The milky way

Author Neil Gaiman talks to Time Out about his latest book.

Where there’s cereal, there must be milk. And that sets off the story ofFortunately, the Milk, the latest children’s book to come from author Neil Gaiman’s stellar pen. Two siblings, a boy and a girl, are waiting for their father, who has popped out to buy milk for breakfast and is inordinately late. Turns out the father, who looks suspiciously like Gaiman, got waylaid because he was abducted by gloppy-looking aliens, walked the plank for a swaggering crew of pirates and was whisked away by a Floaty-Ball-Person Carrier. And to add to the dizzying lactic (and galactic) adventure, there is a bowlful of piranhas with sharp teeth, pretty little ponies and a clever dinosaur who has an aunt called Button.

Alaugh-out-loud book, Fortunately, the Milk comes with Gaiman’s trademark whimsy. Gaiman’s written the much darker Coraline and The Graveyard Book for young readers, but this one takes a sharp detour from those stories. The book is an imaginative romp that’s deliriously funny and downright silly. It’s fantasy and sci-fi rolled into one narrative – think Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and Gaiman’s own Doctor Who. It’s a lovely father and child story – we can just imagine fathers regaling their kids with such a tale when having to make up an excuse for missing a cricket session or a school play.

What really makes the book a complete adventure, though, is Chris Riddell’s black and white illustrations. Riddell brings to life the objects of Gaiman’s imagination with his detailed and quirky drawings of the characters and the setting – whether it’s a bereft-looking breakfast table, a disquieting castle or a carton of milk. The artist, young readers will be delighted to learn in the book, when asked “how he imagines the peculiar things that Mr Gaiman asks him to draw, [replied that] he had no imagination whatsoever, but that he was fortunate in having excellent models, and in drawing all his characters from life”. Real or unreal? Present or future or past? These are all questions that pop up in the book. But then fortunately, the answers are all there as well. Time Out got some more answers from Gaiman about his latest children’s book, films and Doctor Who.

Fortunately, the Milk is your latest kids’ book – what’s it about?
It’s the silliest, strangest, most ridiculous book I’ve ever written. It’s the story of a father who goes out to buy milk for his children and – at least according to him is kidnapped by aliens, kidnapped again by pirates and rescued by a stegosaurus in a hot-air balloon. There are ponies, vampires and dinosaur police.

Sounds like a particularly weird episode of Doctor Who. You’ve written two episodes of that series – how did that come about?
Early in the process of Stephen Moffat taking over as executive producer, I had dinner with him and told him that I’d love to write for Doctor Who. Actually, I wasn’t meant to know that he was taking over, so we were having this weird hypothetical conversation about it, and half way through the meal, he said: “Oh, fuck this! You know I’m taking over, I know that you know. Do you want to write an episode?”’

Hollywood seems to love you; do you love it?
I love the fact that millions of people have read Stardust because they liked the film. And Coraline was a lovely film – the director Henry Sellick did an astonishing job. There’s going to be a Graveyard Book movie – Ron Howard is meant to be shooting it next year, which is kind of wonderful. AndAtonement director Joe Wright is going to be filming The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

You’ve perhaps reached modern day immortality with a guest spot on The Simpsons. Was it fun?
That was awesome! I’d run into Matt Groening over the years and he’d always say: “You’ve got to come on The Simpsons.” One day a script arrives and I sit down to read it, looking for my one-line cameo – and I’m in the whole thing! I love the idea that some yellow, threefingered version of me is heisting his way to the top. And that I’m the evil bad guy.

Fortunately, the Milk, Bloomsbury, R250.

Interview by Adam Lee Davis, review by Bijal Vachharajani

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