I am in love with … David Mitchell again!

25 May, 2010

A few weeks ago I went to see David Mitchell in conversation at Foyles, Charing Cross Road. It was packed with a lot of young, hip yet serious folk, probably the best looking audience I’ve ever seen. The event went on for an hour and a half and David Mitchell was probably the most courteous and unassuming writer I’ve ever met. And he totally engaged his audience asking them to name their favourite books too. Seriously, he was soooo nice. And it was free!

I bought my copy of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet (pronounced Zoot) and got it signed together with my copy of Cloud Atlas, but I was so tongue-tied that all the things I was planning to say to him dried up the moment I said hello. Dammit, I’m such a wuss. But I’m terrible at talking to people I admire and never know what to say at signings. Any advice here?

He spoke about Ghostwritten, his time in Hiroshima teaching English where he was the only foreigner at an international engineering college with lots of spare time to hone his writing skills (his first attempt at a novel lies unpublished in a drawer), how he likes his characters to pop up in other novels as they bring their history thus adding to and changing the story, and the concept of ‘textual shoplifting’.

He discussed several writers and novels he admires: Nadeem Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers, Checkhov, Shusaku Endo’s Silence and Junichiro Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters (which wasn’t a favourite of his wife’s). He spoke of how Endo is considered the Japanese Greene and Tanizaki the Japanese Galsworthy although he feels it should be the other way around, and how he also admires Michel Faber and Joseph Conrad.

When asked about the mechanics of writing, Mitchell spoke of following a herringbone pattern when writing, the backbone being a plot time-line with little events branching out (what a great way of looking at a story) and how he used to write in a notebook while having lunch alone pretending to be a restaurant critic. It’s important to him to write for himself and he doesn’t know if he can write for commission, although fame is slowly changing that (he compares it to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). And when he asked one of his friends (A.S. Byatt!) she advised him to think of his readers and just write.

If you ever have a chance to attend one of his talks, go and do it! David Mitchell is brilliant and inspiring. Now I’m itching to read Ghostwritten again and of course Black Swan Green which is nestling on my shelf before starting his newest novel. What to do?

Check out some of David Mitchell’s favourite books here. And you may also wish to read a couple of his articles here and here, and a wonderful interview by Asylum.

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17 Responses to “I am in love with … David Mitchell again!”


  1. It is great to hear that he is as wonderful as his writing! I hope that I can get to hear him talk at some point in the near future.

    Ghostwritten and Black Swan Greean are both wonderful – enjoy!

    • chasing bawa Says:

      I’m sure you’ll get to hear him talk at some point. I wonder what he will write next. I’m trying to finish the books I’m reading now so that I can start reading some Mitchell.

  2. John Self Says:

    Great to read this, and how interesting (to me) to see that his signature is so flowing and stylish – I’d expected something smaller and neater, though I’m not sure why. I like the way he personalises the signing too.

  3. Tony Says:

    Four down – just the new one to go! I plan to read it in a couple of weeks’ time, so I’ll be reviewing it very soon 🙂

  4. chasing bawa Says:

    John Self: I also thought his writing and signature would be tiny. I assumed he would be very shy, he was very witty and chatty.

    Tony: I still have two. I’m really looking forward to reading your review!

  5. JoV Says:

    Lucky you! I can see why you are in love with him! I thought it is very nice of him to customise his signature. 🙂

  6. Kevin Neilson Says:

    Ay, Mitchell is a good chap. I had an opportunity to exchange several e-mails with him in ’09 and talk about such trivial matters as architectural stoops. He seems to be a very generous man. Thanks for the snapshot of the event. Greatly appreciated! Best, Kevin

  7. chasing bawa Says:

    JoV: It’s so cool when authors do that! Neil Gaiman is another who likes to doodle.

    Kevin Neilson: Wow, so lucky! He’s a very nice man!

    • JoV Says:

      I have one of Waterstone’s quarterly magazine which features Mitchell in the front page, he looks like a male model / actor. I haven’t read any of his books, but I felt like I already fell in love with him! :p

  8. winstonsdad Says:

    i ll be getting to this soon looking forward to it my fav was black swan green by him ,all the best stu

    • chasing bawa Says:

      There seems to have been some mixed reviews about Black Swan Green because it is a more ‘straight’ novel than his previous ones, but I’m really looking forward to reading it.

  9. itoeri Says:

    iiinnaaaa… signed copies!!

  10. gnoegnoe Says:

    Without reading the full blogpost (which is really interesting btw so I wouldn’t think of skipping any part of it 😉 I would have know you just had a great time at the Mitchell reading 🙂

    I saw him twice now (and yes, got tongue-tied as well) and can’t get enough: he’s such an interesting talker!

    My signed copy of Cloud Atlas can be seen at Graasland: http://gnoegnoe.wordpress.com/2008/06/30/the-big-read/

    I also got a picture of Number9dream online (http://gnoegnoe.wordpress.com/2005/12/31/books-read-in-2005/), but no photo of Black Swan Green (which has been signed too).

    Next Saturday I’ll be attending an interview with Mitchell at Teylers Museum in Haarlem, where he got the idea of Dr. Marinus!

  11. chasing bawa Says:

    itoeri: Kondo Eri-chan ni mo get suru ne!

    gnoegnoe: Mitchell really is interesting. I thought he would be shyer but he was really funny. I saw your signed copy of Number9dream, and am going to check out your Cloud Atlas! Have fun at the interview next week and can I look forward to your report?;) It’s so interesting to hear where he gets his ideas from.

  12. Colleen Says:

    I keep hearing about how nice David Mitchell is…I’m jealous you got to confirm the rumours in person!

    I have his new book but I’m afraid to read it. Having just re-read Cloud Atlas, I don’t know how he can top that!


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