This page exists for Derren to inform you about skills and areas of knowledge that are of interest to him, or relevant to his work. Here you can find suggestions for further reading and resources. Derren has written in more detail about some of these areas in his book Tricks Of The Mind, and will continue to add to this page as he finds material that he thinks may be of interest to you.
After learning how to hypnotise, I turned to sleight-of-hand magic. After graduating, I spent ten years in Bristol working as a close-up magician in restaurants and cafés, and was hired for parties and corporate events.
Because I had discovered magic through an initial interest in hypnosis, I found myself more interested in ‘mentalism’, which is an area of magic that deals broadly with themes of mind-reading and influence. At the time it was very under-explored, with only four or five mentalists working in the country. I began, however, by developing a proficiency at card-tricks and conjuring with props, and this was principally how I earned my living. As the years progressed, I experimented with introducing hypnotic phenomena and suggestion into my arsenal of methods, and soon developed my own approach to a form of magic that existed somewhere between sleight-of-hand and suggestion. My aim was never to be a mind-reader, rather to perform the strongest magic that I could, and it seemed to me at the time that to play with people’s thoughts was a more inherently interesting premise than doing so with playing cards. (Nowadays I think any generalisations about what is or isn’t interesting in magic are nonsensical: there is only the performer and what he or she does. A boring mind-reader is clearly far less interesting than a decent sleight-of-hand artist).
I wrote a couple of books for magicians in the nineties or thereabouts, outlining my approach and the sort of material that I performed at that time. These books gave me some profile in the magic community, which in turn led to Objective Productions finding and asking me to discuss making a television show.
Most people coming into magic begin by copying a magician they admire. This is a healthy part of any creative process, and in time the more experienced performer should come to find his or her own particular style. (Magicians publish material they are happy for others to perform; meanwhile it is considered highly unethical for any of us – regardless of our levels of experience – to copy performances given by other magicians, regardless of how much we may admire them.)
A newcomer to magic might decide to join a local magic club, and through doing so will discover a densely populated world of magic literature and specialist training DVDs. Some of the more original thinkers in magic have developed their techniques in private and remained separate from clubs and their unavoidable tendency to encourage conformity and pass around the same knowledge. Magic conventions exist all over the world; being even a hobbyist magician can be a fascinating (and ruinously expensive) existence.
My early shows fused ‘magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship’. The stunts in the shows can be taken to be a mixture of suggestion, covert hypnosis, magic disguised as psychology, psychology disguised as magic, and a combination of all the above techniques which hoped eagerly to provide for a viewer a grown-up experience of the wondrous.
Magic of any sort works by concerning itself entirely with the on-going experience of the spectators. It exists wholly in the audiences’ heads. The magician normally strives to achieve an ‘effect’, and the method he chooses to get there is normally of little importance. Often the boldest and dirtiest methods are the finest. Highly technical sleight-of-hand is of more likely to be of interest between magicians impressing each other at magic conventions than in the real world of fooling and delighting an audience. Either way, there is a grammar to magic: the performer sets up a false chain of logic where A leads to B and then to C, where C seems to be an impossible conclusion. The answer to the impossibility usually lies in activities which occurred in between A and B and B and C, or even before A even happened. These moments, however, passed by unnoticed (or were immediately deemed so unimportant as to be immediately forgotten). Therefore part of the joy of designing and performing magic tricks is to render the trick as difficult as impossible for the spectator to accurately re-construct, and in fact to create a largely false memory of what occurred.
Mark Wilson: Complete Course in Magic
This was the magic book that got me started. It’s big, perhaps a little old-fashioned now, and covers everything from close-up tricks with coins and cards to stage illusions you can make at home.
Jean Hugard: The Royal Road to Card Magic
If you want to begin the journey of learning professional sleight-of-hand, this is the place to start. You’ll have to search for it though: serious magic books are kept below the radar and are not to be found in Waterstone’s or on Amazon.
For those interested in magic from more theoretical perspectives, you may enjoy the following:
Simon During: Modern Enchantments
A cultural history of magic
Macknik and Martinez-Conde: Sleights of Mind
There are neurological models of pretty much anything you care to stick an electrode in nowadays, and they do tend to over-state the certainty with which we purport to know the workings of the brain. But here’s a neuro-approach to magic, which is fun nonetheless.
Your city may have a local magic dealer or club, and it is worth making contact if you would like to pursue the craft seriously. Here that the world of magical resources will be opened up to you. In the meantime YouTube seems to have an endless supply of videos to keep the beginner occupied.