Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell

Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell

Event: Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell: Among Giants and Ghosts 

Venue: Southbank Centre 

Report by Eleanor Baggley

Over the last few years I’ve been to my fair share of author events, but I’ve never been to one quite like this: two authors with no chairperson just having a discussion. Did it work? Well, yes and no. Was it entertaining? Absolutely.

Ishiguro took the lead at the start of the evening by inviting Mitchell to reveal what he’s afraid of to the audience. Mitchell responded with a story his brother told him when they were younger which has haunted ever since. So began a discussion about the difference between horror and the supernatural which, according to Ishiguro, have different kinds of ‘energy’.

Talk about ghosts and hauntings quickly morphed into an exploration of the power of fiction and storytelling. We often talk about books as being haunting and say that we’re haunted for days and days by particular stories or characters long after the final page. Mitchell said that good novels – whether ghost story or otherwise – can do something that’s the ‘opposite of amnesia’ and haunt us.


Kazuo Ishiguro

For Ishiguro, fear and courage are important for writing.

Ishiguro and Mitchell talked a lot about film and its limits versus written fiction and its limits. The evening was loosely structured around short film clips that acted as prompts for the discussion and fed into this debate nicely.

The main point up for debate was whether action scenes work better on screen or on the page. Surprisingly both authors agreed that, whilst written action scenes don’t have the same impact as they can do on the screen, writers do have the ability to manipulate tension, which can have as much of an effect as a physical blow. Mitchell said that ‘action on the page is actually quite dull, everything but the exchange of blows is the interesting part’. This is very true and often it is internal battles or the psychological battle before the blow is dealt that is most gripping.

Mitchell went on to congratulate Ishiguro for the excellent psychological battles in his books, before Ishiguro quickly chimed in with a rebuff: ‘I want us to stop complementing each other’. Nonetheless the complements continued to fly back and forth, demonstrating each author’s very great regard for the other’s work.

Fear and courage 

Just as the evening came to close Ishiguro made a final point to sum up what he’d taken away from the conversation and that is how important fear and courage seem to be for writing. On reflection both of these concepts did underpin every topic of conversation throughout the evening and it was fascinating to hear how two world-renowned authors feel about their own work in this regard.

The most insightful conversations about fear were in regards to what genres both authors feel comfortable writing and, in some cases, what they felt they had

the ‘right’ to write. Both revealed that they’ve strayed away from topics that interest them on the grounds of not knowing enough. Neither author is a stranger to experimenting with material, genre or setting, but for both of them this fearlessness, or recklessness, as they call it, has disappeared with age.

Ultimately this was a wonderful event and I could happily have sat there for another hour listening to the two authors complement, tease and laugh at one another. Although I’d say that the evening lacked some essential structure – an understandable consequence of having no chairperson – Ishiguro and Mitchell’s dynamic on stage made it an event I’m glad I didn’t miss.

Report by Eleanor Baggley

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