Interview with David Mitchell

Now then. Have I got a treat for you. David Mitchell is the author of Ghostwritten (win­ner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, short­l­is­ted for the Guardian First Book Award), number9dream and Cloud Atlas (both short­l­is­ted for the Man Booker Prize). He was on the 2003 list of Granta’s Best of Young British nov­el­ists. His latest nov­el, a pre-com­ing-of-age tale set in England, 1982, is called Black Swan Green and is about to be released in paper­back. Bizarrely, I man­aged to blag an inter­view with him. I’m still not sure how. Let me think back.

A step-by-step guide to get­ting an inter­view with David Mitchell:

  1. Email his pub­li­cist on the off chance that Mr Mitchell might answer a ques­tion or two via email — a kind of ‘fire and for­get’ mech­an­ism that requires little effort and per­mits intra-sen­tence tea breaks willy nilly.
  2. Receive fol­low up email that reads ‘Yes, Mr Mitchell will talk to you. Call him at 2pm on Thursday (he’s in Japan) and speak slowly and clearly because he has a cold.’
  3. Realise you’ll actu­ally have to talk to your favour­ite writer.
  4. Share a look of dis­be­lief with the nearest ger­bil and say ‘Fuck’.
  5. Realise you have only two days to come up with bril­liantly eru­dite ques­tions about Borges, Kafka and that Murakami bloke.
  6. Realise you can’t.
  7. Share anoth­er look with ger­bil.
  8. Say to girl­friend: ‘Yes, *that* David Mitchell. Yes, I know I’m always banging on about him. No, I don’t write short­hand. Yes, I’ll have to record it. How? I don’t know.’
  9. Enter a fugue state.

Well, the inter­view came and went. Despite stag­ger­ingly inane ques­tions (the first one will get an hon­or­ary men­tion in the Muppet Hall of Fame), David (or D’, as I call him) remained abso­lutely polite and even asked me a ques­tion or two about my own writ­ing. Listen out for my point­lessly detailed descrip­tion of time travel in Déjà Vu, which you’ll be amazed to hear that I attemp­ted without a stunt double.

Was I nervous? Slightly. In an inter­view (with me) back in January 2005, I wrote:

Well, if you tap your foot at me, I might offer David Mitchell’s work as the crest of today’s wave. I still dream about char­ac­ters from ‘Cloud Atlas’. Mitchell under­lines, for me, the neces­sity of inven­tion and mas­tery of the forms of storytelling.

And this from anoth­er inter­view in 2006:

If I read someone like David Mitchell, I’m partly depressed and partly elated that he’s set the bar so high. Writing as well as him is cer­tainly some­thing to aim

In oth­er words, the chances that I’d be able to keep my wits about me in the pres­ence of the writer I regard as per­haps the most inter­est­ing, ori­gin­al and intel­li­gent scriven­er around, are small indeed. To see how small, click either of these links:

My inter­view — which I still can’t quite believe really happened — with David Mitchell (high qual­ity M4P, iTunes-friendly [17 MB]) or medi­um qual­ity MP3 [16.5 MB]. (Note: I used Skype to record this call, hence the lag and my tend­ency to talk over the top of Mr Mitchell like some boor­ish ninny.)

I will now have a lie down.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

12 thoughts on “Interview with David Mitchell”

  1. Good inter­view, Ian. I share you admir­a­tion (coupled with a jot of jeal­ousy and resent­ment) for Mr Mitchell. ‘Hemingway’ as a verb. Like it.

    One ques­tion: why do you describe Black Swan Green as ‘a series of con­nec­ted stor­ies’, rather than a nov­el? Sure, it’s epis­od­ic, but the parts have more of a clear con­nec­tion than those in Ghostwritten or Cloud Atlas.

  2. Thanks, Tim. Yes, Mr Mitchell is almost too good as a writer — and such a nice chap that it seems to make the whole thing worse. For the record, I myself do start my writ­ing days at 11 am with a glass of wine…

    About BSG, I’m not sure I’d say it was one or the oth­er (I can’t remem­ber my exact words), but David (you know, m’mate Dave) did write BSG so that each chapter would work as a stan­dalone story, and though there are cer­tainly ref­er­ents to earli­er mater­i­al in later epis­odes, they could prob­ably work as a col­lec­tion of shorts. But it’s cer­tainly a nov­el too, if that makes sense.

  3. You know, this was EXACTLY how The Bat Segundo Show star­ted. It was all a shame­lessly sol­ipsist­ic pre­text to inter­view David Mitchell. And I felt almost EXACTLY the same way! Of course, the more you do this, the bet­ter you get.

    Good on you for tak­ing ini­ti­at­ive. Next thing you know, you’ll have 100 pod­casts that you’re host­ing on your site and thou­sands of listen­ers.

  4. Thanks for your com­ment, Ed. Your inter­views with David served as last-minute revi­sion and are, of course, far more pro­fes­sion­al than mine. Enjoyed the David Lynch pod­cast too — wow, that guy loves TM.

  5. Hi, Ian.

    Belatedly (as is usu­al with me) well done. I’ll be listen­ing to this some time soon.

  6. I am in awe of the Dame Edna of the blo­go­sphere in action.

    Just kid­ding. Really inter­est­ing to read. Agree with the Douglas Adams thing-I’ve only read the first book, when I was about eight­een, but com­pletely had the impres­sion that there was a writer over­see­ing everything, which for some read­ers is maybe the attrac­tion, but it put me off. Also, I didn’t really laugh.

    Like you music­al intro and outro. Very pro­fes­sion­ally done as well, you are a born interview–I think you should do more of them.

  7. Thanks, pos­sum — I mean ‘Neil’.

    I’m bra­cing myself for a law­suit from Apple Corps…

  8. Who did you con­tact to set up the inter­view? You men­tioned pub­li­cist, but can I get a name and email? I’m work­ing on a school pro­ject about David Mitchell and would like to con­tact him as well. Thanks!

  9. Good stuff Ian, really enjoyed this. Shame he was ill, I could have listen­ing to him talk for anoth­er hour! Very heart­en­ing when he says “your book will look after you”, in ref­er­ence to your con­cern about lift­ing stuff from oth­er writers.

  10. Thanks, Alex. Yes, I find myself think­ing “David knows best” when wor­ry­ing about the Philip K Dick influ­ences in my cur­rent book…

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