Born: 12th January 1969 in Southport, Lancashire.
In Brief: A literary writer with populist appeal, he has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize twice . Described by some critics as a ventriloquist, Mitchell does not possess a recognizable voice per se, but instead adopts a range of styles and genres. He draws heavily on his experience of the East and is noted for the structural innovation of his novels.
He said: “I lack a sense of citizenship in the real world and, in some ways, commitment to it. To compensate, I stake out a life in the country called writing.”
They said: "David Mitchell may well be possessed of genius." (Desmond Traynor, Irish Independent)
Novels So far: Ghostwritten (1999), number9dream (2001), Cloud Atlas (2004) and Black Swan Green (2006).
Influences: Among others - John Banville, Haruki Murakami, Don DeLillo, Russell Hoban, Peter Carey, George Orwell, Vladimir Nabokov and Jorge Luis Borges.
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Despite his Lancashire roots, the largest chunk of Mitchell’s formative years were spent in Malvern, Worcestershire, a spa town steeped in cultural heritage - William Langland, Edward Elgar, Nigel Kennedy and C.S. Lewis have all lived there at some stage. A creative and introspective child, turned further inward by a stammer (“When I was a kid, my main talent was sulking - spectacular, multi-day sulks”), he hid his poetic sensibilities by publishing poetry in the parish magazine under a pseudonym. These characteristics, alongside a natural eloquence and his white-collar background, made life at his largely agrarian comprehensive school something of a trial. He captures much of this experience in the quasi-autobiographical novel Black Swan Green (2006).
He has a degree in English literature from Kent University, where he also studied for an MA in literature, which involved an exploration of the multiple levels of reality in the postmodern novel: “How pretentious is that?” he said to one interviewer, perhaps a little too conscious that he has himself developed a reputation as a writer of clever, multi-layered, postmodern prose. After a spell in Waterstone’s bookshop, having failed to get a job at McDonalds, he spent a year in Sicily then moved to Japan where he worked as a teacher of English at a technical college. Here he began pursuing his vocation in earnest: “I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, but until I came to Japan to live in 1994 I was too easily distracted to do much about it. I would probably have become a writer wherever I lived, but would I have become the same writer if I'd spent the last 6 years in London, or Cape Town, or Moosejaw, on an oil rig or in the circus?” (Read full article here)
Mitchell shot onto the literary scene in 1999 with Cloudwritten, doing so not with a fizz or a pop but with an almighty bang. Widely acclaimed, it was described by William Boyd and AS Byatt as among the best first novels they’d ever read. Unlike a typical debut novel it isn’t a hunched, navel gazing self-portrait; instead it reaches upwards and outwards towards the panoptic and global: [I wanted] "to write the world, underlined three times, three exclamation marks". He does so using an array of voices, each emerging from an ingeniously constructed web of interlacing narratives. This was followed two years later with number9dream (2001), for which he was short listed for the Man Booker. Also short-listed was Cloud Atlas (2004), his most audacious and virtuoso novel to date. His is a preoccupation with what he calls the ‘virgin tract’ of structure and form, and he continues to plough unfurrowed land in his fifth novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, due out in June 2010.
He currently lives in Ireland with his wife and children. He explained: “It's sort of easier when you're in a third country, if things go wrong it's nobody's fault." In a rare recorded interview with Nigel Beale (listen here) he reveals himself as softly spoken, intensely cerebral and a compulsive re-drafter of his own sentences. There is no suggestion of the stammer of which he speaks in Black Swan Green, although there is the vaguest hint of a lisp. In other interviews he accepts complements with a genuine and graceful modesty. On video (watch here) he looks endearingly ill at ease with self-publicity, his eyes occasionally swivelling to some unknown prompt or source of reassurance. He might be a purveyor of on-page pyrotechnics but in person he is diffident and deferential. But perhaps, after all, when the work proclaims itself in such stentorian terms, the man behind it can afford to talk a little less loudly.
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