Paul Cornell's second urban fantasy novel The Severed Streets arrives this week. Here, writing exclusively for SFX, the Hugo Award-nominated author tells all about the book's surprising guest star...
My first encounter with Neil Gaiman was in the early hours of the morning, after I'd had a serious car accident. Having been discharged from casualty, I'd managed to stagger to my desk, only for the phone to ring, and for a soft voice to say who was calling. I thought I was hallucinating. Neil may have wondered why I spoke to him as if he was a higher power. On the other hand, he's pretty good at taking people as he finds them. And a higher power probably wouldn't be seeking advice about his Doctor Who script.
I met up with him at a convention, and found him to be one of those pleasing famous people who's kind of irritated by the room changing when he enters it, because he's interested in what the room would have been like if he hadn't. "He likes geeks," I once said to a friend, "the more awkward the better." "What,' said the friend, 'does that say about you?"
My wife and I went to visit Neil's home, which is part comfy and part spooky in a way which suggests a healthy half an eye on what "the Gaiman house" should be like. We helped to tend his bees in what I described at a convention as "full bee suits". "You mean," said an attendee, "you were dressed as bees?" I think if we had shown up like that he'd have been delighted.
I like him a lot, for his quietness, his normality, the way he finds fame stressful and beside the point and so tries to do only good things with it. His work ethic is admirable. He enjoys other people.
We were walking back from the bee hives when I had a sudden thought: that my plan to put a real person into the sequel to London Falling , playing themselves, would be served best by it being the man I was walking behind. So I asked him. He said yes. I said I'd send him the parts he was in for his approval. Then I started paying an enormous amount of attention to his body language and speech patterns. Which on its own would have been enough to freak most people out. I kept expecting him to change his mind. Hopefully it's too late now.
He's in The Severed Streets bumping into and then being interviewed by my police officers who can see the supernatural, as someone with specialist knowledge of occult London. He actually plays a big part in the plot. I hope that becoming fictional entertains him as much as his other adventures.