A year ago today, I met my favorite author in the universe, Neil Gaiman.
I read my first Gaiman book in 2014 after receiving Neverwhere for my 21st birthday. Neverwhere was described to me as “Alice in Wonderland with a punk edge.” (Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been my story since before I can remember. I watched the Disney film over and over and over, I’ve had Alice memorbelia and costumes for forever.. Alice and I go way back.) Needless to say, I NEEDED it in my life and I devoured it. Come to think of it, the two books I own the most editions of are Alice and Neverwhere.
After reading Neverwhere I quickly loaned it out to friends and relatives a like, and started my quest to read everything Neil Gaiman has ever written. His worlds are my absolute favorite to live in. My collection proudly takes up two shelves in my bookcases.
December of 2016 I was home at my parent’s house when I came across tickets for An Evening with Neil Gaiman – he was going on tour for the release of his book Norse Mythology. There was a link for VIP tickets that included seats in the first 5 rows and a pre show reception in which the ticket holder would get to meet Neil Gaiman. I hovered over those tickets for an hour, debating, the price tag did not make this a no brainer. I also knew the likely hood that I would be going by myself. I had just started going to book events and building my group of bookish friends but I didn’t know anyone well enough to ask them to drop the amount of money required. I have social anxiety (- I’m working on a post about social anxiety and book signings/events) but the idea of meeting or more like never getting to meet this magical person and just thanking him for his words was enough to push it aside (and not think about it until the week of and then have a panic attack) and purchase 1 VIP ticket. Merry Christmas to me!
Nearly three months later, it was the week of the event. I spent this week on Tumblr and Instagram desperately searching for any accounts from previous VIP events. I feel much more in control if I have know what will happen, if I have a script it’s even better! (Dumb actor reference, sorry!) I saw some cool pictures with very excited captions but nothing detailed enough to calm my anxieties. I read over the email sent by the venue countless times even after I had it memorized. It stated that there would be no line to take photos with Mr. Gaiman, he would walk around and you could ask him for a photo (anxiety rises), he would not under any circumstances sign books; pre-signed books would be available for purchase in the lobby (disappointed, but part of my anxiety is I follow rules to a fault). So, I now had some semblance of an idea in my head of what would happen and I started agonizing over what I would say as it was now sinking in that I WAS MEETING NEIL GAIMAN!
The night of: I had my mom drop me off at the venue, my parent’s live close by and parking sometimes (you guessed it) makes me anxious. I arrived earlier than the “Please arrive before X time to pick up your tickets” suggested time, picked up my ticket and waited at the front of the VIP line between a very nice couple and a woman in full Freya cosplay – sometimes fate is great. We made a deal that we would take photos for each other with Neil (it’s weird to write like we’re on a first name basis but he introduced himself that way?) when the opportunity arises. After a wait we were let into the lobby to buy pre-signed books if we wanted. I bought two, both books I already owned but SIGNED NEIL GAIMAN. I purchased Stardust and Trigger Warnings – Neverwhere wasn’t available. We were then moved into another line, waited, taken into an elevator, walked over an atrium bridge, individually checked off a list by a very nice security guard, led through a double door way into a medium sized ballroom and there was Neil Gaiman. Just standing there, dressed in black, as he does, and everyone in line just stopped. We were told not to line up, what do we do? His wonderful assistant Cat brought us into a line and one by one we were introduced to Neil and a had our pictures taken. So far the emailed rules were coming up void. I would like to say I had a perfectly rehearsed, sensical, well phrased statement about what his books meant to me but that would be a lie. I walked up to him shyly and said “Hi.” Good one, Grainne, I know. He said “Hi I’m Neil, what’s your name?” And I said “Grainne” Again, really killing it here, G. He said he actually had a friend named Grainne and that surprised me, it shouldn’t, but I’ve never met another Grainne and sometimes I’m self-centered enough to feel like the only one (kidding.) We talked about the meaning of it and he told me a lovely anecdote about another name with a possible odd meaning. We took the photo(s) and I said “thank you” and walked away in a daze to a giant table of cookies. **ALSO I had brought my copy of Neverhwere because yes, I follow rules to a fault and I KNOW the email said he would not sign any book but Neverwhere is my favorite book and Neil Gaiman is my favorite author and if I couldn’t have my book signed, I was going to have it in the photo hell or high water.**
I found myself around a smallish round high top table eating a cookie with the people I met in line earlier. Everyone else, maybe 50 in total, had broken into similar smaller groups and Neil was now making the rounds and talking to each table. The woman in cosplay turned out to be an English professor who taught a class on Gaiman himself! I should mention my copy of Neverwhere is severely annotated – underlined sections of text, writing in the margins, multicolored tabs.. it turned in to a bit of a journal after so many rereads – as a professor she found it fascinating and when Neil came to our table, she showed it to him and mentioned it was also a birthday gift as the inscription on the inside cover states. I blushed profusely and shyly announced that it’s my favorite book of my entire adult life, he looked to the sides as if checking that the coast was clear and said, “Oh! Then in that case, I didn’t do this,” opened his black suit jacket, pulled out a fountain pen and SIGNED MY BOOK!!!!! He didn’t even re-ask my name and it had been at least 30 minutes and 40 people later since he was introduced to me and I don’t even have words to describe what that moment was for me. I looked at him with tears in my eyes and said “thank you” and he pulled me in for a hug and a year later the stupid grin still hasn’t left my face.
As for the actual event, it was WONDERFUL. If you’ve never read Neil Gaiman or heard him speak (gold star to you for still reading this, sincerely) I recommend watching his commencement speech to the University of the Arts 2012 graduating class entitled Make Good Art.
They tell you, you shouldn’t meet your heroes. I don’t know who “they” are but I do know their hero must not be Neil Gaiman because Neil defies that statement. Meeting him was momentous.. magical.. everything I had hoped meeting Neil Gaiman would be. And more. I’m 1300 rambling words in and I don’t think I’m adequately explaining just how much this one evening meant to me. My advice… Hold tight to your heroes. And pick up a Neil Gaiman book ASAP.