Neil Gaiman’s A Screenplay

NeilGaiman_AScreenplayOnce upon a time, a young author by the name of Neil Gaiman — known only for his writing on the Sandman series — co-wrote a novel quite comic in nature with Terry Pratchett, legendary author of the nearly infinite Discworld series. Now if you’re waiting for a review of the novel, you’re going to be disappointed. This is the only work by Gaiman that I haven’t read, so Kathleen Bartholomew who reviewed it for us will need to give you a taste for how it is: ‘Good Omens is a very funny, very serious book about the end of the world. The Antichrist has been born and is now 11 years old, and all manner of classically predicted phenomena are manifesting. Naturally, most of them are being ignored, misinterpreted or missed altogether. And since this is the work of Gaiman and Pratchett, there is a darkly comic twist to the action.’

Why haven’t I read it? Pratchett as co-author is why. Every time I attempt to read anything written by him, I’m bored silly. Doesn’t matter what it is — I get a ways in and start nodding off. Pratchett isn’t really to blame — most British writing of a comic nature leaves me quite bored. Give me a good British drama any day, be it written or televised, and I’ll be quite content. Offer me anything comic and I’m simply not interested. Now you may well find the novel called Good Omens interesting, but I will take anything else by Gaiman over it.

I’m approaching A Screenplay without any knowledge of what the novel is like, so what I’m going to say here is reflective solely of Neil’s work herein. Now do understand that I do really like scripts, particularly for projects that never got developed like the one Emma Bull and WIll Shetterly did based on Emma’s War for the Oaks novel, so I do enjoy sitting down in my office with a cup of tea and reading a well-written one. And this is such a creature. Now you can’t buy this unless you subscribe to the Hill House Neil Gaiman Preferred Editions Series, which has all kinds of other goodies such as the scripts Neil did for the BBC Neverwhere series, or chapbooks that are so rare that they barely exist — so why am I reviewing it in Green Man? Good question. Would you like some tea? Or a scone? The strawberry preserves are quite good on the scones.

Ok, I’m stalling ever so slightly …

I’m reviewing it because it is quite well-crafted and an amusing read. And that is saying quite a bit, as many scripts are as exciting as cold oatmeal the day after it’s been cooked. Even a good film can make a boring script as reading material.

That the script exists at all in a published form is surprising as Neil notes in his introduction, ‘For the last thirteen years, the script that follows has sat in a dusty and cobwebbed place on my hard disk, where people never go. Every now and then I’ve pondered filing off the serial numbers and turning it into something else, something that isn’t recognisable as once having been even a parallel universe Good Omens…’ What is crucial to know is that this Good Omens bears little resemblance to the novel called Good Omens! Again, quoting Neil in the Hill House intro: ‘It was an interesting experience, creating a Good Omens from an alternate universe, with barely a line, a word, or idea from the original remaining.’ Having read the original British edition of Neverwhere and having watched the BBC production which differ but minutely from each other, I find this to be a fascinating state of affairs. Most scripts, say the War for the Oaks treatment, are essentially reworkings of the source material. A whole new take on something is rare indeed.

You may have noticed by now that it’s not called Good Omens, A Screenplay, but simply A Screenplay. The blue binding of this hardcover looks a lot like an actual shooting script, something I suspect was intentional. It is, according to the copyright information, the first and only edition, and is solely the work of Neil Gaiman. Other than Neil’s amusingly written introduction, which would make you wonder why Neil ever bothers to get involved in writing scripts given what happened to this one, all that is here is the slightly under one hundred and fifty page script. It was a quick read for me, and most likely for you as well — a cup or two of tea and a few scones in length.

So how is it? It’s fun, it’s fast-paced, it reads like Neil at his very best. Stylistically, it’s similar to both Coraline and Wolves in the Walls. Unlike the War for the Oaks treatment where it really helps if you”ve read the novel, it stands on its own very nicely. If I had to compare it to the work of another writer, Simon R. Green’s Drinking Midnight Wine, though much darker, comes to mind. Both writers have a nice riff on the Apocalypse going in these works.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the Hill House Neil Gaiman Preferred Editions Series, you can go to the information page on the Hill House site.

(Hill House, 2004)

[Update: Hill House no longer exists. You may be able to find a copy of A Script at an auction house or rare bookseller’s website.]

Cat Eldridge

I'm the publisher of Green Man Review. I do the Birthdays and Media Anniversary write-ups for Mike Glyer’s, the foremost SFF fandom site.

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