Posted in Derren Brown News

Posted by Derren Brown News October 25, 2010 at 9:13 am

“I loathed myself again. My heart pounded beneath my stupid blousy gay shirt, and as ever, I found it absurd that I had done this a thousand times yet still battled with the same weary desire to be veiled in the shadows of a corner, to keep out of everyone’s way and let them enjoy themselves in peace.

I was conscious that the grey eyes of the French barman, who had now seen me emerge from the disabled toilet three times in the last fifteen minutes, were resting on me with an appropriately mixed signal of curiosity, admonishment and condescension.

This glance, on reflection, may have simply been the natural look of a Frenchman abroad, but it struck me at the time as a recognition of my ludicrously transparent capacity for procrastination, and my self-hatred ratcheted up another notch, making it even more difficult to shake myself from the immobilising stupor.

For all he knows, I have to prepare mentally and take time to choose my spectators with care and precision. So with a serious expression I surveyed the restaurant for the hundredth time and flipped over the deck of cards in my hand.

The new deck of red-backed Bicycle-brand poker cards had that afternoon been worn in for the gig through bending and riffling and springing until the deck’s spirit had been broken; in the way that a puppy, made to walk to heel, piss on the newspaper and not eat the roast, loses its bungling vigour and learns to behave.

A brand-new Bike deck is, for a short while, wanton and precarious. For those first few minutes it may simply spread effortlessly in the hands, the cards riding the frictionless slivers of oily space that lie between each virgin surface and gliding on their own advertised ‘air-cushioned finish’; absorbing and re-directing the pressure of the fingers into a beautiful, even spread at the slightest touch; each pasteboard fluidly moving along with its one-higher/one-lower neighbour.

But as marvellous as this evenness of movement is, and as satisfying as it feels to see a ribbon of fifty-four perfectly spaced and ordered indices appear almost instantaneously between the hands with an apparent mastery of controlled pressure that could not likely be wielded upon grubbier cards after a career of practice, the new deck is at other times reckless and prone to belching itself without warning from the hand, leaving usually just two cards held: a circumstance caused by the natural moisture from the thumb and forefinger pads adhering to the back of the top card and face of the bottom respectively and holding them back while the others issue defiantly from one’s grip towards the floor.

Idiot. In my velvet frock suit and ruffled cuffs, like some ludicrous hybrid of J. S. Bach and Martin Kemp back in the day. Around the bottom of my face a goatee like a seventies pubic bush, untouched by clippers since its first appearance as a student years before and which would remain so for another year still, reaching madly in all directions, until one morning, standing at the mirror in my freezing mezzanine bathroom just down the stairs from my flat, I would eventually cut into its sides with the bacon scissors with a view to divesting myself of it completely, and a pleasing Mephistophelean point would emerge.

I held the deck level in my hands and played at tilting and squeezing the slippery pile, almost but not quite enough to discharge it on to the flagstone tiles in the manner I found myself considering.

I pictured them tumbling to the floor, myself bending over to gather them up, and the embarrassed derision of the silent diners as they watched me carry out the apologetic, uncomfortable process.

I caught myself being distracted again, and tried to heave my attention back towards these covers I was being paid to entertain. Tried, but within seconds my focus returned obsessively to the shifting fifty-two pasteboards in my hands and the further preoccupation they offered.

Following the unstoppable spillage caused by the combination of pinching pressure and the merest accidental misalignment, the finger and thumb will instinctively continue their trajectory towards each other following the sudden disappearance of the remainder of the deck, and the top and bottom cards (in the case of a newly opened and unshuffled set of Bikes, these will always be the Joker and an advertising card offering a discount of fifty cents against further purchases from the US Playing Card Company) will be brought together in an action not unlike that of a belly-dancer’s finger-cymbals, while the balance of the cards lie scattered on the floor in a face-up/face-down slop.

Here you are faced with two sources of annoyance, the greater being the anticipation of having to kneel down and begrudgingly assemble the cards into a disordered pile of single orientation, which involves not only upturning all the downturned cards (or vice versa, whichever set is smaller), but also the trickier task of neatly squaring up a near-deck of chaotically strewn playing cards into a single satisfying block.

This is easier said than done, and is most easily achieved through a manoeuvre known to experienced card-players and magicians: grabbing the entire set of misaligned cards into one cluster and holding them perpendicular to the floor (or table), then rolling the messy stack back and forth along its side until all the corners have been brought into alliance.

The secondary, lesser source of displeasure is the niggling sense that the deck has been soiled: it may never again be seen in manufacturer’s order, and the patented air-cushion finish has most likely been forever lost following the intrusion of hairs, skin-flakes and other carpet debris into the spaces between the cards.

The barman was now busy dealing uninterestedly with a fat man wearing a thin, loose tie who was peering at the whiskies over the counter. The bar was pushing into the man’s stomach as he heaved himself high enough to read the labels on the Glenmorangies, Laphroaigs and Macallans that authoritatively lined the raised shelf behind the brandies and cognacs.

He was pushing up on to the balls of his feet and grasping with both hands a brass rail that ran along the front of the bar perhaps a foot below its edge. I wondered what he was feeling at that moment: the tension in his hamstrings, the cool brass, the push of the counter into his middle section, the straining of his eyes and jutting forward of his slack neck to recognise the labels on the bottles.

I tried to recreate these sensations mentally, and considered, as I tensed and shifted in microcosm, that that was what he was feeling right now; that for him the experience of all life revolved in this instant around those sensations, and that I was (with my annoyance and self-hatred and reluctance to work) at most a blur in the corner of his vision.

As he pointed to a bottle and then, a beat later, happy that the barman knew which he required, hauled himself back to standing straight, I tried to lose myself in what I imagined his world to be.

I tried to picture the bar and barman straight-on, to hear the buzz of the restaurant behind me rather than to one side, to imagine the feel of his meal inside me, his weight on my bones, the faint sensation of comfort following the loosening of shoe leather from across the bridge of my toes as he lowered himself back to the floor.

I wondered whether he had picked a whisky he knew well – I imagined so, as the range was not especially adventurous and he seemed to care about which one he was given – and whether, in that case, he was at that moment imagining the walloping peaty taste he knew he was soon to enjoy.

There was something in the showy ease of the barman and the assured way in which he set the glass upon the counter that had about it a hint of performance, a suggestion of the ‘flair’ that sometimes flamboyantly attends the preparation of cocktails; I presumed that the man was noticing this affectation too, with mild irritation at its pointlessness, and making quiet judgements accordingly.

I did the same, following my own references: a blurry memory of a poster for the film Cocktail, and a repeated film-loop of a chess player planting a knight upon a square and firmly twisting it into place with that same defiance.

A woman passed by, having emerged from the ladies’ toilet behind me, and the game ended. The sound of the refilling cistern within was bright and loud, and then abruptly muted as the door bumped closed. The fat man wobbled away from the bar and from me, a little inebriated, and my empathy with his thoughts and sensations was lost under the high ceilings of the wide, noisy lounge.

The restaurant was again before me, and my hand again noted its grasp of the cards. I resented the severing of the connection, and wondered whether being privy to a person’s meandering thoughts and gently tracing their dreamy associations was to really know them, at a level far deeper than answers provided by personality tests, school reports or the selective, retrospective narratives of traditional biography.”

Confessions of a Conjuror is out now and available on Amazon (click here)

October 25, 2010 at 10:07 am
Kati says:

Loved the book lots! I haven’t read a book in one day for a long long time but this one I did. Really enjoyable reading.

October 25, 2010 at 10:19 am
Paul says:

Very interesting and entertaining! Number one book on my Christmas list!

October 25, 2010 at 10:28 am
Kelly S says:

I bought this book from Amazon and finished it the day after it was delivered! It is so addictive you really cannot put it down once you start reading. I especially like the format of different subjects being brought up through the one card trick. Amazing work Derren once again!

October 25, 2010 at 10:29 am
graeme says:

already finished the book and like most people loved every word of it, how ever reading the section on dorethy ‘bad friend of’ i would advise anyone esle not to read it at 230am in bed as i had to jump up n run to the toilet in oure histerics

then i woke up, then i died

October 25, 2010 at 10:37 am
c00 says:

I’ve always loved the style of writing in tricks f the mind, and it seems not much has changed here. I’m ordering it right now.
The part about the bicycle cards being new en soft and all is so famillair. And dropping it once is just completely destroying all the beauty it hass when first opened.

October 25, 2010 at 10:46 am
Stephen Angell says:

Just finished my copy, a jolly nice read delightfully presented (and especially loved the section on being kind)

Additionally, I felt compelled to throw out all my old socks and buy identical new ones from M&S. So thanks from my feet.

October 25, 2010 at 10:57 am
Sarah says:

I’m still in the middle of reading it because I’m a very slow reader but I’m loving it so far. (:
I took an obligatory obsessive fangirl photo the day it came.

Also its such a pretty book. I’m loving the red pages.

October 25, 2010 at 11:04 am

The chess player twisting the knight was (possibly) the vaguely-famous “Smyslov Screw”, as mentioned by Stephen Fry.

(You really do worry too much, Mr B. Have a Laphroaig…)


October 25, 2010 at 11:15 am
Aaron says:

It appears as tbough I will again be ordering a book to be shipped from the UK to be sent stateside, as I have with much of your material. Fantastic writing Derren. Your ability to write so damn lucidly would have me reading even if you had only been a postman talking about your route.

October 25, 2010 at 11:55 am
Al Burton says:

Loved this book so much I did an Amazon review (Never been inspired to do that before!)
Im looking forward to Svengali in Liverpool next year mor ethan ever after reading this.

Alan Burton

October 25, 2010 at 12:20 pm
Daryl says:

Am I the only one who’s dying to know what those other books on his shelves are?

October 25, 2010 at 1:02 pm
toni says:

I bought the book yesterday and I cant put it down, especially like the Bristol references being a Bristolian myself (-;

October 25, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Finished the book the other week and I really enjoyed it. I came away after reading it with the abiding feeling that we’re all complex human beings with our own eccentricities, with Derren being no exception. Made me admire him all the more for sharing what he does in ‘Confessions’.

A thoroughly wonderful book. Clever, well thought-out and just a pleasure to read. Thank you for writing it, Derren. 🙂

LC x

October 25, 2010 at 2:11 pm
Berber Anna says:

Daryl: Haha, just noticed them. That’s the downside of growing up in a house crammed full of books… they become such a normal backdrop that they’re not even there until pointed out.

Love the new book, btw. It’s giving me lots of practise in the art of laughing soundlessly (I usually read on my train ride to/from work).

October 25, 2010 at 7:39 pm
Lee says:

Not having read the book but hearing alot about the old obsessions and compulsions – has Mr D ever done a test for Aspergers? Tis a mild form of Autistic trait but does ring a ding a few bells …

October 25, 2010 at 7:44 pm
Moo says:

Hey, haven’t read the book yet but would love to. That mere extract above was so incredibly eloquent that envy was a difficult emotion to suppress. Fortunately, my adoration of Derren, his beautiful language and the typical admiration of a fan made it easier, overall making extremely enjoyable reading. Can’t wait for April. The Edinburgh Playhouse calls!

October 25, 2010 at 8:22 pm
Mr N says:

I picked it up from ASDA for under £9 on Saturday although they may have bumped up the price since then.

October 25, 2010 at 9:27 pm
Berber Anna says:

Lee, AS disorders aren’t the only cause of obsessions and compulsions. There’s OCD, for one, and Tourette’s (which contrary to many people’s beliefs is not just about coprolalia), and probably many more.
I don’t think one can really accurately gauge a writer’s neurological abnormalities through a book, anyway — the line between symptom and literary device is blurry at best.

October 25, 2010 at 10:34 pm
Psycodelik says:

Awesome book 🙂 bought it the day it came out, haven’t finished it yet but I’m nearly there! It’s just ace!

October 25, 2010 at 11:11 pm
roz says:

“[I] wondered whether being privy to a person’s meandering thoughts and gently tracing their dreamy associations was to really know them…”

yes it is, sweety.

October 26, 2010 at 3:21 am
John says:

excellent excerpt. Greatly enjoying the excellent read. I love the inside perspective to things only a conjuror would know (like how slick and smooth or slippery and clumsy a deck of cards can be, for example). DB’s prose is EXTREMELY rich. it’s enjoyable reading this book because of the author’s first-hand account of so many of his enthralling (or at times embarassing)experiences. Derren’s extremely rich, witty, and hysterical phraseology (“lubricated glutton” is one phrase that had me in stitches) has continued on (and is much richer I feel) from his first book into this one. This is definitely a treat. Also some of the immense detail in the descriptions of scenes depicted make this incredibly unique. It’s not Joyce (but in a way, quite close), but it’s close with descriptions.

October 26, 2010 at 7:43 am
Rose says:

Almost finished the book now, and apologies for my earlier post which prematurely branded the book ‘difficult to read’ and ‘not as enjoyable as reading the guardian review’ (what a bi@tch I am!). But indeed I was wrong – I do stick by my words that reading Derren’s self deprecation is difficult, but I very much enjoy the change of pace past the first couple of chapters and again towards the end. Many very enjoyable autobiographical ‘tid bits’, made me chuckle lots and inwardly nod in agreement with many of your observations. Makes you think – either Derren and I are uniquely matched and the only two people on this marvelous globe who enjoys the odd hotel slipper and undertakes the good old ‘bath mat shuffle’, or, and this is far more likely, that we humans are much alike.

October 26, 2010 at 7:53 am

Sounds like another must have book for the old xmas list – I look forward to reading it!

October 26, 2010 at 9:18 am
Rob says:

Someone with the level of insight that Derren has into other people’s minds is unlikely to have Asperger’s.
Not impossible, as he may have developed compensatory strategies that are functioning extremely well, but Occam says ‘no autism for you, Mr Brown!’
I have yet to read the book- must wait until pay day. May buy it after Christmas so I can prioritise the kid’s presents.
I loved this extract, though. I always manage to scatter cards everywhere when I use a new pack of Bikes. I thought it was my lack of experience. I have always found a worn pack to be the best for certain sleights, although like Derren I can sometimes pull off a lovely fan with a new pack. I have an old pack of Waddingtons Blue that are beautifully forgiving and feel so right in my hand. Thanks for sharing, DVB.

October 26, 2010 at 1:38 pm
Berber Anna says:

Rose: That’s definitely the book’s strength, it feels like you share a unique rapport with him, even while the behaviours and feelings he describes are fairly universally part of the human experience.

Rob: While I find that insight *might* just conceivably be a kind of ‘overcompensation strategy’, I find Asperger’s unlikely — if we can even assume that the book is just dry facts without embellishments and literary devices, which goes against everything my Literature Studies minor tried to teach me — based on the descriptions of methods used for cheating on tests as a kid. Both myself and my friends with Asperger’s have the advantage of a spongelike short-term memory — no cheating required if you crammed for 15 mins before a test, though I’d personally forget everything in a few days.

October 26, 2010 at 2:13 pm
Maria says:

This book was realy intresting, and I read it within one week despite I´m not native english.
It was lovely to know that he was in Germany and read the words: Schadenfreude or Hoppala. I wonder how much german can Derren talk?

October 26, 2010 at 3:24 pm
Rob says:

Berber Anna – once again I totally agree with you. I only mentioned the compensatory strategies to appease the pedant in me. Of course he doesn’t have Asperger’s.

October 28, 2010 at 11:43 am
Rob says:

Maria – I believe he studied German and Law at university.

October 28, 2010 at 1:25 pm
Becky says:

Got the book the other day I am loving it nearly done. A great price of writing really enjoying it.
Bp x

October 28, 2010 at 2:56 pm
Maria says:

Rob- I know he studied German. I would like to hear him speak in German, a difficult language, even for German people.

October 28, 2010 at 4:34 pm
Abeo says:

Hi Maria,

There is an episode where he speaks German but I can’t remember off hand which one.

October 28, 2010 at 8:38 pm
Rachel says:

🙁 not allowed the book because apparently “i have too many books already” after reading this extract i hate my mother even more :L

October 29, 2010 at 9:06 pm
Tornado says:

Did not read the book yet. This extract amazed me, kind of. Is that how you observe people at times? Whether they feel this or that from their body in certain moments. I’d do that only if that person is not on it iself but in a more self conscious self due to someone else’s presence I have to say. You might have a totally different way of observing people. Kinda interesting. The cocktail bartender .. I get that but that you have some empathy with the man due to that .. hm .. perhaps if I’d been there and watched it myself. Could be.

November 4, 2010 at 1:05 am
human says:

Excellent read… and Rose…we humans are much alike…..

November 14, 2010 at 2:58 pm
Barry snashall says:

Wow! At page 91 I would have resisted all thoughts to ever saying hello or making awkward small talk if we met after a show or in a coffee shop. But at page 92 it makes sense kindness, it’s that easy. So when we meet I will adopt this style and try not to impress with pathetic anecdotes which will bring more of a polite laugh. Great book nearly 100 pages and not one completed trick yet in the restaurant, but captivated.

January 27, 2011 at 2:34 am
frank says:

Just finished Tricks of the Mind, loved it! Thought it was really entertaining and also quite funny in parts!! Hope that Confessions of a Conjuror will have a similar feel – I’ll be reading this one in the very near future!!

April 27, 2011 at 8:05 pm
zoe says:

haha… wobbled. coz hes a fat man… lolz. good book, but as im a little younger than average readers i got a little confused here and there, but i got through. if im getting through reading books as difficult as the diary of anne frank (spendid book, i advise reading it!) and the bible(big words and confusing sentence structure.. just too wise for me!) im pretty sure i canget through reading this! 😀 😀 😀

July 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm

My friend kept going on about this bloody book, so after a long while I decided to give it a read..
NOW i know why she Loved this book. i thoroughly enjoyed reading it and couldn’t put it down..
Its very addictive I’m a DB fan as well now…