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David Mitchell: Biography & Books

Instructor: Ian Matthews

Ian teaches college writing and has a Master's in Writing and Publishing

English author David Mitchell, writer of books such as ''Cloud Atlas'' and ''The Bone Clocks,'' is a globe-hopping literary sensation. Born in a small town in England, he's lived in several different countries and written many award-winning books. Let's take a look at his life and work.

The Silent Child

David Mitchell was born in Worcester, England. He was a lonely kid, not speaking until he was 5 years old. Making matters worse, at 7 years old he developed a stammer. He was pretty isolated from the rest of the kids at school as a result. Without a lot of friends to distract him, Mitchell had plenty of time to read books. That's how he spent most of his time.

Mitchell went to college at the University of Kent. He studied English and American Literature, and later got his Master's degree in Comparative Literature.

The Globe-Hopping Begins

After graduating from the University of Kent, Mitchell spent a year living in Sicily. In 1994, he moved to Japan to teach English as a second language to technical students. He also began his writing career in earnest at this point, though his first book, Ghostwritten, wasn't published until five years later, in 1999.

Mitchell published one more work while living in Japan, 2001's number9dream, nominated for the 2002 Man Booker Prize, a prize given to the best book every year written in English and published in the United Kingdom. Mitchell spent eight years total in Japan, moving back to England in 2002. The next year, he was named one of the 20 best young British novelists by Granta magazine.

Cloud Atlas

Mitchell's breakout hit was Cloud Atlas, published in 2004. Cloud Atlas was Mitchell's best-received work at that point, and critics praised it for its unique structure and narrative choices (more on this later). Cloud Atlas was on the shortlist for the Man Booker.

Since Cloud Atlas, Mitchell has written four more books: Black Swan Green in 2006, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet in 2010, The Bone Clocks in 2014, and Slade House in 2015.

Mitchell's Family

Mitchell now lives in Ireland with his wife, Keiko Yoshida. They have two children. Mitchell is heavily involved with charity work and foundations involving stammering, since he struggled with this as a child. He and his wife also translated a book called The Reason I Jump, a novel written in Japanese by a thirteen-year-old boy with autism.

Mitchell's Books

Ghostwritten, Mitchell's first book, begins his experimentation with narrative structure. The novel has several different narrators, including a terrorist, a crooked lawyer, and a disembodied spirit. Each narrator has its own setting, and Mitchell weaves the characters, settings, and events together throughout the book. Mitchell also experiments with genre throughout Ghostwritten, playing with romance, science fiction, horror, and more.

number9dream leaves the experimentation behind a little bit, instead focusing on one character's trip through Tokyo. Mitchell still plays with weaving in other stories, though, as the main character Eiji Miyake searches for his father by finding scraps of stories about the man.

Cloud Atlas, adapted into film form in 2012, is Mitchell's most ambitious work. Its narrative is structured as a palindrome (something that's the same backwards and forwards, like 'racecar' or 'kayak'), as six narratives nest into each other. One section of the book is a physical manuscript found in the next section, which is a letter written by one of the characters in the next section, which is a mystery novel in the next section, and so on. The sections all disappear into each other before reappearing in reverse order at the middle of the book. It's pretty heavy stuff.

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