American Gods in Edinburgh

Cult fantasy author Neil Gaiman's American Gods this year celebrates its 10th anniversary. He made an appearance at this year's Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Celebrating the tenth anniversary of his novel American Gods with a talk at this year's Edinburgh festival, Carnegie-winning author Neil Gaiman shied away from the usual reading-plus-Q&A format and headed straight for the key questions about his Americana-meets-fantasy bestseller.

He revealed that the idea for the book emerged when he moved to America and things he thought familiar became strange.

In Britain, he said, "cold is when puddles get crunchy" but in America he experienced a new kind of chill with temperatures reaching below -30˚C. He wanted to find a way to write about this new sensation and also to confront the weirdness he found in the everyday around him. At the same time, he was disillusioned by the way that fairy stories had become "magicless".

Coming to America, he discovered, people shed their past lives and assumed an American identity without their gods. He wondered what happened to them and what would happen if they crossed the ocean – if they came too? American Gods was his way of addressing all of these questions.

Gaiman had no large plan for the book when he set out. He "writes because he has a question to answer" and didn't know the ending when he started, he said. It's a formless book with "lots of middles and endings and beginnings" that breaks all the "rules" of writing but which, at the same time, conforms to the rules of fantasy. "A novel is a collaboration between the writer and reader: he provides 26 characters and punctuation and the reader creates his world in their imaginations."

Asked about his characters, Gaiman explained how sometimes a character will be fully alive outside of the text and "dictate to him" how they will behave. Sometimes, he merely "checks up on them" to see where they are and then puts them back into the story when he thought they were finished. Readers might be surprised to learn that the chapter quotations in the novel didn't inform the story but were added towards the end of the writing process.

All were excited to have confirmed the news that has been widely talked about since early spring: US cable channel HBO is to make a television version of American Gods with first-time director, Bob Richardson. Gaiman and Richardson, a renowned cinematographer, will co-write the first and last episodes, and will start writing in two weeks. Gaiman wants the series to "be prickly and odd and not softened" and while he's happy for new things to emerge in the storylines, the "key elements", such as main protagonist Shadow remaining a mixed-race character will be in place.

Organised so late it didn't make it into the festival programme, Gaiman's appearance was a sell-out - and the book-signing queue snaking Charlotte Square Gardens for two hours after the event were testament to his massive popularity. A real treat for Gaiman-ites.

Neil Gaiman is the author of American Gods, published by Headline Review.