Sunday, 27 August 2017

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2017: Meeting David Mitchell

Book Festival Goodies

The Edinburgh International Book Festival is always a highlight of my year. This year I didn't  have much time on my hands, but when I heard that David Mitchell was in town, the only living author whose work I have read almost in its entirity (with every intention of filling the gaps still inmy literary knowledge), I knew that I must go and see him. I booked tickets the moment they went on sale and got ready for a long wait. Last night, that long wait finally came to an end.

The event was in St Mary's Cathedral, a late 19th century century church built in the Gothic style. The location alone was very impressive, but it was the music, linked to the written word that drew me to this particular Festival event featuring David Mitchell. The interplay between music and the written word has been a reoccuring theme in this year's Book Festival and in this performance the two were brought together beautifully.

Music not only acts as inspiration for many writers, it can inform stories and scenes, which can in turn affect how we hear the music. Last night, David Mitchell was accompanied by renowned pianist David Greilsammer, who performed sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti and John Cage. For each story read by Mitchell, Greilsammer gave us three pieces of music.

It was a unique experience. David Mitchell's short stories captivated me from the first word, much like his novels do. They have the same transcendental feel:  one focusing very much on music and its effect on the narrator following his daughter's death; another telling the story of a passionate gardener surveying the fruits of his labour; another focusing on a boy that has trouble concentrating who is helped along in his task by his grandfather.
They were crafted with Mitchell's immaculate eye for detail and when the first story ended with the line "Play me your most recent sonata" (paraphrased), it was the perfect transition into the musical element of the evening.

Greilsammer's music was an extension of the stories and though no words were spoken, the tales continued. I could see the garden without needing any spoken words. It expanded in my mind with the music's flow. It was like a dream with each story taking you to a new place while the piano let you linger there long after the words had faded. It was truly a magical evening - which the two Davids chose to end on a nightmarish note, by reading one of the more disturbing scenes from Slade House and playing a Scarlatti sonata on the especially prepared "Cage piano" before sending us on our merry way.

I was positively surprised when, after the show, it was announced that David was signing books. Naturally, I took the chance to see the author I idolise up close, marched over to the book stall and pretended very much not to look  like this:

Anyway, after a surprisingly short time in the queue, I finally got to meet David face to face and we had a very brief chat. It was lovely and definitely the highlight of my day. A huge thank you to both Davids for a wonderful night.

Chris meets David Mitchell

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