Backstories Creative Process Discussion of writing style

Ha! Told you so. I was right about Neil Gaiman

After last week’s post, when I wrote about my reassessment of Neil Gaiman’s writing, I thought, oh dear, what if I got it wrong? Every reader forms an opinion about the author of the book they are reading. It is inevitable. In your mind, you plonk the author into a category – workmanlike competence; brilliance; good-and-bad-in-parts, like the curate’s egg; entertaining; mediocre; unthinkably awful…you get my drift? It helps you to process what you read, to make sense of it, to appreciate it, to immerse yourself in it. It’s like when you buy a takeaway hamburger. You know it’s a hamburger and what it will taste like, and you are prepared.

So I was pleased as punch when I finished Good Omens last night, by wading through the extra chapters, the Foreword; Good Omens, The Facts; Neil Gaiman on Terry Pratchett, and Terry Pratchett on Neil Gaiman. And wouldn’t you know it, there, in so many words, is Terry Pratchett’s description of Neil Gaiman’s writing – and it’s almost the same as mine:

“A lot has happened in those ten years. He’d left the comics world shaken, and it’ll never be quite the same again. the effect was akin to that of Tolkien on the fantasy novel – everything afterwards is in some way influenced. I remember on one US Good Omens tour walking around a comics shop. We’d been signing for a lot of comics fans, some of whom were clearly puzzled at the concept of ‘dis story wid no pitchers in it’, and I wandered around the shelves looking at the opposition.

That’s when I realized he was good. There’s a delicacy of touch, a subtle scalpel, which is the hallmark of his work.”

Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, p. 414, Terry Pratchett on Neil Gaiman

Tah-dah! “…A delicacy of touch, a subtle scalpel.” Scalpel: Oh yes, Gaiman’s ideas are often as sharp and dangerous as a scalpel, but one that you might not know had been used on you until you notice that, figuratively speaking, you are fountaining blood and Death is standing there going “YES, YOU ARE DEAD.” Of course Pratchett puts it as precisely and finely as I never can. But now I know I got it right. Told you so.

These extra chapters in Good Omens is to explain to readers how the book came to be written in two stages, more than a decade apart, and how the two authors collaborated (technically, exactly how they wrote it), with one being in the US and one in the UK, and how they got their writing styles to blend. It’s very interesting. If you ever wondered how co-authorship could ever work, you should check this out.

Much of the contents of these chapters are about how they met, including the time that the photo on the inside of the front cover was taken.

When they were both much younger: Terry Pratchett, with a hat and a big smile; Neil Gaiman, with no hat and a smaller smile, and black hair – nowadays his hair is grey, like the hated homburg.
(Photo by Karol DuClos; Good Omens, 2006 paperback edition by Transworld Publishers)

On the photo, the differences in appearance reflect the differences in their personalities and writing styles. As Pratchett relates about Gaiman’s grey homburg, Gaiman does not like wearing hats.

“He was not a hat person. There was no natural unity between hat and man. That was the first and last time I saw the hat. As if subconsciously aware of the bad hatitude, he used to forget it and leave it behind in restaurants.”

Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, p. 413, Terry Pratchett on Neil Gaiman

“A bad hatitude” – Ha-ha! That’s why I love Terry Pratchett’s sense of humour, and Neil Gaiman’s hatitude.

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