Interview: Neil Gaiman – 'when you sit down at a keyboard you are God'

New four part TV series, Neil Gaiman's Likely Stories, based on four bizarre tales by the beloved fantasy author to debut on Sky Arts

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Interview: Neil Gaiman – 'when you sit down at a keyboard you are God'

Neil Gaiman is one of the world's most successful and beloved fantasy writers. From his ground breaking work in comics, in particular creating Sandman, to writing novels, children's literature and film. After writing several episodes of Doctor Who Gaiman's work seems to be in vogue in TV land. Lucifer, based on Gaiman's radial reworking of the Satan myth, is currently streaming via Amazon while American Gods is being adapted by Starz. Sky Arts have joined in with Likely Stories, bringing to life four short stories (Foreign Parts, Feeders & Eaters, Closing Time and Looking For the Girl) starring Johnny Vegas, Kenneth Cranham, Tom Hughes and George MacKay (The Outcast, 11.22.63) with Jarvis Cocker of Pulp fame writing the soundtrack for the entire series.

Gaiman explains more …

How would you describe the four stories that make up the series?
Often my stories go off, they can travel a long way from home. And each of these stories, in their own way, is small and close to home. Each of them began with something small and odd and prosaic – I thought, I wonder if I could tell that as a story? Wouldn’t that be interesting? There is definitely a theme of consumption. People being consumed by things; becoming other things; resisting or embracing a fate that is going in some way to change them. The nature of that consumption fascinates me. In Feeders & Eaters, the consumption is very literal. Foreign Parts is based on the idea of somebody essentially being consumed by themselves. In Closing Time, there’s the theme, I think, that the past, a dangerous place filled with secrets that haven’t gone away, can consume you. In Looking for the Girl, you have somebody being consumed by an image of somebody who isn’t there. The idea of somebody feeling their life being marked out in beats and everything ageing but one thing. They definitely feel like a weird little set.

Do the stories inhabit the same world?
That’s a tricky question. I think all of my stories happen in different places, but they share a car park. They all join up out the back. You can definitely get to one from the other.

Many people still know and love your work on Sandman. Are you still proud of it?
Definitely. It was the book that people gave to their girlfriends to prove that comics where OK. But the nice thing would be that it continued, because when they broke up the girlfriend would keep the books and hand them to their next boyfriend. So I was being sexually transmitted.

Why did you stop writing Sandman when it was so popular?
I stopped doing Sandman in 1996 because I wanted it to stay fun. I never wanted it to become just a job. So when I come back to it later it's still fresh. Rather than the hell it would have been if I’d carried on.

I’m much more interest in things I can’t do than what I can do. I’d been writing comics for years and I had won every award you could win for writing comics, and a number of awards you couldn’t win for writing comics. I had done a number of impossible things including writing a 75 issue story and getting the publisher to agree to stop publishing the comic when it was the number one selling comic at the time. And they were very happy to let it drop, because it was obvious we were done. I’d done something really cool but I didn’t feel like I was necessarily learning anything.

Why do you think myths and fairytales are a recurring theme in your work?
Much of what has always attracted me to myth and all that kind of stuff is that when you sit down at a keyboard you are God. You have complete control of life and death. In American Gods I thought great I have a junkie leprechaun and I can put him in because I have the power to put him in.

There’s a lovely quote from GK Chesterton: 'fairytales are more than true because they tell you dragons can be defeated'. I think that is the real reason I like it and the other reason is because I’m me and that’s how my head works.

What’s your attitude to short stories?
I love short stories and have done since I was a kid. It frustrates and fascinates me that the short story is less popular, less read and less loved than the novel. I wish it was the other way around, because there’s something magic about a story that can take you all the way across the universe and bring you back by teatime.

Neil Gaiman's Likely Stories will screen on Sky Arts, Thu 26 May, 9pm.

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