After teaching my daughter’s class about DaVinci and making Picasso Portraits with my son’s kindergarten class, I took the train downtown and met up with Ellen Prather of 8 Eyes Photography to walk over to the Harold Washington Library. It was a glorious, sunny afternoon in Chicago, and I was looking forward to the conversation between Audrey Niffenegger and Neil Gaiman, whose book Neverwhere was chosen as this year’s One Book, One Chicago.
They did not disappoint. After collecting our tickets and posters, Ellen and I found our seats in the second row and waited: watching the crowd and eavesdropping on bits of conversation about Neil and Amanda, Neverwhere, twitter, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Dr. Who.
Following an eloquent introduction by Mary Dempsey and a word from the sponsor (Allstate), Audrey and Neil began with a comfortable conversation about London and “Magic City Books,” as well as the inspiration and evolution of Neverwhere. Neil and Audrey discussed creativity, generosity, readings, and fairy tales (among other things) and then opened up to questions from the audience.
My favorite of the answers to questions from the audience were those that led Neil and Audrey to talk about their process. As a writer, this is the part of interviews that most interests me. I love hearing about how other people find inspiration and deal with challenges. They talked about “writer’s block” and the ways they circumvent it, and each described a few of the books they are currently reading.
One young boy in my row asked about the inspiration for Coraline, which launched Neil into a conversation of how his daughter Holly (now in her twenties and a milliner in London), would jump up on his lap after school and dictate stories rich and dark and populated by all manner of monsters, ghosts, and other mothers. Unable to find ghost stories for five-year-olds, he decided that he would write some.
The story made me laugh because it reminded me so much of my youngest, my blueberry girl, who is full of scary stories and wild rides of her imagination. It was one of many times that Neil would describe something about his writing process, and I found myself nodding enthusiastically, thinking to myself: I thought only I did that. I thought only I thought that. Always nice to hear those echoes from someone I admire.
Time flew by. It was over in an hour, and Audrey and Neil graciously took their leave.