Mary Woodward Review

Edinburgh International Book Festival, Pirate Stew!

Pirate Stew! – Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell talking about their new book

***** (5 stars)

When I first came across Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book, hauntingly illustrated by Chris Riddell, I loved it so much I read and read and re-read it, and when I had to return it to the library I simply had to rush out and buy my own copy.

Graveyard Book was the first of many collaborations: Coraline, Fortunately the Milk, and Odd and the Frost Giants are all on my shelves too, and bring me enormous pleasure each time I read them.  Neil Gaiman’s imagination is superbly brought to life by Chris Riddell’s detailed, realistic and instantly recognisable style, even when he’s being the Observer’s political cartoonist.

Is it any wonder, then, that I jumped at the opportunity to spend an hour on a Sunday morning listening to these two friends talking about their work, the joy they have in working together, and what goes into the process of making a book together – through all of which their enormous respect for each other’s work shone out for all to see.  Neil described Chris as “one of the most in-demand illustrators on this planet”, while Chris relished the fact that Neil gives him full rein to make the characters his own, and will frequently say “you know, you could go even further…”

We were treated to a reading of Pirate Stew by Neil (in New Zealand) while Chris (in the UK) turned the pages of the book to show the wonderful illustrations.  We heard about the genesis of the germ of the idea – a few unconnected lines of words, carried about in Neil’s passport wallet and worked on at length while Neil was in the UK doing post-production work on Good Omens and missing his family in New Zealand, setting out to write a book for his young son, who would be five years old when it was ready for publication.  It’s a fabulously feisty story, in which doughnuts feature largely, and it was a thrill to have a fully dramatised reading – lucky Chris had the first complete version of the text read to him down the phone…

It was also a joy to watch Chris sketching as the two of them talked about working together and the differing effects of lockdown they each experienced.  And their advice to any youngsters who want to follow in their footsteps?  Draw, or write, every day, and don’t listen to anyone who tells you you can’t do it.

Sage advice.  Great book.  A delightful hour at the Book Festival.

Mary Woodward,

Run Ended but available to watch again on Demand.

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