Summer 2010. I spent a week in the UK and one of my favourite things to do whilst in Britain is to visit bookstores. So I did. I remember I walked to the fantasy section and at the bottom shelves I found interesting looking books. Black covers with shiny letterings and a single shining illustration. A rat. A butterfly. Neil Gaiman was the name of the author. It vaguely rang a bell in the back of my mind. I picked up the books with the rat and the butterfly and bought them.
A few days later I was at the airport and I picked up the book with the interesting title Neverwhere. From the first page on I was sucked into the story and reluctantly closed the book as I had to board the plane. It barely ever occurred to me that a story got such a grip on me right from the start.
After that I bought nearly all of Neil Gaiman's books and every single one of them has a special meaning to me. Some more than others, but I was always amazed by the craftmanship and his way with words. Neverwhere had always been my favourite, up until I read his latest novel The Ocean at the end of the lane. It made me cry and it brought back memories of my own childhood and the way I had always hoped it to be different.
Fast forward 3 years. The Polare Store in Rotterdam. A large crowd had gathered in a small room and everyone was very excited that their favourite author was going to be right in front of them in just a short matter of time. I was amazed at the diversity of the crowd. Young, old, Dutch, American. It did not seem to matter who you were or where you came from. Some had been there ever since the early Sandman days and others, like myself, had been hooked later on.
A little while later, Neil Gaiman took the stage. There was a round of applause and the interview started. Neil was funny and witty. Sometimes he was serious but mostly he was joking and the audience loved it. Even my skeptical friend Renate thought he was very charming and funny.
It was then announced that he was going to sign books and as he was taken to the table, everybody got up and just kind of tried to get as close to the front as possible. I personally would have preferred a more organised way of handling this, but you know, no complaining here. I had left my own English copy of Ocean at home and had bought a sparkly Dutch version, because sparkly things are always better. I also brought my copy of Neverwhere, the book that had started everything. I knew Renate did not have a book to get signed, and a friend of mine from Barbados is a huge fan, so I decided to buy another copy of Stardust and have Renate sign it for Nas. Just spreading the Gaiman love!
It wasn't long before we managed to get rather close to the queue. I had read up on stories of signings in other countries and compared to 2500 people, 150 is not that bad. It was nice watching other people interact with him and I noticed most were rather shy. I was a bit shy too initially, but I wanted to thank him for the great stories he wrote.
First Renate met him, and she told him how funny he was. Suffice to say he gained a new fan yesterday. Then it was my turn. He asked how I was, the usual and then I said "I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but I just wanted to thank you for your stories." He thanked me and said it wasn't cheesy at all. We spoke a bit more about it and he said he thought that signings were usually an excuse for people to say thank you, but it is much easier to just give someone a book to sign than to actually say thank you. Which is true. I'm sure that all the people in the queue wanted to thank him for the stories which changed their lives or affected them in one way or another, but many were just a bit shy or intimidated about the fact that the author of those stories was right in front of them.
He then asked me if I was a writer myself. I said I try to be. I'm still in the process of getting better and until I reach that point where I think I'm good enough, I don't want to say I'm a writer. I aspire to be though. He then told me to keep writing. That meant a lot to me. Family and friends tell me all the time, it's everywhere on the internet, but it doesn't really mean as much as when someone whose work you admire tells you to keep going.
He thanked me for coming and we shook hands. Renate was a complete fangirl at this point ("He was so funny!" "I talked to him and he looked at me!"). I was a little more quiet but inside I found this new motivation to follow my passion of writing. It doesn't matter if I'm not the best out there. I'm still learning and every new story is a better one than the story before that. I know that writing is something that makes me happy and I know that I have many stories in me that have to be told.
Renate promised to read the Ocean as soon as possible. There is a very happy girl in Barbados who is freaking out about the fact that Neil Gaiman wrote her name in a book.
As for me, once I finish this blog post, I will start working on some new stories.
Thanks again for inspiring me, Mr. Gaiman. I guess there are no words to descibe how much it all meant to me.