Neil Gaiman Live

CoralineIt was exciting to see Neil Gaiman live at the City Recital Hall in Sydney on the weekend. It was a satellite event of the Sydney Writers’ Festival (surely one of the world’s best writers’ festivals). As Jemma Birrell, Artistic Director, mentioned in her introduction, Neil has over 2 million twitter followers so no wonder it was packed, with standing-only tickets sold as well.

Neil obviously enjoys reading from his works and speaking to his Sydney fans. He also sang with FourPlay, an Australian electric string quartet. They started with the Dr Who theme music; appropriate because Neil wrote two episodes of this cult series. He read from Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, an anthology that will be published 3rd February.

Neil reminisced about a presentation in the past where he could choose whoever else he wanted with him on the panel. His wish-list included his wife, Amanda Palmer – extraordinary singer-performer formerly from The Dresden Dolls (who he couldn’t stop mentioning during the evening) – and Ben Folds (one of my favourite singer/songwriter/pianists – and who Kate Miller-Heidke – composer of John Marsden and Shaun Tan’s  The Rabbits opera) has toured with. The panel planned to get together beforehand over a meal but Ben Folds suggested writing 8 songs in 8 hours instead. Neil explained, ‘If you don’t know Ben Folds, that’s all you need to know’. They ended up writing 6 songs in 14 hours and Neil sang us his song about Joan of Arc.Ocean at end of Lane

Neil is well known for Sandman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and The Graveyard Bookwhich he revealed was based on his experience of living in a tall building with his young son who he would take to the nearby graveyard to play. His son would ride around the graves looking completely at home.

Wolves in the WallsI’ve been a fan of Neil’s graphic novels for YA and children for quite awhile. I’m always talking about Wolves in the Walls, illustrated by Neil’s extraordinary collaborator, Dave McKean. This is a fascinating picture book about Lucy, who hears wolves in the wall but her parents don’t believe her. The frames around the panels hint at what’s hiding. Some of Neil’s other books illustrated by Dave McKean are dark, intricate, imaginative works of art: Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch, Signal to Noise and Mirrormask. I treasure my copies.

Many people will know about Coraline, the girl who finds new, sinister parents in another part of her house. Coraline has appeared as a graphic novel, illustrated by P. Craig Russell, a novel, and a movie.

Neil wrote Odd and the Frost Giants and Fortunately, the Milk, illustrated by Chris Riddell for children, and his picture books for young children are Chu’s Day and Chu’s First Day at School, illustrated by Adam Rex. Fortunately the Milk

I haven’t yet seen the recent Hansel & Gretel and The Sleeper and the Spindle, illustrated by Chris Riddell. Hopefully they’re up to standard.

One of my all-time favourite movies is Stardust, based on Neil’s graphic novel. He has many other works published as well.

Thanks to the Sydney Writers’ Festival for this amazing event.Stardust


The Worst Mothers in Literature [cont.]

Now before anyone goes banging on the blog door and screaming: “Your choices aren’t literature!”, what I really mean is The Worst Mothers in Fiction. But ‘Fiction’ makes it sound less real, and the interesting thing I find about women portrayed in these books, particularly, is that the characteristics of these evil or amoral mothers must in some way reflect our real fears – otherwise we wouldn’t respond to these books the way we do, right?

When I was 12 or 13, I chose a book from my mum’s bookshelf that I had been too ‘chicken’ to pick up before, mainly for the ’70s black covers and the innocent wide-eyed beings surrounded by ghostly mists. Flowers in the Attic was my first venture into Virginia Andrews’ crazy, messed-up world of dysfunctional families and I was totally hooked. Corinne Dollanganger is my second pick for Worst Mother – a sparkling, blonde, blue-eyed beauty who is the ‘perfect’ maternal figure for her four Dollanganger children to worship. That is, until Daddy dies and the money from the million-dollar mansion is gone. Rather than consider working or asking friends for help, Corinne hotfoots it back to her parent’s multi-million dollar estate with kidlets in tow, a place she vowed never to return to after her own father kicked her out years before. What appears to have turned her desperate mind to returning to the estate is a letter confirming that Corinne’s father is sick doesn’t have much longer to live. It is only when he dies, that Corinne will receive the inheritance due to her, provided that she doesn’t have any offspring with the man that caused the family feud all those years ago. Of course, Corinne has had four children to this man, so she decides to hide the children in the attic with the help of her incredibly strict mother (the children’s maternal grandmother) and wait for her father to die before they can come out of hiding. Days turn into months, months turn into years, and the ‘Flowers’ in the attic lie wilting and eventually forgotten by their own mother, who has been seduced by the promise of money and the return to the prestigious family fold. Flowers in the Attic haunted me for many years to come, particularly the vision of the children eating the powdered donuts laced with arsenic. It’s why I can’t eat cinnamon donuts to this day.

My third and final award for Worst Mother in literature goes to a character in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy, Coraline. Namely, Coraline’s Other Mother, whom Coraline meets upon discovery of a door that leads to a parallel version of her home and family. Coraline’s real mother and father are terribly busy with household chores and other work, and don’t really pay as much attention to Coraline as Coraline would like, so the Other Mother with her awesome ‘Breakfast for Dinner’ meals and amazing gifts and general showering of affection on Coraline is a welcome distraction. Until Coraline is tired and wants to go back to her real home…that’s when things start to get a little bit sinister. “But this IS your real home,” says the Other Mother. Because everything IS better there, provided Coraline is happy to have buttons sewn in place of her own eyes…

Uggh. Too creepy.

We all love to hate on mothers in literature, it seems! I’m sure there is at least one well-known book out there, however, where the father is the evil-doer. And I intend to find it!