Novelist David Mitchell on What he Does and How he Does it

I was in Ireland recently to interview two of the best novelists on the face of the planet. John Banville, in Dublin, and David Mitchell, in Cork. As a cost-cutting measure I decided to ask them both the same questions: What do you do? How do you do it? Why do you do it? And: Why does it matter? I got diametrically opposed answers.

So much for my cherished ambition of capturing definitive, unified explanations of what the best novelists (in this case) do, and how they do it at the dawn of the 21st century. David Mitchell is compelled to make narrative. Better and better narrative. He are his novels, in order:

  • Ghostwritten (1999)

  • Number9Dream (2001)

  • Cloud Atlas (2004)

  • Black Swan Green (2006)

  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010)

  • The Bone Clocks (2014)

  • Slade House (2015)

  • Utopia Avenue (2020)

Ghostwritten takes place all over the world – ‘from Okinawa to Mongolia to New York City’ and is told in interconnecting stories by nine different narrators. It won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (best work of British literature written by an author under 35) and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. number9dream and Cloud Atlas were both shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. In 2003 David was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists.’ In 2007 Time magazine included him among their 100 Most Influential People in The World. In 2018 he won the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence, given in recognition of a writer’s entire body of work.

In other words, David is a best practitioner. He lives about an hour’s drive from Cork. We met downtown for a taste of the city and a bite to eat. The better part of our afternoon was spent chatting about love and literature, and searching for a quiet place where we could clock our Biblio File best-practitioner conversation. Lovely, colourful city Cork. Tad noisy. We don’t talk much about specific books but we do attempt an “understanding” of the novel writing process in light of how David has gone about creating his wonderful Balzacian oeuvre.


Stay tuned for the Biblio File Back-story.

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