'So this is Neil Gaiman out on the Island of Skye and you may be able to hear a little howling wind in the background...'

Our Digital Content Manager, Oliver Bayliss, recently had the pleasure of interviewing legendary author Neil Gaiman from his home on the windswept Isle of Skye (the howling wind in the background makes for a particularly evocative experience).

Discussing our online exhibition of works by renowned artist, Lorna May Wadsworth, her portraits of Neil Gaiman and her artist’s residency on set of the acclaimed dramatisation of Good Omens, the answers give a fascinating insight into not only one of our greatest living authors, but also the fine art of portraiture.

OB: How did Lorna May's artist residency come about for Good Omens and what was it like having her on set?

NG: It came about because I had met Lorna May initially at a comic relief event where she was sketching, and she sketched me. We hit it off and as Good Omens started, I thought it would be really nice to have an artist around to record some of the madness. Some of the big, strange things that were happening and I contacted Lorna May and she mentioned that she had actually already been once an on set artist and knew how to keep out of everybody's way and knew how to make friends amongst the crew, so I invited her along.

It was amazing just watching what she did with charcoal, with paints, with newspapers, with pencils, with paper and then these lightning sketches, these studies, and then, because she is Lorna May, she got both David Tennant and Michael Sheen to agree to let her do their portraits in lunchtimes and nobody had time, but you can't really say no to Lorna May, so they happened and both Michael and David loved what she did.

OB: When you and Terry Pratchett were working on Good Omens, did either of you imagine that it would take on such a life of its own, especially such cult like devotion around the characters of Aziraphale and Crowley?

NG: No! When Terry and I were working on Good Omens, all we wondered about, all we thought about, all we... our only question apart from what was going to happen next in Good Omens, which was always the big one, was would anybody, apart from us care, about this? Would anybody, apart from us, want to buy the book when we finished it? We didn't know. We could only hope. And of course people did! The glorious and wonderful afterlife of Good Omens is a magical, magical bonus.

OB: As we're rare book dealers, we have to ask, why was Aziraphale a dealer himself? I rather like the irony that his portrait is now in a rare book shop - a homecoming of sorts!

NG: So do I! I think it's because both Terry and I have spent too much of our lives in book shops and too much of our lives in second hand book shops and too much of our lives marveling at the different kinds of bookshop there are out there, the different kinds of rare book dealers out there, the ones who want to sell you a book and the ones who don't! The bookshops filled with strange angles and books piled up everywhere, that you're never going to be able to find the books; where the person looking after the bookshop knows where several thousand books are in ways that are impossible for any other human being defined and the ones in which they discourage you.

Um, all of those things we thought, plus of course we knew that The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, a rare book was going to come into this and we wanted our Angel to know what it was and to recognize it.

OB: Looking at Lorna May's portraits: firstly, do you feel she's captured the personalities of the central characters, and secondly, do you feel she captured your personality?

NG: What I love most, I think about Lorna May's portraits of David Tennant and Michael Sheen it's they don't look to me like Crowley and Aziraphale, they look to me like David and Michael, when their hair was like that to play the characters, they feel to me somehow much more like glorious portraits of the actors than they do as portraits of Crowley, portraits of Aziraphale.

I feel like she's definitely captured something in her portraits of me, I find it astonishing, I look at them and I think, do I look like? Is that me? It seems to be me. Lots of people draw me, but most of the drawings don't feel like me. They feel like the kind of images that you'd get when as a child, you'd sit in one of those photo booths and a bunch of four photos would chunk out and you'd stare at yourself and you'd think, do I look like that? Maybe I look like that.... sort of, maybe, maybe my face was wrong, maybe I'm, but you know that you couldn't actually afford to have another four photos taken, so you just sort of put up with it.

Um, Lorna May's portraits of me don't feel like that. They feel like me, I feel slightly melancholy, um, very distracted and like I'm probably thinking about something along way away, which of course when she was painting I probably was.

OB: Continuing on the theme of Good Omens, how do you think both Aziraphale and Crowley would have handled lockdown in 2020?

NG: I think that Crowley would have handled it very, very badly because Crowley likes experiences and one of the things that 2020 has told us is that experiences, going places and doing things, watching things, seeing shows, going to bars because that's where the people are, all of those things can be taken away.

Whereas I think, honestly, Aziraphale would love it. He gets to sit in his shop, gets to read all the books that he wants. He's not really bothered by customers, gets to catch up on his baking.

I think the only thing that Crowley would really like is watching human nature take its course. You know, we've gone... here we are in month eight or nine of all of this (at the time of interview), and we're at the point now where huge groups of people have decided to abandon the germ theory of disease as inconvenient and I think probably that Crowley, whatever part of him is still a demon, would love that...

Good Icons: An Online Exhibition was originally installed in both the Bookshop and our Gallery and features portraits of the iconic author Neil Gaiman, as well as works inspired by the adaptation of both his and Terry Pratchett’s book, Good Omens.

From a life-size rendering of the author’s head suspended in layers of sun-bleached wax, crafted upon a piece of prehistoric bog oak, to portraits of the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, the exhibition is a must for art and book lovers alike.

The exhibition also features a limited edition print signed by Gaiman and Wadsworth, alongside a signed illustrated 125 page retrospective catalogue.