Wednesday, 16 March 2011

How I first discovered David Mitchell

In 1997 I moved down to London from the north of England with the express intention of becoming a rock star. While I was waiting for this to come about I sent my CV in to several shops in the hope of finding a job to tide me over - I got one as a bookseller in Hatchard's on Piccadilly.

One of the best bits of being a bookseller, I soon discovered, was the staff room proof table. This was where all proof copies of forthcoming books by (mostly) new writers were dumped for us to help ourselves to. Help myself I did. From this table I discovered what were to become some of my favourite books: Chuck Palahniuk's Survivor, Steve Tesich's Karoo and gems such as The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman.

One Friday lunchtime, having finished whatever I was reading, I scanned the table for a new book. One caught my eye - among the plain red, yellow and green covers was one featuring a soft black and white photo of a male author I'd never heard of. In the bag it went.

Later that evening I was meeting a friend to go to a gig - he'd brought along a friend of his (a teacher from his old sixth-form college).
'What are you reading?' she asked, seeing me shove my book back into my bag as they approached. I showed her.
'He looks familiar' she said. 'Bloody hell! I used to teach him!'

I let her have a good look at the book (Ghostwritten) and the info on its new author David Mitchell.
'It's definitely him'.

Next time I saw Karla she told me she'd written to David, care of his publisher, and he'd been in touch. I might have made this bit up (it was about 12 years ago) but I think they met when he was next in the UK.

Now, several years and a couple of Booker shortlistings later, David Mitchell is no longer a new author. In fact, earlier today I popped into Spitalfields market to check out the installation that's been put up to launch his latest book The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

I haven't seen Karla for a few years now so I don't know how she's doing - seems Mr. Mitchell is doing very well though! I never did become a rock star.

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