The thing is not just about the thing

“If you think you’ve got writers’ block after 45 seconds of not writing, you don’t need an app, you need someone gently to tell you that you should consider the possibility that writing is not just about writing, it’s also (and maybe mainly) about the space in between the writing, when nothing seems to be happening, or random stuff is having an incoherent party inside your head.”

- Jenny Diski

Sometimes I am amazed about how much Apple’s approach has infiltrated so many areas of life. Thinking more carefully about objects, about tools, and about their design is great. It leads to improvements, to little epiphanies and moments of pleasure. But the problem with obsessive focus is when the focus is in the wrong place. A tool, after all, doesn’t have any life itself. That’s what you need to bring to it.

[via Noah Brier]

David Mitchell on ideas and characters in his new book

Just been to see David Mitchell read from his new novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet at Shoreditch House.

Readings are always a little weird, bits of text disenfranchised from their home-novel, and the author never seems to know whether to show literary firepower with big bits of description or to create motion with some dialogue; whether to play it all for laughs or not, if they should commentate as they go along.

But these are difficulties inherent to the form and it doesn’t stop readings from being enjoyable, particularly as in this case, I’m a big fan, Mitchell’s a great writer and Deijima is a great setting.

Couple of interesting points from the Q&A afterwards:

On why he’s going back to Japan now:

Mitchell stumbled upon a Dejima museum in Nagasaki in 1996 because he “couldn’t read the street signs.” Writers he said, in a lovely similie, have a “Geiger counter built in that goes off when you’re around good material.”

Interesting settings and ideas are saved; they “circle like planes waiting to land at Heathrow… [and] it was time to bring this one in to land.”

Great image, no wonder people were applauding.

On the way characters from his previous books appear in later ones:

“I think of it like the dole, the DSS. There’s this room where the old characters wait, looking for work… So I go in there and see if there’s anyone who can do the job.”

So well put. He also revealed the next novel he’s writing is set in the present day and features, in some way, a character from Thousand Autumns.

Can’t wait for the book itself – it’s out in May.

(Bear in mind I was there for fun, not taking proper notes, so the above is paraphrased).