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Neil Gaiman’s master class

Neil Gaiman's handbook of writerly wisdom is an instant pick-me-up

Neil Gaiman’s new book is about the writerly life. Photo: AP
Neil Gaiman’s new book is about the writerly life. Photo: AP

A book by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell can only promise unadulterated brilliance—and that’s what you get in the quirky gem, Art Matters (Hachette, 399). Four brief polemical essays by Gaiman, with evocative sketches by Riddell, make up this short volume. Provocative and inspiring, these vignettes are as though spoken by Gaiman in an attempt to push us out of our comfort zones.

The opening essay advocates freedom of speech, which necessarily involves the “freedom to offend"—an idea that is amplified in the next piece, a paean to reading. “Everything changes when we read," writes Gaiman, going back to a theme (public support for libraries) that’s close to his heart and has appeared earlier in his writing. The third act is like an interlude, a meditation on the metaphorical resonances between writing a book and making a chair. And the final section is grounded in the practical realities of writing. Gaiman takes several leaves out of his own life to talk about success, failure and the challenges of making a living as a writer in a world where bills have to be paid and food put on the table. His advice to freelancers is useful—work hard, be punctual, cultivate a pleasant demeanour. If you can tick two of these three boxes, you should be fine, Gaiman says. And for those who yearn to become better writers, he has one tip only: keep writing.

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