I attended the Neil Gaiman event in Ely last night. I had booked my tickets in May and had been counting down the days ever since. This was not only because I would get a chance to hear Neil Gaiman speak about his new book, The Ocean at the End of The Lane, but because the event was taking place inside of the stunning Ely Cathedral.
Topping & Company, the local bookshop who were organising the whole thing, had offered a great deal for this event: £16.99 for two tickets and a copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, plus the opportunity to have it signed. My best friend, who lives in Ely, couldn't attend, so I took Matt with me instead. He didn't know who Neil Gaiman was, but was happy to go with me. Matt had work this morning so we couldn't stay late; he wanted to be home by midnight which is understandable.
I'd got an email from Topping the previous day with details about collecting tickets and such, and they explained that it was going to be a busy evening. We got into Ely at about 5 and there was already a queue outside of the cathedral. We popped into the bookstore to collect my tickets, and were told how many people were attending. I had been expecting a lot of people, just not over 1,000.
After some dinner and a bit of a wait in a queue that wrapped round the cathedral wall and back onto the high street, it was finally go time. When we got into the cathedral all the chairs were set up in the nave, with T.V. screens off to the side. I assumed (and you should never assume), that these would be used so that the people in the "cheap seats" would still be able to see. I even heard many people re-arrange themselves so that they would have prime t.v. viewing. However, and we should all know by now, that you never assume, the T.V.s were not used. I was sitting in an aisle seat and if I craned my neck far enough, like the other people in front of me, then I could just about see...but that hurts and wasn't fair to the people behind me. So instead I listened and watched a few things: the bat that flew down just as Neil Gaiman arrived, the hirsute new-born in front of me and occasionally the man with the incredible laugh on the other side of me (seriously, he sounded so HAPPY! It was as if every joke achieved a direct hit on his funny bone. I love laughs like that.).
I was okay with all that because the signing would follow. Again, me with my assumptions! We'd been given numbered raffle tickets at the door as we arrived, which then referred to the 'slot' of when we could join the queue to get our books signed. I thought that this was a great idea, as this meant we could go for a drink/freshen up and go over to Topping's to buy some books (Heart of Darkness for Matt, 20th Century Ghosts for me) rather than waiting in a queue for ages.
The talk finished at 8.40ish and the Topping crew estimated that the 400's would start queuing at 9.30. After our breather, Matt and I returned at 9.25. We waited for an indication that we could join the queue. 15 minutes passed. Then one of the lovely Topping ladies announces that their timing estimates were wrong. Completely wrong. At this time they were still getting through the 100s. She then added that those in the queue should only ask for their name to be signed...not complete paragraphs.
Something else you should know: on the leaflet for the event it explained that you could get your copy of The Ocean...signed as well as something else that is dearly loved. That's great, as normally these events only let books that have been purchased through the organiser to be signed by the author. Not so great when there's 1000 people to get through, and some people can't count...
We left it another hour. And then a little longer. At that point they had only just called the 300s to get in the long queue. The latest Matt wanted to leave Ely had been and gone. If we waited any longer we'd still have to wait in a queue for who knows how long. So, a little sad, but mostly frustrated, we decided to call it a night. Thankfully, Topping had some pre-signed books available, so I exchanged my blank copy before we left. It's not the same, but it's something. I wrongly got mad at Matt because if he'd have just had this week off like he was supposed to then we could have stayed later. But it's not his fault. It's not anyone's fault really, just one of those things. I wonder if the people in the 800's up got their book signed?
I had a little cry this morning, it's stupid I know, but I just felt deflated. I had been to a Topping event for Audrey Niffenegger in May and had a fantastic time, and last night was the complete opposite. This whole post I haven't mentioned how fantastic Neil Gaiman is (I too would like to be a religion creator!) and I hate that. From what I can make out on twitter, he was signing books long into the night, and that has to be the definition of dedication to your fans. I do wonder if he's ambidextrous? Surely that would help in situations like this?
To wrap up, I've decided to wallow for today, but after that all I'm going to remember are the positives; the amazing setting, seeing my best friend briefly, the nice meal, the fantastic questions, all the jokes, the laughter and a stray bat who had perfect timing.
Neil Gaiman, you are a superstar. I hope your hand wasn't fused into a claw like shape this morning.