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20 Writerly Questions Series: David Mitchell

abstract:The "Writerly Questions Series" is brought to you courtesy of Random House Canada who partners with BookBuffet. Look for this feature each Monday. The idea is we ask different authors the same set of questions designed to give readers a glimpse into the lives and writing mechanics of authors. It is fascinating to compare and contrast when you check the list to date at bottom. Today's author is David Mitchell. David Mitchell is the acclaimed author of the novels Black Swan Green, which was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by Time; Cloud Atlas, which was a Man Booker Prize finalist; Number9Dream, which was short-listed for the Man Booker as well as the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; and Ghostwritten, awarded the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for best book by a writer under thirty-five and short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award. His latest novel is The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A Novel published by Sceptre in the UK and RandomHouse in NorthAmerica. He lives in Ireland.

1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence?
Honest Dutch clerk in a walled island of thieves meets a Japanese midwife at the end of the eighteenth century, and dominoes go toppling.
2. How long did it take you to write this book?
Four years.
3. Where is your favorite place to write?
My hut in my back garden.
4. How do you choose your characters’ names?
By stumbling across them, storing them on a special page in my notebook, and retrieving them when the right vacancy arises.
5. How many drafts do you go through?
'Going through' drafts in the sense of polishing is indistinguishable from 'writing'.  Countless, then.


September 06, 2010
6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?
I couldn't have written Chekhov's 'The Duel' or Conrad's 'Youth' or Marilynne Robinson's 'Gilead' because I'm not those people, I haven't lived their lifetimes and I don't have their talent, but that's okay, because most writers don't.
7. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?
James McAvoy as Jacob de Zoet if he happened to be free and liked the idea, and I'd go down on bended knee to beg Tom Wilkinson to be Marinus.  Did you see him in 'John Adams'?
8. What’s your favourite city in the world?
Portland if I'm feeling bookish, Amsterdam if I'm feeling escapist, Cork if I'm feeling homesick.
9. If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask?
Chekhov 'Mind if we just hang out and not discuss writing?'
10. When do you write best, morning or night?
Both, if you like my work: neither, if you don't.
11. Who is the first person who gets to read your manuscript?
My wife.
12. Do you have a guilty pleasure read?
Leave guilt outside the library.
13. What’s on your nightstand right now?
'The Vintner's Luck' by Elizabeth Knox. 

14. What is the first book you remember reading?
'Mr Tickle' by Roger Hargreaves.
15. Did you always want to be a writer?
16. What do you drink or eat while you write?
Good quality loose tea; hazlenuts and almonds, dried fruit, sesame sticks, and once a day a small quantity of bitter dark chocolate, but I have to watch it because I'm knocking on the doors of middle-age and my navel is becoming a more dramatic geographical feature as the years go by.
17. Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper?
Pen & paper first, then laptop.  Did anyone else answer 'typewriter'?  Where can you buy ribbons these days?
18. What do you wear when you write?
Lots during an Irish winter, just my pyjama bottoms if it's a Japanese summer.
19. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?
By thinking about it.
20. What is the best gift someone could give a writer?
A bowl of noodles with a half-poached egg, and a glass of kiwi and lime smoothie.

Author links

  • Random House's "Author Feature Page" for David Mitchell
  • Thousand Autumns Webpage
  • Contemporary Writers webpage for the author.
  • Publisher links:

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  • Previous Authors Asked 20 Writerly Questions

  • Camilla Gibb
  • Alissa York
  • Justin Cronin
  • Holly LeCraw
  • Joan Thomas
  • Anosh Irani
  • Yann Martel
  • Joy Fielding
  • Andrew Kaufman
  • Beth Powning


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