It was announced last week (I think, dates and I are not exactly close friends) that voting is now open for the British Fantasy Awards – I have, of course, voted and am hoping that I sneak a nomination in the Short Story category again this year, this time for ‘Me and My Shadow’ (published in Fangtales by Wyvern Publications). It was actually remarkably exciting last time, making it through to the shortlist, so hopefully that’ll happen again this year.
Meanwhile, I’ve been wrestling with new book ideas. It’s odd, there are some people who have one idea, they write a book about it and they’re done. There are others who have several ideas and also follow them through to completion. Then there’s me. I’ve got loads of ideas, I even write the beginnings of a lot of them. Then I… well, I sort of… stop.
Stopping is bad for the following reasons:
1) It makes you a quitter! (apparently)
2) You end up with lots of half-baked, half-written ideas lying around the place
3) Because Neil Gaiman says it’s bad
Mr. Gaiman has only ever given me one piece of advice in person. It was in Norwich at a book signing some years ago. I was one of the last to meet him. I’d watched him saying hello, asking for a name, writing down a name, posing for a photograph, saying hello, asking for a name… for some hours. I’m not saying he looked bored, but he certainly did look like someone who had been doing something by rote for some time.
When it was my turn to step up and meet the author of some of the greatest comics and books I’ve ever read, the following thoughts went through my mind :
Firstly, I had to remember my name and to not do that thing I do when confronted by famous people of standing there, dribbling and making noises like Sloth from the Goonies. Secondly, I had to remember to hand him a copy of the book to be signed. Thirdly, I realised I didn’t have a camera and so would never be able to record this moment for posterity. Fourthly, for god’s sake, don’t forget my name…
I stepped up to the table.
“Hullo,” said Neil.
“Um, Hi,” I replied. This was a remarkably good start for me.
“What’s your name?” Mr. Gaiman asked.
“It’s Justin,” Brilliant, I remembered my name, no dribbling. This was going well. I even remembered to hand him the book to sign.
Neil signed the book ‘to Justin’ (underlined) and even drew a little moon in the corner of the page.
And that’s when I said it.
“I, um, I just wanted to thank you for inspiring me to write again.”
I am defiantly proud of this moment; it’s absolutely true – without The Sandman and Neverwhere I wouldn’t have started writing again. I’m also secretly chuffed because of the effect it had on Mr Gaiman, who I had considered to be completely imperturbable up until this point.
He leaned back in his chair and looked me in the eye. He was silent for a moment. Then he said,
“You’re most welcome. Thank you. And… finish everything. Always finish what you start writing, that’s my one piece of advice to you.”
Then, I think I garbled something incoherent about a ‘baby ruth’ and ‘loving you guys’ before staggering away.
I’ve never forgotten that piece of advice. I am just totally unable to live up to it. I try, I really do… I mean if Neil Gaiman tells you to always finish what you start, then by the gods you finish what you start!
Only, I can’t. At least not yet. I don’t think I’m quite good enough to finish them, right now. So, it’s not that these half-completed books are permanently unfinished, just their endings are on hiatus, waiting for a better version of me to finish what I started.
But, for the rest of you, always finish everything. If you start writing something, finish it. Even if it takes years. Finish it. Because, you know, Neil Gaiman says so, and he’s fundamentally right.