The second night of IFOA, David Mitchell and William Gibson shared a stage. There were readings first, and then a talk with both writers. I’ve never read William Gibson, so I had no idea what the two might have in common. (A significant amount, it turns out.) I can’t give you much of a rehash, though. Instead of taking a bunch of notes, I spent the time engrossed in the opinions of two thoughtful, playful, and clever men, and the packed house at the Fleck Dance Theatre seemed just as rapt as I was.

And when I say a packed house, I mean packed. These people were fanboys and fangirls, not just passing a chilly autumn night at the Harbourfront Centre for something to do. I wish you could have heard the gasp of delight when Mitchell announced that he was reading something new, something rough that he’d been working on in the hotel room. And I can’t wait until the podcasts are available, because as soon as they are I’m going to listen to it again, to hear him catch himself using a strong word two times in close enough proximity that he knew to change it, questioning the sound and flow of the sentence in front of an enormous audience, shuffling and marking his draft. The panel the night before had discussed the people who read their early drafts, the people they could trust to be honest. At that moment, that auditorium full of strangers were the fresh ears. None of us could have expected this. (Judging by the bit we heard, I’m already excited for this new work.)

During the conversation, both writers talked about their books’ unusual structures and genre-pushing depth of theme. Both men are fascinated with broken societies and people struggling against cultural and political restrictions, characters fighting to make their lives mean something. They aim high. These are the kinds of books I love to read, and it was one of the highlights of the quick getaway, to spend a few hours steeping in the intelligence, humor, and grace of two true professionals.

This is the title page of the advance copy of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet I reviewed earlier this summer. I told you in that previous entry that I took this book everywhere with me; since it’s paperbound it’s not in the best shape. And I’m not really much of an autograph seeker ordinarily, but I’m glad I handed this one over for a signature after such a wonderful night. I don’t think I stopped grinning for hours afterward. And I am totally comfortable with the fangirl inside me. I was in good company that night.

Editing this post on December 8 to link here, for a report that the [expletive], [redacted], [just-not-nice] Globe and Mail failed to record the [exponential expletive] podcast.