It’s hard to know where to begin talking about seeing Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman live. In part because each are masters, but also because each speak with such different voices. One was a show – a performance – the other a delightful conversation about life, politics and the writing journey. To describe them is to diminish them but I want to remember the experience, so I’ll try.
I’ll start with Neil Gaiman because I saw him speak first.
The Perth Concert Hall was abuzz with excited fans, scurrying to scrawl their questions on white index cards and drop them in the perspex boxes dotted around the various desks and bars. I didn’t have a question I wanted to ask. Everything I could think of seemed too banal to put forward to someone as masterful as Neil Gaiman.
When I entered the hall, via a strange underground/performer’s entrance, I searched for my seat. When I found it, I checked my ticket again. Then I asked an usher to confirm I was in the right place. ‘Yes,’ she said and left. I was in the front row. Only a few tables between me and the stage. Between me and one of the modern greats. This couldn’t be right. I’m far too cheap to pay for such great tickets.
Apparently I’m not.
When Neil Gaiman took to the stage and began to speak in his gentle, paced and methodical way, we were all spellbound. He had it within his power to transform the magical words he wrote on page to magical tones in our ears. It was like floating. I was like being a child once again as the loving voice of our parents soothed us with stories of fantastical places and imaginary realms. I didn’t want it to stop.
This is not to say the words Neil Gaiman spoke, or the stories he shared weren’t political. He weaved within the magic of his words the uncomfortable truths about the world, about ourselves, about love and loss and delight.
It was a masterful performance and I hope to hold on to the tone, rhythm and feeling of his words forever.
I saw Margaret Atwood only a week later.
This year’s International Arts Festival must surely be one of the best?
Margaret Atwood didn’t perform. Instead she talked to us. She sat on stage and spoke with a simplicity and a frankness that was extraordinary.
Again, I double checked my tickets because at only three rows back from stage there must have been a mistake, otherwise I’d clearly lost my sanity while booking. My fangirl-dom had overrun me in the heat and frenzy of booking the tickets.
Margaret Atwood was being interviewed in the more traditional format for author talks that I am used to. Not that she needed to be interviewed or led. She spoke in her droll, sharp-witted tone, sharing her keen insights into how the world works and our place within it.
Hers was a different kind of delight. There was none of the gentleness, the lyrical lull of Neil Gaiman. Nor should there be. Atwood’s work is intensely political. A life of writing that uses her exceptional gift to make us see what is, what could be, what shouldn’t be.
Still, she infused the night with razor-sharp humour, optimism, vivacity and an infectious honesty that stung and soothed at the same time.
I also didn’t want it to end.
How have I been so lucky to see two masters of the craft in one week in my little, distant city?
Their words filled me with awe, emotion, passion and joy.
I never want it to end.