Following this week’s announcement by Portsmouth Libraries that Neil Gaiman’s Stardust was this year’s Portsmouth Reads title, the writer himself has taken to social media to share his support for the scheme and his love of the city, including mention of an exclusive interview when he last visited the city, published on S&C. Sarah Cheverton reports.
The Portsmouth City Read is an annual programme run by Portsmouth Libraries that encourages residents all over the city to read the same book. This year the Library Service chose Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, a fantasy novel that recounts the adventures of Tristan Thorn and his attempts to retrieve a fallen star from the land of Faerie for the woman he loves.
The City Read scheme is always popular with readers of all ages, but this year, the author himself shared his delight at the selection of his book on Twitter.
‘This is why Portsmouth (the UK one) is wonderful,’ Neil, who now lives in the United States, said. Referring to our sister city in New Hampshire, he added, ‘The NH one has a random submarine in a ditch, though. Which is pretty cool.’
‘I am so proud of this. I find myself suddenly wishing that the generation of my family that’s no longer around, the ones for whom Portsmouth and Southsea were everything, could know about it.’
Writer Dirk Maggs, known for his popular radio adaptations of books including The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Hexagonal Phase and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens and Anansie Boys for BBC Radio 4, responded to the tweets with his own fond memories of the city.
‘I loved Portsmouth when I was gigging there as a drummer for the best part of two decades. I love it even more now,’ Dirk Maggs told his followers in a tweet sharing Portsmouth’s City Read. Dirk was a member of the band 10.5, who took part in the 15th heat of the 1989 Portsmouth Battle of the Bands, and has performed across the country as part of locally formed band, The Riotous Brothers.
Neil’s last visit to Portsmouth was back in 2013 when he attended a ceremony for the opening of The Ocean at the End of the Lane on Southsea Seafront, adjacent to Canoe Lake, and appeared at An Evening with Neil Gaiman at Portsmouth Guildhall. Neil stayed at the venue after his performance into the early hours signing books for a long queue of fans.
Then a freelance writer, I was lucky enough to interview Neil at Canoe Lake Cafe. Raised in Portchester, Neil spoke about his memories of growing up in and around Portsmouth, where he often spent summers with members of his family. Two of Neil’s graphic novels, Mr Punch and Violent Cases, are set in Portsmouth.
‘More than anywhere else you could possibly point to in the entirety of the whole, you know, Portchester to Purbrook to Southsea continuum (of Neil’s childhood homes), this has the most memories, the happiest memories,’ he said.
‘Portsmouth for me is fascinating, because Portsmouth for me is my first two personal graphic novels. Violent Cases and Mr Punch are 100% Portsmouth and Southsea, that’s what they are. In many ways, they’re a giant sort of brain dump of all of my memories of growing up, including going to peculiar children’s parties at one of these seaside hotels.’
Local social enterpreneur Steve Bomford sent the Portsmouth City Read to Neil Gaiman and I on Twitter and in response, I reminded Neil about our interview back in 2013.
The writer recalled the day, saying ‘It was a really good interview.
‘I remember how much I enjoyed it,’ he said.
You can read the full interview here.
And for those of you still wondering about that submarine reference, Jetpack Comics on Twitter has the answer, tweeting a picture of the New Hampshire ‘submarine in a ditch’, the USS Albacore with the comment, ‘It’s true!’
Pick up your copy of Stardust at any Portsmouth library to join the Portsmouth City Read, and follow Portsmouth Libraries, Neil Gaiman and Dirk Maggs on Twitter. You can also borrow Neil’s many other books from Portsmouth Libraries – which has recently abolished its fine system – including an e-audiobook of Stardust you can borrow and download online. Head over to Portsmouth Libraries library catalogue to find out more.
Main image by Steve Bomford.