We have largely missed the podcast craze of recent years. Maybe it's an attention span issue, but we're always willing to make time to listen to Clutter favorite/former Doctor Who star David Tennant. That's especially true when he's talking to this week's guest, Neil Gaiman. The author is responsible for one of our all-time favorite Doctor Who stories ("The Doctor's Wife"), as well as the Good Omens novel and series (which featured Mr. Tennant and Michael Sheen), and the Sandman universe, which blew us away when we finally read it a few years ago. We would pay handsomely to listen to these two speak live at a convention, but we'll happily accept this discussion for free as an alternative.
- David Tennant mentions how Gaiman goes against the standard advice of "write what you know," to which Gaiman responds, he does follow that to some extent. For instance, he says, he knows Doctor Who, and he knows how much he loves graveyards, so he can use that as a starting point for a story.
- There's a funny discussion of a 14 or 15 year-old Gaiman taking several standardized tests and then talking to a "career expert" at school. Gaiman told the man he wanted to write American comics (if his dream of being "a freelance religion designer" didn't work out), to which the "expert" suggested he consider becoming an accountant instead. It's a classic Monty Python skit come to life, which makes it all the funnier. Thankfully, Gaiman ignored the advice.
- (Side note: Is there any evidence that these so-called "experts" actually provide any value, or do they just shoehorn as many young kids as they can into various professions without giving any weight to creativity and individualism?)
- That leads to a engaging discussion about Gaiman being surrounded by a variety of religious thought as a child. That fueled his interest in the notion of belief and helped him develop his ability to "believe anything 100% while I'm writing it," even if it contradicts other things he's written, using the contrasting backstories of Good Omens and Sandman as examples.
- The two men talk about former Doctor Who boss Russell T. Davies saying he found writing stories set in the future to be his biggest challenge, because you have to figure out what has to happen and where it will bring you. Gaiman says it's the opposite for him, as he finds it much easier to jump into the future and work backwards, and he thinks Davies does wonderful work in modern-day settings.
- There are a number of commercial breaks during the podcast, because hey, you've got to pay the bills. We just want to mention the one Tennant does for the online counseling service betterhelp.com. To be clear, we know nothing about this particular service and aren't endorsing it in any way. However, given how stressful and isolating 2020 has been for so many people, we're glad to see the area of mental health getting some attention.
- There's a fascinating discussion about how much of a story Gaiman needs to know before he starts writing it. He seems to place particular weight on the ending. Much like the discussion about writing stories set in the future, he seems to be happiest when he can jump forward and then put the rest of the pieces in places afterwards. Sometimes it's a matter of the ending providing a roadmap for how to strengthen the journey. That leads to talk about the push and pull of changes that had to be made to episode 3 of Good Omens, because it had such an impact later in the story.
- That eventually turns into a broader discussion about collaboration vs. working alone. Gaiman seems to enjoy both in different circumstances, talking about writing Good Omens with the late great Terry Pratchett, and collaborating with Sandman artists, but also being happy when he can write whatever he likes without having to answer to someone else.
- There's an in-depth review of the role of Sandman had in elevating his career, and how he put off The Graveyard Book for years until he felt he was a good enough writer to tell the story properly.
- Tennant and Gaiman also have a good chat about the role of creativity vs. the value of simply engaging in the writing process. Gaiman says both are important. He mentions he's had times where he felt the well was empty, but the act of sitting down and working through a story reengaged his imagination. Above all else, he says the most important key to succeeding is to do the work time and time again.
- The two men talk about what it was like for Gaiman to work on franchises like Doctor Who and Batman. He said the first thing was to make sure not to break other people's toys, and second, his inner child had a fantastic time playing in those sandboxes. According to the author, there's nothing like the power of being able to decide what the Doctor and Dark Knight do and say. We don't doubt that one bit.
- David Tennant asks Neil Gaiman if he would continue writing if he knew no one else would never buy another book of his. Gaiman says probably, because it helps him get stories out of his head, but it would also be his chance to do something new like write a play.
It was a treat to hear these two men talk about the creative process for almost an hour. David Tennant is a terrific host. He always seems to be able to put his guests at ease. It was also helpful to get some further insight into how Neil Gaiman approaches his work. Fans will enjoy this episode.
David Tennant and Neil Gaiman have an insightful discussion about creativity. (pic via david-tennant.co.uk)
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