Tweeting a short story

I am eagerly awaiting the publication of the sixth novel by one of my favourite authors, David Mitchell, in September – The Bone Clocks. It will be his first novel since 2010’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, a book which was probably my least favourite of his, and it will be ten years since the publication of Cloud Atlas, possibly my favourite book of all time. I have no idea what The Bone Clocks is about, but I can’t wait to read it. For those who might need a little more information before picking up a novel, Mitchell has written a standalone short story, set in the same world as The Bone Clocks, and is publishing it on Twitter, one Tweet at a time. The Tweets appear in sets of 20, with 300 altogether.

I think this is a great way of using social media that is a little bit alternative, and I like how it can bring readers and writers together (as well as bringing readers and readers together, as they collectively read something that is being published one sentence at a time). Mitchell himself has previously criticised Twitter and didn’t want to open an account, but it seems that as a promotional tool, the appeal speaks for itself. It’s also clear that it can be used in much more interesting ways than just to tell people what you had for breakfast. But, ultimately, writing a story on Twitter is a challenge, one that most writers would relish taking on.

“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.’ 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. 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.”

Mitchell’s story began on 14th July, on his account @david_mitchell, with Tweets being published at 7am and 5pm (UK time).


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