Interview: Author David Mitchell on his pop-up ‘immersive reading room’ in Spitalfields
A promo campaign for David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet has launched in a pop-up tea house in Spitalfields market, East London – I caught up with him hours after his first visit.
The pop-up’s more rough and ready than Mitchell imagined but he was excited to see it realised. “It’s much more comfortable upholstery than you’d get in Japan – there, you’d be on the floor, so maybe this is a necessary compromise. There’s a bit of artwork on the wall from the book – my mum did it and I paid her with a hug. Is that a bit Spinal Tap?”
But for Mitchell the most beautiful thing in there is the light. In Japan they use paper on wooden frames called shoji – the pop-up’s made of a similar structure with plastic instead of paper to make it more resilient. “It gives it a lovely strange trnaslucent glow inside,” he said.
The pop-up was created to give readers an immersive experience of a Japanese room, similar to that of the novel’s setting, Dejima.
“Dejima was interesting for the Japanese and the Dutch – for the Japanese because it was their only contact with, almost extra terrestrials, and for the Dutch it was a kind of trophy – no other nation was allowed to be there.”
The reading room includes leaves from a notebook he used when planning The Thousand Autumns as well as prints of Dejima that formed part of his research.
The tea room’s like an artefact, he says: “We’re not trying to make an existential point, but in a way a book is like a room – if it’s well-built, you forget what’s going on outside for a while.”
David’s favourite place to read? “At my house in Clonakilty, we’ve got an upstairs conservatory that gets warm in the sunshine. It’s got a big armchair in it with flat arms where I can balance my cup of tea – I make the most of it until my sons come running in.”
And naturally, for a man who’s spent years in England, Japan and Ireland, he’s a big tea drinker and confesses to collecting loose leaf blends. Does 25 jars constitute an obsession? Perhaps.
The reading room is open for four days from Tuesday 15 to Friday 18 March near Lamb Street, Old Spitalfields Market; it is free to get in. The tea-room is part of a wider campaign to source 1000 reviews of Mitchell’s novel, for more info see @1000autumns.