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.

Published by

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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