William Bradbury of the English-language newspaper Japan Times talks to David Mitchell about his time spent living in Japan, Japanese writers who’ve influenced his style as a novelist, and how his wife tells him he views Tokyo “as a country boy would view it”:
“I find Tokyo somewhat overwhelming, but I also know this is my problem and not Tokyo’s. I’m sure there are quieter, saner parts of Tokyo that I’ve never discovered — there are in all busy cities.”
Mitchell tells Bradbury he wrote his first novel, Ghostwritten, while working as a teacher at a Japanese school:
“While I was still a paid-by-the-hour hamster in the spinning wheel, it was tricky to combine the day job and the writing. Still, I did my best, and gave up (most of) my social life and my TV. It was no big loss: TV is 98 percent rubbish and there are only so many conversations you can have in bars about the best “Bond” film before you feel like you’re trapped in “Groundhog Day.” I could still write late into the night back when I was in my 20s, so I got most of my first novel written that way. When I got a job at a university I had more time at night to write, which was ideal.”
Mitchell, who lived in Japan for six years beginning in 1994, has mentioned in interviews that he and his wife returned to the U.K. because, among other reasons, he could support his family on his earnings as a novelist. When Bradbury asks him how life changed for him upon returning to the U.K. Mitchell was brutally honest, admitting the heady Cloud Atlas succeeded commercially despite the odds:
“What changed wasn’t my thinking but the lack of a monthly paycheck. Fear of being unable to support my family focused my energies quite keenly. Naivety also played a role: I didn’t fully understand the unlikeliness of a book like “Cloud Atlas” ever succeeding, and so I gave it a shot where wiser counsel would have advised me to write a police procedural or something about a boy wizard at boarding school. Finally, I was lucky. The Man Booker Prize was good for me, the daytime TV Richard & Judy Book Club was good for me — don’t laugh, it helped sell an extra 100,000 copies of “Cloud Atlas” — and by and large the book media was more kind than disobliging.”
Could you imagine a Mitchellian version of Harry Potter? Somehow, it’s difficult to picture Marinus with a wand, although it would be interesting to read Mitchell’s take on urban fantasy.
Read the entire interview, published on April 2, here.