David Mitchell: ‘I like to be the first to give a child The Very Hungry Caterpillar’

The Cloud Atlas novelist on the inspiration of Italo Calvino and learning from Chinua Achebe and Simone de Beauvoir

The book I am currently reading
I’m juggling, as usual. Madame Zero, Sarah Hall’s recent collection of short stories, which I can’t praise highly enough; Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel, a gritty non-fiction account of the lives of US veterans; a proof of David Peace’s new novel, his best to date to my mind, Patient X, about Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa; and The Penguin Book of Dutch Short Stories.

The book that changed my life
Some books I read as a kid made me hungry to write – notably Ursula K Le Guin’s– and so gave me a future to day dream about.

Continue reading...

Ursula K Le Guin by David Mitchell: ‘She was a crafter of fierce, focused, fertile dreams’

The Cloud Atlas author and Earthsea devotee reflects on his encounters with a formidable and pioneering novelist

News: Ursula K Le Guin dies aged 88

I only met Ursula K Le Guin the once, and her first words were a sly, “Oho, David, so this is an assignation!” She had a wicked smile and, as the Irish say, a face full of devilment. It was 2010, and we’d been left in a nondescript office of a bookshop in Portland, Oregon. I was in town to give a reading at the end of a US book tour. Quite how my American publicist had persuaded the unbiddable Ursula – who, doing the maths, was 80 – to give up a perfectly good evening for the sake of a passing British novelist, I have no idea; yet there she was.

Meeting your idols is a risky business – as Flaubert notes, the ...

My life before writing: David Mitchell on dreams of being a lighthouse keeper

I imagined myself as a solitary Lord of the Seas, saving lives by dint of my diligence and dedication

What I wanted to be when I grew up depended on when I was doing the wanting. My earliest future-job related memory – a milkman – dates back to the mid-70s when I was five or six. I blame this aspiration on Benny Hill’s improbable hit, “Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)”. The song’s double entendres were way over my head, but when I gave the reply “A milkman” to the “And what do you want to be when you grow up?” question that kids get asked so often, the response was always gratifying. Around the age of eight I wanted to be an inventor. I was already making space cruisers ...

David Mitchell on Earthsea – a rival to Tolkien and George RR Martin

In A Wizard of Earthsea, published in 1968, Usula K Le Guin created one of literature’s most fully formed fantasy worlds. The author of Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks recalls how he fell under its spell

Four principal wizards inhabited my childhood. These were, in order of discovery, TH White’s Merlin, JRR Tolkien’s Gandalf, Susan Cooper’s Merriman Lyon and Ursula K Le Guin’s Ged, more commonly known as Sparrowhawk, true names being a serious business in Earthsea. Other magicians and witches also lived on my boyhood bookshelf, but even at 10 years old I sensed that these belonged to a lesser order. Growing up, I adored A Wizard of Earthsea, Le Guin’s slim but muscular 1968 novel, which I read and reread until my ratty old paperback copy required emergency surgery, and I still have a precious memory of getting to the last page for the ...

David Mitchell on Earthsea – a rival to Tolkien and George RR Martin

In A Wizard of Earthsea, published in 1968, Ursula K Le Guin created one of literature’s most fully formed fantasy worlds. The author of Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks recalls how he fell under its spell

Four principal wizards inhabited my childhood. These were, in order of discovery, TH White’s Merlin, JRR Tolkien’s Gandalf, Susan Cooper’s Merriman Lyon and Ursula K Le Guin’s Ged, more commonly known as Sparrowhawk, true names being a serious business in Earthsea. Other magicians and witches also lived on my boyhood bookshelf, but even at 10 years old I sensed that these belonged to a lesser order. Growing up, I adored A Wizard of Earthsea, Le Guin’s slim but muscular 1968 novel, which I read and reread until my ratty old paperback copy required emergency surgery, and I still have a precious memory of getting to the last page for the ...