How author Neil Gaiman taught me to be a gardening writer in Dublin

Christa Avampato
3 min readMay 17, 2024
Me on a bridge over the River Liffey in Dublin in 2018.

The portal between New York City and Dublin may be closed, but here’s something even better — the International Literature Festival Dublin kicks off today!

6 years ago I was in Dublin, Ireland doing research for my second novel, Emerson Page and Where the Light Leads, that came out this week. There are a few key settings in the book in Dublin — the Brazen Head (Ireland’s oldest pub dating founded in 1198), Trinity Library (both the Long Room and the stunning Book of Kells), Temple Bar (a cobblestone street in Dublin filled with interesting characters), and St. Stephen’s Green (a park filled with nature and art where I spent a lot of time people watching and writing). Beyond Dublin, Newgrange, the Dark Hedges, and Giant’s Causeway also inspired scenes in the book that let me showcase the retellings of some of my favorite Celtics myths, legends, and folklore.

By a wonderful stroke of synchronicity, I was also in Dublin during the 2018 International Literature Festival Dublin. Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors who’s influenced my writing more than anyone, was the headliner. I grabbed a ticket. He talked about how Ireland inspired his comic, Sandman, and how he reimagined his favorite stories from Celtic mythology in his 2017 book, Norse Mythology. Now he felt even more like a kindred spirit to me!

Of all the beautiful advice he offered that evening, this quote is the one that affected me the most because it helped me give myself some grace as a writer:

“I’m not an outliner or someone who free writes. I’m more of a gardener. I plant seeds and I see what grows. I plant pumpkins and I expect a pumpkin. But if I get a tomato, I’ll figure out what to do with a tomato. That’s how I write. I love that magic moment when something happens on the page I’m writing that I didn’t know was going to happen. I get to be the first reader of my work, and it’s very exciting. And quite frankly that magic doesn’t happen often enough. A lot of writing is just laying brick.”

I’m a planner (probably because I grew up with a lot of instability). I like order and organization. I like to know what I’m doing and where I’m going, and I absolutely hate wasting time because I know what a precious and finite resource time is. I can’t imagine a world in which I completely let that go. However, Neil made me realize I could be a little less afraid and loosen the reins a bit.

As I walked back to my hotel in Dublin that night, I let myself entertain the idea that I don’t need the next bit figured out before I sit down to write every single time. I could be okay with planting seeds, seeing what grows, and figuring it out as I go. It was at least worth trying, and giving something a try is where everything begins.

In the 6 years since I heard Neil speak in Dublin, I’ve learned how to let more air into my writing and life. I’m still a planner, and I also plan to be delighted by surprise. There’s a time for hard and serious work, for laying bricks, and there’s also a time for fun and play. There’s room for the unexpected, for magic. My second Emerson Page novel that came out this week embodies that. I’m so grateful to Neil for helping me grow as a writer, and also as a person.

I wish I was in Ireland right now for this year’s International Literature Festival Dublin. Maybe in 2025! For now, I’m following the inspiration online at https://ilfdublin.com/.

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Christa Avampato

Award-winning author & writer—Product Dev — Biomimicry scientist — Podcaster. Runs on curiosity & joy. twitter.com/christanyc / instagram.com/christarosenyc