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.

 

I stopped breathing the day I read this:

In a perfect world, you could fuck people without giving them a piece of your heart. And every glittering kiss and every touch of flesh is another shard of heart you’ll never see again.

— from ‘Bitter Grounds’ / Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman.

Damn. I still can’t breathe when I think about that.

My generation (‘X’), the daughters of Modern Feminism, were told that casual sex and the ability to make love ‘like a man’ was possible.

Can we really touch each other without consequence?

I can’t.

In the spirit of sisterly solidarity, I gave it the old college try but I could never truly muster the ability to separate physical love from emotional.

Every touch means something to me. 

A moment. A connection.  A possibility.

Even something as seemingly insignificant as a handshake holds the potential to change my life.

Orthodox Jews and devout Muslims will not touch a woman other than their wife because the sharing of flesh is such a holy act.

I find myself deeply bound to the people I touch; even more so to the people who touch me.

A touch starts with a spark of contact; a white-hot tingle, a chilling flush. If it’s momentary, it can be a sudden quake that hatches a thousand chrysalises and if it lingers, a flood of giggles mix with a warm cup of the most delicious chocolate and I am suddenly safe, content, home.

Volumes are spoken in the silence of shared pressure, duration and intensity.

Someone’s touch transcends corporeal contact and cuts me deeper than I can comprehend.

When a touch is relinquished, I am left scarred by indelible fingerprints.

Sometimes, I’m afraid to touch people, in anticipation of the inevitable tattoo. I shy away, hesitant to take on a new mark.

I wonder if I’m running out of room.

And in turn, I wonder how much more I’m willing to give away. How many shards do I have left? If our heart is the strongest muscle in the body, how is it that it is so easily shattered?

Then again… from broken things, beauty is possible.