Referring to fairytales as what we’re left with when myths decay, Gaiman goes on to describe them as stories where all that matters is the ‘what happened next’; stories without characters, only characteristics. This prompts points to be raised about the differences between male and female heroes in classic fairytale: with Gaiman reaching the conclusion that the women are a lot more patient.
When asked about his method of writing, Gaiman admits he tends to have something in his head which he can’t get out, needing to write about it in order to understand it. One of his most well-known novels, American Gods, started with a single image; suggesting that he is firmly in the discovery writing camp, rather than an intricate plotter.
He puts the surprise elements and twists and turns in his recent works down to his experience in writing episodic comicbook stories – where an author doesn’t have the luxury of going back and being able to change previously-written material; although comics are a lot more open to the ‘cool stuff’ which allow for fantastical explanations and plot twists.
After some discussion about the experience of writing for Doctor Who, Gaiman answers questions from an eager audience, covering the intricacies of the DC Comics’ universe; collaborations which have been less than successful; and the joy of being able to wrap up previous material’s loose ends in sequels.
Perhaps the most interesting question comes when he is asked if he’s ever thought he may take the scary and dark elements of his fiction too far. Revealing he decided not to include a chapter of children’s book Coraline on the grounds he thought it too scary, he still steadfastly refuses to censor himself. And besides, he says, the young readers seem to be good judges – with kids often having a better sense of reality than adults.
As Gaiman leaves to start whittling down a signing queue which stretches around the Gardens, this firm Festival favourite has once again – like a true storyteller – entertained, delighted and enlightened.