David Mitchell Interview: Stories Have a Number of Beginnings



Chart-topping English novelist and “word-nerd” David Mitchell, commended for the novel ‘Cloud Atlas’, here explains why he likes to experiment and strives to avoid repetition: “If my books are my children, then I want them to have distinct personalities.”

Though it can be tempting to push the buttons that made his bestselling novel ‘Cloud Atlas’ (2004) such a success, Mitchell is very aware that repetition can be a cul-de-sac for a writer. He therefore tries to put some space between each of his books and seeks to be “omnivorous” in what he reads and what he writes. Books, he feels, are always evolved from several stem cells: “Stories have a number of beginnings.” Furthermore, Mitchell also attributes some of the success of ‘Cloud Atlas’ to the recklessness of his younger self, who was not afraid of trying something that might fail: “Sometimes your youth and inexperience can be an ally.”

Imagination is extremely important not only for writers, but also for human beings in general, as it “allows us to experiment with our environment without having to pay the physical consequences of that.” For a writer, the imagination also becomes a driving force, which must be processed by being transferred into text: “Writer’s don’t properly grow up. Writers continue to have invisible friends, it’s just that they become more complex and turn into Madame Bovary rather that Casper the Friendly Ghost or Frank the Monster, who lives under your bed.”

Mitchell stammered as a child and as a youth and he sees this as one of the factors that compelled him to write, as it allowed him to feed his “word-nerdery.” The fulfilment of being able to write a nearly perfect and well-crafted sentence is incomparable: “I’m an unreformed word-nerd.”

David Mitchell (b. 1969) is an English novelist. Three of his novels have been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize – ‘number9dream’ (2001), ‘Cloud Atlas’ (2004) and ‘The Bone Clocks’ (2014). ‘Cloud Atlas’ was subsequently made into a film (2012). In 2003 Mitchell was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, and in 2007 he was listed among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in The World. Mitchell, who in recent years has also written opera libretti, lived several years in Japan but now resides in Ireland with his wife and children.

David Mitchell was interviewed by Kim Skotte at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark in August 2014.

Camera: Mathias Nyholm
Edited by: Sonja Strange
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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