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Inside Neil Gaiman’s Rural Writing Retreat

Neil Gaiman executive produces two shows based on his books “American Gods” and “Good Omens,” so it’s only fitting that he has two office spaces. One is a “Spartan space [where] you can do nothing but write, and the only view is of trees,” he says of the eight-sided gazebo he had built out in the woods in upstate New York. “I rather grudgingly put electricity in there.” It is adorned with just a desk and two chairs so that he is forced to focus. However, he also has a slightly more traditional office where he can write “surrounded by my books and my things.”

Neil Gaiman photographed by Weston Wells for Variety on 3/21/2019
CREDIT: Weston Wells for Variety

Classic Comedy
One of the first “luxury” items Gaiman ever bought after he became a professional writer was a 14-inch statue of Groucho Marx that he saw in the Vintage Magazine Co.’s storefront in London in the late 1980s. “Up until that point everything was food, rent, travel — whatever was needed to survive,” Gaiman says. But this was something that commemorated success and reminds him “not to take myself too seriously — because that is the death of writers.” The statue now wears a pair of glasses that John Cameron Mitchell gave Gaiman because the original pair got lost at some point over the years.

Neil Gaiman photographed by Weston Wells for Variety on 3/21/2019
CREDIT: Weston Wells for Variety

Trophy for Talent
Although Gaiman has won multiple Hugo Awards, he only keeps one in his office; the others are in his house in Wisconsin. The one he earned in 2016 for “The Sandman: Overture” receives extra special placement not only because of his long history with the franchise (“It had a ‘you can go home again’ quality to it,” he says) but also because “there is something magical in knowing I was awarded it for a graphic novel. I remember I was there, not too long ago, fighting for whether comics could get awards and things like that. But people loved it; it got its audience; it got awards; people cared.”

Neil Gaiman photographed by Weston Wells for Variety on 3/21/2019
CREDIT: Weston Wells for Variety

Dynamic Duo
Gaiman’s neighbor is illustrator John Cuneo, who gifted him with a “welcome to the neighborhood” drawing of Gaiman and “Good Omens” co-author Terry Pratchett. “It was a couple of years before Terry died, but it just meant the world to me,” Gaiman says. At the time he framed and hung it on the wall he didn’t know he would devote four years to adapting their novel for television, per Pratchett’s last request. “I wish he believed in life after death because then I could imagine him watching it somewhere. But I know on some weird level, even if it’s just the Terry in my head, he’s happy. And I have this marvelous drawing on my wall to commemorate our friendship.”

Neil Gaiman photographed by Weston Wells for Variety on 3/21/2019
CREDIT: Weston Wells for Variety

For the Love of Dog
Gaiman has a few framed photos decorating his office, but the one that means the most to him is one taken by photographer Kimberly Butler. It is of himself and his dog, Cabal, a white German Shepherd that Gaiman first saw walking on the side of the freeway in 2007. When Gaiman brought Cabal home, he thought the dog was brown, but he soon realized that was dirt. The two bonded deeply. “For five years of my life, he was my best friend,” Gaiman says. “It’s the kind of relationship that turns up when you need it. I’d never had a dog before, and I don’t think he’d ever had a person.”

Neil Gaiman photographed by Weston Wells for Variety on 3/21/2019
CREDIT: Weston Wells for Variety

Don’t Play With His Heart
At the TED conference in 2015, Gaiman’s wife, musician Amanda Palmer, who was pregnant with their son, visited a booth where she was able to record her heartbeat (and their son’s by extension) onto a rubber ball. Gaiman notes the ball resembles a ping-pong ball — until you drop it. Then a light flashes and it beats for a few seconds. “It’s a small, special thing,” Gaiman says of the ball he keeps on his desk, “but I always smile when I see it and I’m always reminded of the two most important people in my life.”

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