David Mitchell tells Twitter story

David Mitchell tells Twitter story

Novelist David Mitchell is to tell a 6,000-word story on Twitter, beginning today (14th July).

The author of novels including Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (both Sceptre), whose latest book The Bone Clocks is published (also by Sceptre) in September, will relate short story "The Right Sort" in 300 tweets from account @david_mitchell.

The tweets are being released in daily clusters of around 20 tweets at 7a.m. and 5p.m. each day, to reach Twitter users going online before the start and at the end of working hours.

The story is being presented as an "amuse-bouche" for the autumn novel, with Mitchell saying: "It is set in the same universe as The Bone Clocks – it is not a strictly a prequel or a sequel, it is a standalone story - but people who read both will see that they belong together."

Mitchell told The Bookseller that the Twitter story was his own idea, after having been first persuaded to open a Twitter account by his publisher. "I'm going to do events in theatre-sized venues for The Bone Clocks and to tell people about them, I was persuaded it is useful to link up with people," he said. "I'm not a natural social media person – I want to protect my privacy and not tell people 'I am having jam on toast this morning.' I'm not a natural epigram-hatcher like Stephen Fry. So here I am basically using my Twitter account as a noticeboard – and that seemed like selling social media short. I thought, 'How can I use it and still feel I retain some integrity?'"

What did appeal was the "diabolical restrictions" of telling a story in 140-character bursts. The novelist had in his head an idea for a ghost story - "My favourites would be Henry James' 'Turn of the Screw' or 'The Friends of the Friends' - the genre is most successful when there is some doubt and you are not sure when you are reading 'Turn of the Screw' whether it is just the mother of all psychoses". Mitchell's story is set in 1978 and involves a 14-year-old boy whose mother is going through a divorce, who is depressed, and prescribed vallium by her GP.

"Vallium reduces an unhandleable reality to bite-sized pieces. I thought, 'Those could be tweets'," Mitchell said. "Not just thinking of a story and hacking it up, but a story designed for Twitter. Each tweet a little pulse about ideas, characters, atmosphere – it started to feel quite delicious."

George Walkley, head of digital at Hachette UK, said: "First and foremost, I am a David Mitchell fan and I think it's going to be fantastic to read the story on a daily basis… Also, there's a wider digital opportunity about how we use Facebook and Twitter to connect authors and readers. As we look at our publication, and look at pre-orders, it's a great chance for David not just to tell a story but also tell a global audience that there is a new novel coming in September."

The Bone Clocks (h/b, £20) will be published on September 2nd.
Individual authors who have experimented with Twitter fiction include Jennifer Egan, who Tweeted her story "Black Box" from the New Yorker Twitter feed in 2012; meanwhile the second Twitter fiction festival ran online in March.