An Exclusive Interview with Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell
Neil Gaiman, or the Dark Laureate as we call him, has won so many literary awards – for works such as American Gods and The Ocean at the End of The Lane - he has had to enlist a sorcerer to shirk them all so they will fit on one black windowsill of his haunted lodge.
Chris Riddell, our Waterstones Children’s Laureate, is the only person to win the CILIP Kate Greenway Medal for illustration three times (for Pirate Diary, for Jonathan Swift's Gulliver, and for his work on Gaiman’s The Sleeper and The Spindle). It is believed this so humbled him, he may have hidden the medals in another dimension.
Here they discuss their latest collaboration: the illustrated Neverwhere. Neverwhere has shapeshifted from radio to the page to television and back – it is a much-loved story of London both as you know it (above ground) and as you wish you knew it (far below); now for the first time it has been Riddelled (adj. meaning made even more sumptuous and spectral).
We guarantee you will enjoy this conversation almost as much as the book itself. Neverwhere is an elegantly illustrated saturnalia of strange.
When Neil is writing and Chris is illustrating, how involved are you with each other’s creative process? Is there any back and forth and how do you ensure that harmony at the end?
Neil: Chris and I have been working together now since 2007 when I handed him the manuscript for The Graveyard Book. I asked him to change a character’s hair colour once.
Chris: I remember that character.
Chris: I had originally given Silas from The Graveyard Book bleached white hair.
Neil: You had.
Chris: And you forced me, Neil, to change his hair to a vampire black.
Neil: I did.
Chris: But, then, I think he might have been a vampire. So you were absolutely on the money there.
Neil: I was… But I love the fact that that is the only thing I’ve ever asked you to change.
Chris: Me too, and I love these spaces you create in your text that invite an illustrator in. You are never didactic but you create vistas so there is always illustrative space for someone like me to inhabit. It’s the permission you give that I enjoy.
Neil: What I love about you – this is rather a love fest – is that you read the books. And it’s not just that you read the books, you go and inhabit them. I like leaving spaces between sentences for things to happen – sometimes spaces between paragraphs for things to happen – and to imply, for a careful reader, a lot more than is actually there in the words. I like leaving things for somebody to go back to. If you read a book once and go back and read it again there may be more there this time.
Chris: Always. I think the characters you create are complex: they have histories, they come from somewhere and they’re going somewhere as well. You don’t always tell me where they’re going and you don’t always tell me where they’ve been. I would love to know more about the Velvets in Neverwhere. They’re extraordinary characters and it seems to me that Lamia has got some very, very interesting friends that I’ve yet to hear about – I might be asking you to tell me more about that as well as some of the wonderful characters like Serpentine, who I believe has got seven sisters?
Lamia (one of the Velvets) by Chris Riddell
Neil: She is one of seven sisters. You learn about one named in Neverwhere itself, which is Olympia, the eldest.
Neil: And Victoria is actually mentioned in the short story at the end of this new illustrated edition – How the Marquis Got His Coat Back.
Chris: I must draw Victoria, I think I might.
Neil: So that’s three and there are seven of them. I will probably wind up making you draw the other four for me as I write the next novel.
Chris: Well, this is exciting for me as an illustrator because sometimes I can sort of get inside Neil’s creative brain. I’m very, very keen to meet Mornington Crescent, by the way.
Neil: Hmmm. Mornington Crescent would be… it’s fun! Some things are just so gloriously obvious with Neverwhere and it’s like ‘oh yes, of course this thing, I know what the Raven’s Court is like, and the difference between the Raven’s Court and the Baron’s Court’.
Chris: I’m going to paint a very quick portrait for you in charcoal pencil and it’s Mornington Crescent. He’s got a face…
Neil: One of those moon faces?
Chris: A sorrowful countenance. Droopy moustache, flyaway Einstein hair. He’s possibly got a slightly faded coat of arms, bearing a crescent of some sort. And I think there’s an obscure back story involving Earl’s Court – I’m just putting that out there, we’ll see what happens!
Neil: People say, what’s the fun of working with Chris? And the answer is, of course, he does all the work for you.
Neil: If you just let him go with it, he will send you a finished novel which you can print under your own name and he will then illustrate. It’s brilliant.
Chris: Neil, you’ve said too much.
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