Ghosts, ghouls and graveyards: Margaret Atwood on the magic of Neil Gaiman

What’s the point of life without death? The author of The Handmaid’s Tale salutes Gaiman’s shadow side

Once, during an on stage discussion of the type literary festivals go in for, I frightened Neil Gaiman by channelling the voice of the Wicked Witch of the West from the film The Wizard of Oz. “And your little dog, too!” I cackled. “No! No! Don’t do that!” cried Neil. He then explained that he had been petrified by this green-tinted witch as an eight-year-old. Behold: a literary influence had been discovered!

The best children’s writers are, somewhere deep in their psyches, still eight years old. They know what is scary. They remember what it was like to have your hand plunged into a Halloween bowl of peeled grapes in a darkened room, having been told they were eyeballs. They relish the delights of being terrified in song and story. They ...