Unfortunately I only made it to two of the talks that happened last week during the Dublin Writers Festival; David Mitchell on Wednesday June 2nd and John Lynch and Paul Murray on Saturday June 5th, both in the Project Arts Centre.
As readers of this blog know, I am a massive fan of David Mitchell and Wednesday’s talk did not disappoint. He comes across as a considered, thoughtful, funny, self-deprecating and highly intelligent man. Mitchell started proceedings by reading from his latest work and it was inspiring to see that he self-edits even while reading his published novel. At one point he stopped himself and re-read the previous line: ‘guard and garden – that doesn’t work very well does it?,’ he said. I suppose it illustrates Da Vinci’s point, ‘art is never finished, only abandoned’.
Mitchell went on to discuss the writing process with regards to his latest book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, in detail, providing lots of technical information for the aspiring writers in the room, of which it seemed there were a great many. He talked about the five or six drafts the novel went through, explaining why each one hadn’t worked, and why the final format and narrative voice worked for him. He discussed his research methods and talked about the pitfalls of writing historical fiction. He gave advice to aspiring writers and, without being condescending, told us all to read widely and to take the Nike philosophy towards writing; ‘just do it’. He also talked about the myth that novelists arrive fully formed and ready to win the Booker. His advice was to have written two large pieces of work to learn from and make mistakes, before considering yourself ready for publication.
After the talk, I queued in order to get Mitchell to sign my copy of TTAOJDZ, which he did with humour and good grace. I know they say you should never meet your heroes as you’ll be bitterly disappointed, but David Mitchell was definitely an exception to that rule.
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