Neil Gaiman Interview

5 Sep
Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

BBC Radio 4 Extra aired an impressive and star-studded dramatisation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere earlier this year and AudioGO have released it as an audiobook on 5th September. Starring James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, David Harewood, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Anthony Head and Bernard Cribbins among others, it was adapted and directed by Dirk Maggs, the man behind the acclaimed radio adaptations of Douglas Adams’s later Hitchhiker’s novels. It’s a sumptuous, aural masterpiece, a blockbuster for the radio.

Here Neil Gaiman talks about his delight at how this new version turned out, and how it secured such an A-list cast. 

What do you enjoy about audio as a format?

I think what I like best about audio as a format is it allows you to use your imagination. Prose fiction has an enormous advantage in that you’re simply giving words to people and they get to build up whole worlds in their mind. Drama is great because it has real actors. Audio drama is like this fantastic intersection, because the pictures, the special effects, the magic, well it’s as good as you want it to be.

One of my favourite lines in any drama of any kind was from the original ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ radio play, where Arthur turns to Ford and he says “Ford, you’re turning into an infinite number of penguins”; and I love that because it’s something that you can never show, but it’s in your head. The idea of Ford turning into an infinite number of penguins is an amazing thing.

There are moments in ‘Neverwhere’, the audio version, that I absolutely love. One moment that Dirk [Maggs] completely introduced himself, is the moment where [Angel] Islington spreads his wings. Islington didn’t have wings in the television version because I looked at that and went “There is no way I can do this and not make it stupid.” So I didn’t give him wings and thus I didn’t give him wings in the book, as I hadn’t done on TV. I absolutely loved that suddenly he had wings and you could hear the wings unfold.

I thought the sounds were amazing.

Weren’t they absolutely magic?

So having already brought out ‘Neverwhere’ as a book in a visual format, how was it revisiting it for audio? Did you have to make any massive changes with Dirk to bring it to life?

Actually there were very few changes. Dirk sent me his original scripts. He went off, he worked on it. I had a handful of notes, mostly in just distinguishing Mr Croup from Mr Vandemar and a few suggestions. And then suddenly I found myself acting in it, which was rather surprising.

Did you base London Below on your personal experiences of being in London and how you felt when you walked around and explored?

You know the weirdest thing about London Below is that I’d written the TV series before I ever got to do any on-the-ground research. But when I started the novel I got to go location scouting for the TV series, so by the time I wrote the novel I had actually already splashed around in the sewers; I’d climbed places that you’re not meant to climb; I’d gone down into places you’re not meant to go down; I’d been in these amazing locked off places. You know, the Camden Deep Tunnels, all of these fantastic places, but I then got to write about and turn them into, you know, my descriptions in the book I wrote.

There’s an incredible cast for this production. Did you pick the actors, or did this lie with someone else?

The casting of ‘Neverwhere’ began with talking to Heather Larmer and Dirk Maggs. In the beginning I had maybe one suggestion, which was James McAvoy would be a fantastic Richard [Mayhew]. I didn’t know that James McAvoy was the world’s biggest ‘Neverwhere’ fan. I didn’t realise that when James McAvoy was asked by his agent if he was going to be interested in doing this incredibly unlikely little Radio 4 project he was going to jump at it, leap on board with absolute delight and in leaping on board basically drag everybody else on board with him. He and Natalie Dormer just said yes because they love ‘Neverwhere’. And then Christopher Lee turned up, Bernard Cribbins turned up. You know, it’s amazing and wonderful . Anthony Stewart Head. You know Tony Head once turned to me in a lift in the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles and said “You’re Neil Gaiman, we have to do something together one day,” and I said “Yes!” Then he got out of the lift. I love the fact that six/seven years later here we are and he got to do ‘Neverwhere’.

One thing I’d really like to know is if there are any updates on the HBO series of ‘American Gods’?

There’s nothing. We’re waiting right now on the top brass. All I know about the script is it keeps going upstairs. I hear “Okay, so and so liked it and it’s now gone up to their boss!” and so I’m like “Okay” and I keep waiting.

And I will give you a small scoop, which is that I was so enthused by ‘Neverwhere’ audio that I started really missing ‘Neverwhere’ and missing the characters and missing the world; and I sat down and wrote a short story that I’d written two pages of in about 2002 and then stopped. And then I thought “you know, I should finish that story,” so I went and finished a short story called ‘How the Marquis got his Coat Back’. And it actually takes place immediately after ‘Neverwhere’, while Richard is wondering around back in London Above, this is the Marquis who came back to life and the sewer people sold his coat to somebody else. He was not happy. You will get to meet the Shepherds of Shepherds Bush. They’re not very nice.

Terry Pratchett has a species of turtle named after him and Frank Zappa has species of jellyfish. If you could have any animal as a species named after you what would it be?

Bat.

Why a bat?

I don’t know, I think bats are genuinely magical. There’s something very peculiar about seeing them fly. The times that bats have intersected my life have always been very odd. Including once finding one stuck to the window on a sheet of fly paper and having to figure out a solvent that would dissolve the fly paper to get the bat off. It was an incredibly angry grumpy bat. And I found this lemon solvent. So eventually a bat smelling of lemon, a lemon-scented sticky bat, crawled away very grumpily.

What is more of a commodity, Luck or Magic?

As a commodity Magic has to be a commodity because Luck is something that, I don’t know, I love the idea of a market where you could go and buy Luck, or trade your Luck for somebody else’s. I think probably it would be more like a kind of Lord Dunsany kind of story, in which you get to trade Luck with somebody and people are never certain with the kind of Luck they’ve got. They’re definitely not mutually exclusive.

Because you could say “It would be really lucky right now if I had some Magic. Or it would be magical if I could magic up some Luck.” So it’s kind of hard for me to decide which one would be the best thing to have.

It’s true, but you can say the same thing about sushi. It would be really lucky if I had some sushi, it would be magical if we could magic up some sushi.

Thank you so much for talking to us. We appreciate how busy you are.

You are so welcome. I’m just thrilled that this is actually being commercially released. When it came out nobody knew if it was going to happen.

Purchase Neverwhere from AudioGO as Download or CD and browse our similar titles.

Kate Doyle

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