Stars in his eyes

Neil Gaiman (45) was born in Porchester, England, and began his writing career as a journalist. He now lives in Minnesota in the United States with his family. His fiction includes the highly acclaimed, prize-winning Sandman graphic novel series and the novels, American Gods, Neverwhere and Smoke and Mirrors.

When did you come up with the idea for Stardust?
I had the idea in 1991 and in 1993 I put together an outline with Charlie [Vess, illustrator], which we showed to publishers. I started writing in 1994 and there were about 176 of Charlie’s paintings and it started being published in 1997 in the illustrated form and then in late 1998 in un-illustrated form.

Presumably you were working on other books at the same time?
Oh yes, while I was writing it I would have been doing the Sandman comic, I would have been writing Neverwhere, the TV series, and Neverwhere, the novel, during that time. There would have been a lot of stuff going on.

Is that usual for you?
If I get stuck on something I’ve got something else that I’m not stuck on I can start working on. With Stardust I would write two chapters and give them to Charles. Everything else I’d ever done had been on typewriter or computer, but with Stardust I decided to do it in handwriting. I love the idea of doing it in fountain pen in a big book. I handwrote it and sent Charles a chapter, photocopied it for him, and he sent me it back with all the words he couldn’t read circled. So after that I started taping it for him. I would phone him up and read it to him, then send him the tapes and that would be what he would use for the illustrations. And then I would type it up when I got to the end of a chapter.

Why did you want to write it by hand?
I knew I wanted something that was set in Victorian times, but I didn’t want it to read as though it was written in Victorian times. I loved the idea of writing something that read as if it was written in the 1920s, which was the last period you could write fantastic fiction without having an idea that it was ‘fantasy” as a marketing category. In the 1920s you would still get major writers doing a fantasy novel and it was all simply called fiction. After The Lord of the Rings suddenly it became a marketing category and these days it’s a huge one. A lot of Stardust came from writers I loved as a young adult, when I discovered writers, such as Lord Dunsany, who were writing fairytales and fantasy for adults at a time when this was a completely respectable thing to do.

And did it feel like that?
Oh yes. It was part of the joy of doing it. And then occasionally taking my little weird 20th-century liberties, having the characters say ‘fuck” or something.

Is it true that there were plans for an earlier film version of the book?
Yes, back in 1999 Miramax and Tom Cruise bought Stardust and they held on to it for about 18 months. The option lapsed and I ended up getting it back and I wouldn’t let it go until I found Matthew Vaughn [director of the movie].

You obviously accept that the book and the film will be different, but hopefully complementary?
What I’d really like to happen is for the film to come out to enormous popular acclaim. I’d like people to go and see it, I’d like them to love it and I’d like it to get its fair share of Oscars and Baftas and I’d like it to bring fame and fortune and wealth to all involved. Then I’d like people to come up to me and say: ‘You know I love Stardust, but the book was better —”

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