The Ocean at the End of the Queue

OceanNeil Gaiman has long been one of my favourite authors. In a funny way, he’ll be – in my mind, at least – forever entwined with my actually starting to write seriously again (well. I say “seriously”. I do very few things seriously, but you get my drift).

It was after a Neil Gaiman signing somewhere around 2007 that I wrote “The Cloth of Heaven” – the first proper short story I’d ever done, and the first thing of mine that was published.

And when I say “after a signing”, I mean it fairly literally. I woke up at 7am the next day with the whole story in my head and wrote it longhand, while lying on the first floor landing of our house in London.

It was at that same signing that I really came to understand the real purpose of queuing for an event. I’d been to plenty of gigs which involved queueing (including a Rammstein show in Berlin where the queue wasn’t so much a queue as a random collection of picnics. I’m telling you, that was a queue.) but this was different. I’d got there hours early and was one of the first six or seven people there.

It was cold. It rained. We huddled in the back doorway of Forbidden Planet and talked – at length – about Sandman and about “Neverwhere” and about… all things Neil. At one point, someone appeared from inside the shop and said: “Neil thinks you’re all entirely mad, waiting so long to see him – and he’d like to know if you want a cup of tea?”

And that was the day Neil Gaiman sent me tea. And when I finally got to the front of the queue, I did what I have done a couple of times now and lost the ability to speak (I know. Me. Quiet. Imagine!) and beamed like a lunatic and that was that. He was  lovely; I was daft. So it goes.

It was that queue, though, which meant I was undaunted by the prospect of the lengthy wait after last Friday’s event, run by Toppings & Co of Bath, which saw the very same Neil Gaiman talk for a little while about his new (and apparently entirely unexpected) novel, “The Ocean At The End Of The Lane“, read a little and sign a lot. A LOT.

Three hours after we started queueing, we were still queueing. But more importantly, three afters after he started signing and talking to people and smiling and being lovely… he was still doing it. And this was after pre-signing a teetering pile of books for people who couldn’t wait as long as we did. And on top of a full day of promotional work. And after it, both he and the team from Headline were staring down the barrel of a journey back to London before they could finally get to bed. It’s beyond admirable.

I say “we” there, when I talk about the queue because this time, I had a friend for company. Having met up with several people for drinks beforehand, including Cav Scott, Gav Pugh, Jonathan Howard, Desiree Fischer and Emma Newman, by midnight all but Cav and myself had fallen by the wayside: lured by the siren songs of their spouses or the last train home. In the meantime, Cav and I had come up with what can only be described as a mild hysteria-induced plan.


Heavy on effects, and a tad light on anything you’d call “plot”, it’ll involve a finale set in ancient Rome, with elephants, Spartans and Wolverine running beneath waves of red silk, shredding them with his claws. Oh, and Magneto with jazz hands. Yes. I’m telling you, it’s got “hit” written all over it. Well. Something that sounds a bit like “hit”, anyway.

And all the while we were mucking around, Neil Gaiman was still signing. And signing. And smiling. And signing.

He even smiled when I asked him to dedicate my book in the most baffling manner imaginable, because I’d had time to think about it.

“The Ocean At The End Of The Lane” is partly about childhood and looking back at it, and I wanted to be able to pass the book on. My son’s not nearly old enough for it – nor will he be for quite some time, and this gave me an idea. I didn’t want to just hand him a copy of it when he’s older – a book by one of my favourite authors, and one he already loves (having heard plenty of his stories from the time he was in a cot…). I wanted it to feel like a thing. Like it was special. And now, thanks to a still-smiling but no doubt exhausted author, it will be, because the book is dedicated not to me, and not to my little boy – but to both of us, to me – and then “and after her” to him. It feels like passing something on. Like the book is more than a book. Like it’s alive. Like it’s a life.

And that’s something worth queueing for.

That, and X-Men: The Musical.


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