Neil Gaiman, a Calendar of Tales, Advertising and Inspiration

I’m about to commit a literary sin.  It may be the literary equivalent of swearing.  I’m going to mention money and writing in the same sentence.  I may mention advertising too.  Unheard of though it is, I may even say something positive about advertising so reader beware.


Now I’m writing again regularly, I have entered that hyper-aware state where you are constantly looking for the next thing that inspires you to pick up a pen and run with an idea.  I studied a Creative Writing course for fun a few years back and one of the best habits I picked up was to keep a writer’s notebook full of any oddities that caught my eye, turns of phrase I liked, random ideas that enter my head at midnight after too much coffee.  So much good writing has come out of these books, often a long time after the original idea caught me.  Often the inspiration is just a small seed, from which a mighty oak can grow (well, in my case a slightly sickly sapling but you can see where I’m coming from).

Earlier this week, I was drawn into what, at first glance, could be described as an advertising event.  For those of you who know me less well, I must explain that this is akin to Richard Dawkins petitioning the Pope for a personal blessing.  I do not have an agreeable relationship with the advertising industry.  Neil Gaiman, author & Tweeter of great volume, was commissioned by a well-known mobile phone company to instigate and shepherd a creative event based around a series of prompt questions and the responses of the social web.  These will then serve as inspiration for a collection of tales, based around calendar months, to be written by the venerable Mr G.  On the surface, this seems like the sort of thing I wouldn’t like very much.  I love following authors on Twitter because many of them tend to be very interesting people.  I follow a lot of other people on Twitter.  They too are interesting.  Authors do not have the monopoly.  Nonetheless, I enjoy authors who tweet because it adds dimension to your interaction with the books they write but also because, for one reason or another and in diverse ways, it inspires me to write more and to write better.  I am often much like a grouchy pitbull on a bad day, when interaction moves over into advertising anywhere on my tweet feed.  I don’t mean promoting and talking about books – essentially, that’s why I’m there in the first place.  I mean out and out commercial promotion of products.  The Calendar of Tales won me over though, for several reasons.  Firstly, the questions were good questions.  They forced me to extract memories that set off a cascade of ideas which are still rolling around in my head waiting for a release.  So it won on the ‘inspiration’ side.  Secondly, inspiration breeds inspiration.  When you are bouncing ideas about in your own head, they gain momentum from the external collisions they have with others.  It’s what is so good about writing groups and creative workshops.  Part of the appeal of this creative stunt was the number of near-Earth rocks flying around on Twitter that night.  It was denser than the Kuiper Belt.  Writing is, by its nature, a solitary sport so these moments are rare.  Thirdly, and by no means least importantly, so what if someone is paid to do something creative.  I have no idea why that idea is so scorned by some.  Heavens, I want writers to make a lot of money writing.  It means they can write more.  It means they can eat and drive fast cars.  It means I can read more.  It is hard to write around the slog and grind of a daily job.  I have immense respect for the people who have managed to craft themselves a living from their pen whilst stealing time from their day-to-day.  I am still trying but each author that has succeeded gives me hope that one day I can.  John Scalzi wrote about this very subject most eloquently here and it was picked up by Maggie Stiefvater (@mstiefvater) on Twitter this week.

So, I feel no shame at all in taking a positive from what was essentially an ad promotion because it was a positive experience.  That is essentially what the last paragraph was saying (but it was longer, with more words in it).  I am, unfortunately, unlikely to buy the aforementioned mobile device so I guess I’m a loss for the ad company.  I am, however, going to write my own Calendar of Tales.  I’ve listed the prompts below so that you can see what my stories evolved from but I’m not sure right now where they will all end up.  I will likely try and  post a background blog for any of them that have an interesting history.  I’m interested in what you will think of the results.

Calendar of Tales Prompts (courtesy of @neilhimself)

Why is January so dangerous?

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in February?

What historical figure does March remind you of?

What’s your happiest memory of April?

What’s the weirdest gift you’ve ever been given in May?

Where would you spend a perfect June?

What’s the most unusual thing you have ever seen in July?

If August could speak, what would it say?

Tell me something you lost in September that meant a lot to you?

What mythical creature would you like to meet in October?

What would you burn in November, if you could?

Who would you like to see again in December?


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