I am not Keith Richards. This undeniably true fact annoys me considerably.

What’s more, I am not in any way handsome or musically talented. This means that I am not, never have been and never will be a rock god. All I ever wanted to do is lounge around in villas in the south of France drinking wine, soaking up the sun and recording a bit of a classic rock album when I get bored of just being cool.

I imagine I’m not alone. Everyone wants to be something/somewhere different. People from London dream of New York and vice versa, people with straight hair wish it was curly and curly haired folk long only for straightness. I’m lucky; I have the worst of both worlds.

I am not cool; in trying to be cool I only become less cool. It’s 2010, and flared jeans are no longer cool. So now I’m just the quite short weirdo in flares with bad hair and the hallmark of British dentistry: a mouth that appears to have been designed by MC Escher and constructed from broken chalk and the nightmares of small children.

I am not cool, and this is why the only time I don’t sleep alone is when I fall asleep reading. It’s tragic, it really is. If only girls really liked quite short skinny weird looking guys in flares— especially ones with bad teeth and a long, wild bouquet of pubes for a hairstyle. If only there were a guy like me in the media to relate too… but TV is for cool people, and if you’re not cool then you at least have the decency to be good looking.

But I don’t begrudge the pretty people on television and the warm comfort they provide night after lonely night. Without pretty people on television masturbation is even more futile and drepressing than it is already…

I wrote a novel last year, and the second chapter I wrote was something of a cross between autobiography and prediction for the future:

”Brad Hannigan sat slumped back on the twenty five year old wingback chair in his claustrophobic grey cubicle. His mind drifted from thought to thought, never really focusing on one image long enough to process it and engage with it.

Most of the images in Brad’s mind were of topless young women he used to look at on computer screens when he was a student of English Literature at Pearford College. They were images burned onto his mind long ago, repetitively pleasuring himself to the same dirty Latina maids, first time anal virgins and nubile co-eds. Brad thought he was very clever; by only ever searching for ‘Latin’ ‘co-ed’ and ‘non-alcoholic cocktails’ anyone who happened to glance his search history would think he was a simply curious about ancient languages and healthy alternatives to mojitos.

It is said that pornography is the hardest addiction to give up due to it’s visual nature; you will eventually forget how good beer tastes, how sweet cigarettes once were, but once you’ve seen a poor German hitchhiker ‘stuffed in every hole’ because she didn’t have money for gas then you’ll see her poor, red sweaty face and hear her flesh muffled screaming forever…”

In the story Brad Hannigan is a journalist in the near future, as print journalism is dying out. His existence is pretty futile. He is totally uncool.

That’s me: uncool. And what’s worse is now I have to scrap the second paragraph because someone invented InPrivate browsing. The advert says it’s so you can buy secret gifts online, but I doubt that anyone ever uses it for that purpose and instead uses it either for hacking into partners e-mails/social network accounts or, more likely, wanking with wild abandon with no worry of the fact seeping into the hard drive forever the effluence of a wet dream seeping through the sheets and into mattress.

‘You’re funny though’ people say. Sometimes— usually quantifying this statement with ‘sometimes’ or ‘quite.’

This is true. One of the proudest moments of my life is the time my scriptwriting tutor told me he thought I had talent for comedy. Normally this would be quite pleasant, but this guy was in The Life of Brian, worked with Monty Python on other occasions and also worked with Douglas Adams. That… that was pretty cool.

And that’s all I’ve got really— the brief moments when being funny equates to coolness. It’s rare, but it happens.

But I don’t want that. I want to be in my villa abusing heroin, groupies and vintage guitars. If classic rock and television has taught me anything it’s that girls like guys with bad attitudes, awesome boots and excessively large belt buckles. Also: alcohol abuse. Yeah, alcohol is cool.

Except when I drink too much I am not cool. Except one time when we had to go to a fancy dress totally in character. I went as Keith Richards, stole two bottles of wine, farted loudly in front of everyone and fell asleep on the stairs when I got home.

That was kind of borderline— it’s both cool and uncool. On the one hand someone said I was an impressive method actor, on the other a girl in a wheelchair recoiled in horror when I opened my gruesomely-toothed mouth to speak.

Mostly though ‘rock and roll drinking’ ends with me asleep in the hallway, outside my bedroom door or on my bedroom floor; the girl in the next room thought I died once because she heard me stumble up the stairs, open the door and then, after a brief pause, a loud thud as a body hit the floor. She stopped worrying once I started to snore.

I want desperately to be cool. I want to be able to swagger around like a rock star and snort cocaine off silver platters and whatever else elegantly wasted rockers do besides making awesome music. I want girls to be impressed by my existence.

I made a film recently, for part of my university course. I left it until the very last minute. Even then I still found time to go to London and a birthday party where I ‘drank like a rock star.’ I made it with a lot of help from my friend Sam in one night. It was then edited the next day whilst watching National Treasure 2.

I had to show the film on a large screen to the rest of my class. It went down incredibly well— lots of laughs and an amazing round of applause. A lot of people came to talk to me afterwards. People were quoting from a film I’d made at five o’clock in the morning two days before.

People were impressed— girls were impressed.

And really, isn’t that what we’re all trying to do? I mean Keith and me. And Jesus, look at his teeth back in the day… Keith was never trying to be cool (this is the only instance where trying already means you’re failing) he was just using all the talents at his disposal to get some satisfaction.*

I’ve been going about it all wrong the whole time. Sure, the villa in France and sunshine and shagging supermodels/actresses/both is way more fun than sitting in a dark room writing pages of shit like this in the vague hope that eventually you’ll strike comedy gold, but it amounts to the same thing in the end.

 We’re alike me and Keith, we just want some girls.**







*I know, I’m better than this.

**So, so much better than this…

When I thought of having Neil Gaiman visit LitPark, I wondered, What of Neil hasn’t already been covered? I could say something about his storytelling, naturally, or how he’s the one author who lives on both my bookshelf and Mr. Henderson’s. I could say something about the characters he writes, like Dearly and The Runt, who sort of crawl into my brain and live there even after their stories end. But people write these things about Neil Gaiman all the time.

So I thought, When I talk to other people about Neil Gaiman, where does the conversation tend to go? Easy. In the end, I don’t tend to tell people the very private and permanent ways his writing takes hold of me. I tend to talk about his hair.

Neil was such a good sport about this. Ready?

*

A Photo History of Neil Gaiman’s Hair:

In Sussex, aged about 22 months. Waiting for my sister to be born. Such a neat child (although I’ve probably been dressed by my grandmother). You pushed the roundabout around until it went fast and then you jumped on. Or you tripped and were pulled around, face-down, skinning your knees.

About three? Down at the bottom of the garden in Purbrook, in Hampshire, on the swing.

Mr. Punch territory. My paternal grandfather, me and my cousin Sara, on the seafront in Southsea. July 1963.

My sister, my mother, her mother and me. September 1963.

When about 4 or 5, my hair was bothering me, so I took matters into my own hands. I found a pair of scissors, climbed into bed, got under the sheets, to hide, I suspect, and gave myself a haircut. It was the sort of haircut you give yourself in the dark under your sheets at the age of 5. This was after the attempt to repair it by my father.

I’m not sure that hair particularly made much of an impression on me until I was in my teens. From age 9 to 13 it was something that the school barber cut once a month or so (except in school holidays), and that teachers grabbed by the place the sideburns would one day be in order to make a point. Like Newt in Good Omens, the best I could hope for from a haircut was shorter hair. I had my fair share of ears snipped by scissors and clippers, to the point where I’d be wary of hair cuts.My father bought a “home hair cutting” kit once. It was an evil plastic device that looked like a comb with razor blades in it, which he would use to cut our hair. The idea was that he’d drag the comb through your hair and you’d magically get a great haircut. In reality the razor blades hurt as they dragged and scraped across the hair, and you wound up looking like your dad had given you a haircut with something advertised on TV.

Graham, Geoff, Neil, AlI was sixteen. Shortly after this photograph was taken Geoff (then a drummer, now a meteor hunter) and I bleached our hair. We wanted to look like Billy Idol. His hair went sort of blonde. Mine went ginger. Following a disagreement with my father, in which phrases like “you are not staying here with hair that colour” may have been used, I borrowed a tub of raven black from my cousin and was delighted, the following morning, to discover that I now had black hair with purple highlights, which was, I decided, the best of all worlds.

Douglas Adams and me in 1983. I’m 22, still smoking and wearing colours. Douglas is playing guitar while we wait for the photographer, John Copthorne, to finish setting up. (Douglas is playing Marvin’s “How I Hate the Night” song.)

I think this was taken the day before Maddy was born in August 1994. I’d decided I wasn’t going to get a haircut or shave until she turned up. Or something like that. I’d grown some pumpkins for practically the first time.

I got to England to work on Neverwhere and found everyone had shorter hair than I did. So I walked into a barber’s on the corner and asked them to cut my hair. They did. 1995, per the postmark.

Me and Clive Barker circa 1996. Two very scary people in leather jackets. Look! We are so scary! Photo by Beth Gwinn. Tee-shirt by Jenny Holzer.

Gaiman, Gaiman, 1998.

*

Neil, with his busy schedule, did not need to take the time to search for and scan in photos for me, but he did. And if there’s anything you should know about Neil Gaiman it’s this: Though he has the most glorious head of hair, he could lose all of it tomorrow and really lose nothing at all.