Last night I went to see David Mitchell in conversation with Mark Thornton from Mostly Books at the theatre in David’s Alma Mater – Abingdon School. The 400+ tickets available for the event sold out in just a few days! The town and school alike, are proud to claim him as one of our own, (although he was born in Wiltshire).
It was Mark’s biggest hosting event yet and he was terribly nervous beforehand, but he had done his homework and he did brilliantly introducing Mitchell as having been ‘fast-tracked into becoming a National Treasure.’
Cue photo of David as a pupil at Abingdon in very big and geeky glasses, he admits to being a swot as well as being really into debating.
The two settled down into a great discussion about Mitchell’s new book – Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse, which is a collection of his favourite columns from his regular appearances in The Observer newspaper each weekend. He has written the columns for six years now and finds it a very different medium to write for. You have no audience in the room to laugh, so he can’t build up steam into a rant in the same way that he would on TV, having to be more careful in choice of words. However, he loves the real newspaper medium – and how his column is placed in the newspaper which people actually buy, complementing the news; viewed on-line, it can be taken out of context – hence he doesn’t bother reading the comments. One of the columns they touched upon, which I shall look forward to reading, is all about Madame Tussauds, and how disappointing the whole thing is.
Once the floor was opened to questions, he was asked about all aspects of his life and career, from the whereabouts of his ‘travelling dressing-gown’ (a Would I Lie to You TV panel show joke), to whether he would ever go on Celebrity Mastermind (No – because he wouldn’t want not to live up to expectations) and what he and his wife (Victoria Coren Mitchell) disagree on – basically Science Fiction which she doesn’t get at all. Then the headmistress of Abingdon read out a rather good review of Mitchell as Friar Lawrence in a school production of Romeo & Juliet from the school archives.
Interestingly, when asked about actually writing the columns, he confided that although he likes the discipline, it’s usually very last minute. He longs for the day when he can find an angle on a news story to write about on Tuesday, think about it on Wednesday, and polish off the writing on Thursday by mid-morning.
One of the final questions asked for some advice to the young people in the audience. He said he was lucky enough to be able to know what he wanted to do, and he said if you are in that position to give it ten years.
Later he signed books for everyone – and it felt like nearly the whole audience had bought one! Being part of the bookselling team for the night, I was near the end of the very long queue which stretched way out of the theatre door at the start.
Eventually it was my turn, and Mark, who knows virtually everyone in the audience bigged me up to him as a blogger and one of the helpers, so David inscribed ‘Thanks for your help’ in my copy of the book and posed for the near-obligatory photo below.
The partisan audience were all fans and helped make it a great evening. He was a lovely chap – full of natural wit, but also able to talk seriously when he wanted to (although he clearly does to finish all comments on a joke). Definitely a new national treasure in the making.
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On Amazon: Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse: And Other Lessons from Modern Life by David Mitchell, Guardian Faber books, November 2014, Hardback, 336 pages.
Or Mostly Books has signed copies in the shop… ideal Christmas presents…