve been singing and performing for just as long, if not technically longer. When I was about six, I made a conscious decision to become a writer when I grew up. So when there’s a writer I really love, that admiration is so much greater than it could be for pretty much anyone else, including the fantastic musicians I love equally as much.
Neil Gaiman is one of those writers. His work exceeds pretty much everything else for me. The way he writes is how I wish I could write. His stories are amazing. His characters are real. His work is, in my opinion, perfect. I use his books to study the craft, and whenever I’m ready to give up on writing, if I read one of his stories, it brings me right back on track.
Yesterday, in the panel with Neil and Connie, they talked about the craft of writing, where ideas come from, why people become writers, and how you go about it. And I realised something important. I realised that if I want to be an artist – if I want to write and sing professionally, which in the end are the only two things I have always been sure I want to do – I have to go for it. I have to focus on that, do my best to be magnificent and not let anything stop me. Never give up, and keep going.
Neil Gaiman helped me realise that. So did Amanda Palmer, from the musical perspective, at her gig last night. I thought, she’s doing it. She’s just doing it, she’s out there singing and playing and writing songs, and she’s doing it all by herself. If she can do it, maybe I can too, and I at least owe it to myself to try.
Yesterday Neil said that the moment he realised that he was going to try to be a writer, was when he imagined himself on his deathbed. He thought he could either lie there thinking, ‘I could have been a writer.’ Or he could think, ‘I tried being a writer,’ even if it didn’t work out, at least he’d tried.
And that’s what I need to do. I’ve been lazy up until now. I’ve been thinking, there’s no guarantee I can live off my art, so I’d better have something else to fall back on. Hence the Physics. But every artist who truly made it, everyone who really lived their dream, they jumped right into it. That’s the difference between success and failure, and if I go on trying to build myself a safety net instead of jumping in and taking the risks, I am never going to make it.
So, back to the bar. Neil got up to buy some drinks, and before he and his friends went back to their seats, my courage finally decided to show up, and I tapped his shoulder, said excuse me, and told him all this. I believe I may have stuttered and rambled, and my voice quavered, and I was having a hard time keeping eye contact, but I got through it, and I thanked him for making me realise it, and he said, ‘That’s wonderful! Give me a hug.’
And I hugged Neil Gaiman. A long hug, during which he told me good luck and not to give up. Then we talked about Amanda Palmer for a minute, and then he moved on. And I ran into the bathroom and cried in something like relief and joy and just pure overpouring of emotion.
This has been my first convention ever, and I think I can safely say that nothing will ever be able to top it. That said, I intend to keep coming back. Not next year, cause I don’t think I can affort Toronto, not after this, and Japan coming up in spring. But 2013 is in Brighton, and I am definitely going to that.
Other things we’ve done today include buying two pieces of art at the art show, attending a panel about the late (and magnificent) Diana Wynne Jones, and learning that China Mieville is going to be the Master of Ceremonies at WFC2013. And just now, I had a really nice chat with a guy from LA who was sitting outside playing guitar, about religion and fandom and culture and spirituality. But really, it all pales in comparison with talking to Neil Gaiman, as sad as that may be.
The title of this post comes from a CD I own, which is a collection of music by various artists, including Rasputina, Tori Amos and Voltaire, inspired by Neil’s work, and which I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys his books, and anyone else who enjoys good music. Obviously, the answer to the question is, ‘Always there.’