Authors! Who are they after all? What is going through their minds and how do they get the stories they create down on paper?
The #ExRay column of our book newsletter –the title of which is a game between Ex Libris and x-ray– features one author at a time.
In a humorous mood but also with pure, genuine curiosity, we invite them to submit what they conjure up from their innermost thoughts and improvise by answering ten –seemingly simple– questions. We are so happy and really honored that this time, our guest is David Mitchell!
David Mitchell (UK, 1969) studied English and American Literature at the University of Kent, where he received his MA in Comparative Literature. He lived for many years in Japan, where he taught English (and wrote his first book), before returning home. He first appeared as a writer in 1999 with the novel “Ghostwritten (The Tree of Fortune)”. His biggest success, however, was his third novel, 2004’s “Cloud Atlas”, which was acclaimed as a masterpiece upon its release and is considered one of the modern classics of the 21st century. He lives in Ireland with his wife, Keiko, and their two children.
David Mitchell’s latest book “Utopia Avenue” is published in greek by Metaixmio Publications, translated by Maria Xylouri.
What’s the first book you remember?
«The Very Hungry Caterpillar» by Eric Carle, read at a public library in the English town of Southport, which is actually in the north. The colours in the book mesmerised me. They glowed like hard candy, like stained glass. My mum says I tried to eat the book itself, though I don’t recall that. There must be a metaphor in there somewhere.
Your favorite bookstore? (Yes, advertise it).
John Sandoe’s Bookshop in Chelsea, London. Not a big store, but the stock is hand-curated by the bibliophile-owners. Over 90% of the books on their shelves are books I want to read, own and digest. If heaven is a bookshop, it’s this place.
Author you would invite to dinner (or would you invite to a… cyanide dinner? Clarify, so we won’t make a mistake!)
I always have trouble with this question. It feels arrogant to assume that my guest would want to have dinner with me, just because we’re both writers. “Hey, Anton Chekhov, I resurrected you just so you can have dinner with… ME!”. Writers who I know I’d like to have dinner with, because we’re friends – I just eat dinner with when I’m in their city. Perhaps Ursula le Guin? I only met her once, but I think of her as my senpai, even though would swipe that title away. I miss knowing she is alive and well. I have some questions I’d like to ask her. Now she has passed, I can only guess her answers.
The book you wish you had written?
I don’t want to seem snooty about your questions, but why would any sane person wish that they wrote somebody else’s book? A book isn’t a fish that I cannot now catch because somebody else has caught it before me. Your question is like asking “Which child do you wish you had fathered (hermaphroditically)”; I have my own books and my own kids, thanks. I guess you mean, “A book you deeply admire”; Now the answer is too vast. Many, many, many. Why read something you don’t admire? Life is too short. Now I’m in my mid-fifties, it is even shorter.
The book you are currently reading?
The truth is, a long out-of-print book on the history of provision of care for the mentally disabled in Britain between 1870 and 1959, but who wants to hear about that? It’s not a cheerful subject, but I need to research it for something I’m working on. So let me nominate a
book I read before Christmas, “Entangled Life” by Merlin Sheldrake. About fungi. It was a bit international hit, so it’s probably in greek.
Really, why are you writing?
I write because I’m unhappy if I don’t write. Because there is joy in crafting sentences. Because there is joy in building worlds out of words and letting other people in. Because I’m me. Because it’s the one skill I have; the one thing I’m good at.
What is your greatest influence (not necessarily from the literature world)?
My family, my friends, my wife. Books, films, music. My imagination. Words. Poetry. Light. Standing ankle-deep in the sea. Kate Bush. Cold winter mornings on train journeys in Japan with a can of hot sweet tea from a vending machine. Click the can to open, take a sip, and think, “I exist, I exist, I exist.”
Bookmarking, page-turning, or “a little forward, a little back, nothing really matters”?
This question is like my last answer. Is it a question? I use any old bit of paper as a bookmark. Don’t bend the corners of pages over. How would you like your corners being bent?
What do you value in a publishing house?
Solvency is always a bonus.
What does a book pair ideally with?
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