FOR most people living in a house with its own curse might be a little off putting, regardless of how superstitious you may or may not be.
However, if you are one of the world’s most successful fantasy writers like Neil Gaiman, you might regard it as a fringe benefit.
"It’s not haunted, it’s cursed. Which is kind of nice," Gaiman said.
"There’s a half curse. My neighbours, who know all about these things, wouldn’t tell me about the house curse. They told some other people who were staying there, and then they told me, so I had to go to the neighbours and ask if it was true."
The Hampshire-born author of hit novels American Gods and Coraline, the influential Sandman comics series, movies Beowulf and MirrorMask and Neverwhere and episodes of Doctor Who for television now spends most of his time in the USA, but he also owns a home on Skye, which he bought after falling in love with Scotland while working on a stage adaptation of his children’s book, The Wolves in The Walls.
The curse itself sounds like the sort of tale that might pop up in an issue of Sandman. Some 250 years ago, or so the story goes, a gypsy woman was refused shelter at the house during a storm. As she tried to press on to Uig, her baby was swept away and drowned and she returned to place a curse on the inhabitants of the house, that their descendents would never inherit it.
Not that Gaiman is worried. He reckons he has already broken the curse as the house is already jointly owned by his children.
"Neil Gaiman: cocking up curses since 2005," he added.
"Skye is now my favourite place to go and my favourite place to go and write.
"There is in the Highlands a wonderful mix of tranquillity and of the knowledge that violence and terrible things have happened relatively near."
In fact Gaiman has even taken on the fine Skye name of MacKinnon.
Originally he planned to move to Skye permanently, but his plans changed when he met and married the singer Amanda Palmer, former frontwoman of punk band The Dresden Dolls, though it turns out that the New York born musician has plenty of Skye connections of her own, her family being MacKinnons and MacInneses from Breakish.
So when the couple married in San Francisco — a ceremony followed up by a family party on Skye — Palmer took her husband’s surname as a middle name and Gaiman adopted his wife’s middle name, MacKinnon.
"I get to be Neil Richard MacKinnon Gaiman and warmly embraced by the MacKinnons — and slightly less so by the MacInneses," he said.
As it turns out, he feels more at home in Skye than his wife does.
"Amanda kinda loves it, but her attitude is: ‘This is why my ancestors left!’" he admitted.
"She’s a rock star and craves excitement. I’m a writer and I like interesting hills from a distance, and things to write.
"While I was being brutally honest about Amanda not being in love with Skye, she is in love with Scotland and her favourite place and her favourite time in the world is the Edinburgh Festival, so I always make a point of appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival whenever I can."
This year this has seen Gaiman as guest selector of the festival’s fantasy strand, interviewing authors and experts, such as Canadian writer Margaret Attwood.
It is also a good place to make contacts. Last year he met up with Chris Riddell, who illustrated Gaiman’s children’s novel Coraline, which went on to become a successful animated film and Riddell agreed to illustrate Gaiman’s forthcoming children’s book, Fortunately The Milk, described by its author as "the story of a father who goes out to get milk for his kid, and then gets kidnapped by aliens, and then gets kidnapped by pirates and rescued by a time-travelling stegosaurus in a hot air balloon, and there are vampires in it, and volcano gods."
Gaiman also arranged to bring a bit of Hollywood glamour to the island when his modern fairy tale Stardust was adapted for the big screen.
Originally Stardust was to have been shot in Iceland, until director Matthew Vaughn discovered the country’s strict quarantine laws would prevent the production from bringing in the horses they needed for various scenes in the film.
When he phoned Gaiman to tell him the news, Gaiman responded by immediately emailing him photographs of the Quiraing, the Fairy Glen and other parts of Skye.
"The next thing that’s happening is that Michelle Pfieffer is being nailed down to the Quiraing with a tent peg because the wind up there was pretty bad and they were really worried about her blowing away," he revealed.
"That’s no exaggeration. Were you to look down, she’s actually tent pegged to the ground."
It was on Skye that Gaiman finished his latest novel, The Ocean at the End of The Lane, which he will be talking out at a sell out event at The Ironworks in Inverness on Wednesday in association with Waterstones Inverness.
In typical Gaiman fashion, it pitches the ordinary up against the extraordinary as a young boy meets three mysterious women, one of whom claims to remember the Big Bang, and encounters something otherworldly
Yet, despite the age of its protagonist, this is being firmly marketed as an adult book — though that was not how Gaiman thought of it while he was writing.
"It wasn’t until I finished it that I realised that this was a novel for adults, even though the viewpoint character is seven-years old," he said.
"In a lot of ways it’s about what the differences are between adults and children and in its own way a very dark, bleak book — people tell me they get to the end and cry. Whereas Coraline, even though it is very scary, it was obviously a book for children because it said even though you are a kid, you can take on things and triumph. Ocean at The End of The Lane says, even if you are smart, you’re still a kid, you’re still small in a world of giants who may or may not have your best interests at heart."
One of the things that marks Gaiman out from his peers is that not only is he as happy writing for children as adults, he is equally happy writing comics, picture books, film or television scripts.
"It is weird," he mused.
"I suppose in my head, I’m a storyteller. If this was 2000 years ago, I’d be going from town to town telling stories. I know that I’m not a novelist, although I write novels, because novelists, that’s what they do. Their craft is novels. I’m just as happy as writing an episode of Doctor Who. My job is telling stories, hopefully stories that will last and entertain people."
The power of story is also a recurrent theme in Gaiman’s work, one which in some cases can literally reshape the world.
"Stories are important," he agreed.
"Stories get us through dark times. They make the world. They are how we agree on who we are and what we are."
• Neil Gaiman is at The Ironworks, Academy Street, Inverness, on Wednesday 28th August at 6.30pm. The event is now sold out.
The Ocean at The End of The Lane is published by Headline Review.