Title: The View from the Cheap Seats
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publication date: 31 May, 2016
There are moments, minutes, hours in our lives that are worth to live for. Eight to nine post meridiem yesterday goes down as such a precious hour in my personal history. I had the privilige to attend the event that celebrated the publication of Neil Gaiman’s new – non-fiction – book, The View from the Cheap Seats, at the Union Chapel, London.
Why did I decide to go? I have a special relationship with Neil Gaiman’s fictional work; since virtually there is no other now living writer I've read more standalone books of, it’s safe to say that he is my favourite contemporary literary figure. To understand why my love for this man is such a big deal, you have to know my reading habits, or rather my attitude towards authors in general: I tend to be loyal to stories, not writers. I have too often found myself giving writers a chance to enchant me with a second or third novel after reading something sensational from them, only to realize the magic doesn’t work beyond that one near-perfect book. Neil Gaiman is different though, he casts the right spell every time, he almost never misses, and when he does, he makes up for it with his fantastic way with words. He writes familiarly, intimately, which often results in fiction that has an almost palpable solidity to it (as an answer to a question during the Q&A Neil confided in us, that he often ‘steals’ bits from reality and turns them into fiction… well, I think it is true vice versa: he creates reality out of fiction in the readers’ mind).
For the above mentioned reason he is an exceptional writer in my own little world of literature, and so when I heard about the Union Chapel event I knew I had to go. As luck would have it, I'm living in London at the moment and it seemed to be a once in a lifetime opportunity – therefore I bought my ticket and waited.
Yesterday I had a relatively good day at work (maybe because between every ‘eatinortakeaway?’ I reminded myself what was going to happen in the evening) and after I finished at two o’clock in the afternoon my excitement only kept growing. I arrived to the venue fifty minutes before the opening of the gates and tenaciously stood against the heavily blowing wind while queuing (I was also praying that I would not get a cold, because I didn’t have my coat with me. I will never understand the weather here, it’s the beginning of summer, for God’s sake. Welcome to England). However, by the time it started raining I was safely inside the building, so the timing was just perfect.
The first thing I did inside was collecting my signed copy of The View from the Cheap Seats. I was surprised how thick the book is, with its 530 pages it is quite a handful possession. Later during the evening Neil himself joked that if it were bigger, it would be dangerous... Once I got the tangible reason for which we all gathered there together, I looked for a place to sit and opted for the main set of benches in the centre of the chapel. I was about five meters away from the podium and so eventually when eight o’clock arrived at last, this is what I saw:
(I apologize for the quality of the picture, this is all my tablet could do...)
Neil casually appeared with baby Ash in his arms and assured us that the night had not really started yet, he just thought he’d pop in with Ash – since the new work is dedicated to the tiny fellow, it was a sensible start to the evening.
Then father and son left us for a while and Amanda Palmer, Neil’s wife, appeared and sang us a song with her dad – a song chosen by Neil of course – about police violence and racial discrimination, issues which we are sadly all too familiar with today. Amanda’s voice filled the chapel and the song had a rather sad theme, but what I loved about the whole evening was that it was like a rollercoaster in terms of topics and feelings.
Right after Amanda and her dad finished the song, Neil and Audrey Niffenegger (writer of The Time Traveler’s Wife) took the stage and everyone in the audience was filled with joy – at least I certainly was. They started to talk about the book, how it was put together, why certain speeches, pieces of writing were chosen to be included. It turned out that the book is full of book recommendations and it was good to hear Neil talk about certain novels that were/are important to him, ones that had an impact on him, that took their part in turning him into a writer. But The View… doesn’t only include pieces about literature; popular culture is represented in bits about music, comic books and films. There is a section called ‘Some people I have known’; Terry Pratchett’s name came up not once during the evening and Neil talked about him fondly.
During the Q&A part he told us about why he doesn’t tend to judge his characters and how he wants to give the readers the opportunity to assess the value – or lack of value – of certain acts and situations. He also talked about how he sometimes imagines backstories to side characters. I was sad there wasn’t time for more questions, I think altogether he answered three that were asked him by audience members and two questions from twitter.
If you asked me what my favourite parts of the evening were, I’d say when Neil read. I had goosebumps all over my arms and back both times he read sections from The View…, purely because I heard his thoughts from his own mouth and I can’t explain the experience properly, but it was like watching or more like hearing a performance. And all he had to do was to act naturally, just read; he didn’t do anything special, and yet special it was, because it was HIM reading his own words. The evening seemed to end too abruptly when he closed the book, both him and Audrey stood up, we clapped and they were gone. It was like being roused from the most pleasant dream.
I had to write this post, because I’m still filled with the memories and I hate to see them fading even now. I feel very lucky I could be there, also now I own an autographed copy of The View from the Cheap Seats and I can sink my teeth into it anytime I want.
Bless Neil Gaiman and his talent. May he live and write for a long, long time.