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international engineering college with lots of spare time to hone his writing skills (his first attempt at a novel lies unpublished in a drawer), how he likes his characters to pop up in other novels as they bring their history thus adding to and changing the story, and the concept of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.

I think we are all waiting with abated breath for David Mitchell’s new novel A Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet which will be published in May 2010 in the UK. Cloud Atlas is one of my favourite books, and I’m determined to read Black Swan Green before May (I’ve had it since it was published but somehow ‘forgot’ to read it, aaagh!)

For those of you who can’t wait, you can now read an excerpt (warning: it’s a little grotesque) on the book’s website (courtesy of Gnoe’s wonderful book and obento blog Graasland.) Enjoy!