Portsmouth has been the home of many renowned authors. Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling originate from the city as do Douglas Morey Ford and H. G. Wells. But did you know that Coraline author Neil Gaiman is from the area?
Born in Portchester on 10 November 1960, Gaiman spent most of his childhood in Southsea and the West Sussex town of East Grinstead. He shot to fame after publishing his debut DC comic series The Sandman and has won heaps of awards for his books including the Hugo Awards and the Carnegie Medal. But what makes Neil Gaiman so significant to Portsmouth’s literary heritage?
In recent years, Gaiman has been Portsmouth’s most influential writer, creating a unique cultural legacy. The Simpsons, for example, recently produced a pastiche of Coraline in their “Treehouse of Horror” episode, with Lisa as the titular heroine and Neil Gaiman guest-starring as her cat companion. Many of Gaiman’s other books have received movie and TV adaptations. Good Omens, his first novel, became a miniseries, which Amazon released in May 2019. Amazon also produced a version of American Gods in 2017, a critically-acclaimed TV series that stars Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning and Ian McShane. According to the producer, Bryan Fuller, filming for season three has commenced. Furthermore, this year marks the 10th anniversary of Henry Selick’s stop-motion film, Coraline, a movie that still scares children and adults alike. Coraline also has a graphic novel adaptation, with creepy illustrations by P. Craig Russell. We don’t yet know whether a movie adaptation of Gaiman’s 2008 novel, The Graveyard Book, has received the green light. Hopefully Laika, the studio who created Coraline, will bring another dark children’s book to life.
Portsmouth itself is of great significance to Gaiman’s work. This is shown through his 2013 novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a coming of age story that shows the unnamed protagonist’s journey from childhood to adulthood. In the novel, the protagonist returns to his childhood home for a funeral. While there he uncovers a series of repressed memories about a mysterious coin and an unearthly nanny, Ursula Monkton. This raw, emotional story has a resemblance to Gaiman’s own childhood in Portsmouth. And Portsmouth City Council even renamed a road in Southsea after the book – see the picture above! This landmark, located in Southsea, is an important new addition to Portsmouth’s collection of literary monuments.
Gaiman has created many memorable stories, which have influenced budding writers and bestselling authors alike. Hopefully he’ll write another story that takes place in Portsmouth sometime soon!