David Mitchell on ideas and characters in his new book

Just been to see David Mitchell read from his new novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet at Shoreditch House.

Readings are always a little weird, bits of text disenfranchised from their home-novel, and the author never seems to know whether to show literary firepower with big bits of description or to create motion with some dialogue; whether to play it all for laughs or not, if they should commentate as they go along.

But these are difficulties inherent to the form and it doesn’t stop readings from being enjoyable, particularly as in this case, I’m a big fan, Mitchell’s a great writer and Deijima is a great setting.

Couple of interesting points from the Q&A afterwards:

On why he’s going back to Japan now:

Mitchell stumbled upon a Dejima museum in Nagasaki in 1996 because he “couldn’t read the street signs.” Writers he said, in a lovely similie, have a “Geiger counter built in that goes off when you’re around good material.”

Interesting settings and ideas are saved; they “circle like planes waiting to land at Heathrow… [and] it was time to bring this one in to land.”

Great image, no wonder people were applauding.

On the way characters from his previous books appear in later ones:

“I think of it like the dole, the DSS. There’s this room where the old characters wait, looking for work… So I go in there and see if there’s anyone who can do the job.”

So well put. He also revealed the next novel he’s writing is set in the present day and features, in some way, a character from Thousand Autumns.

Can’t wait for the book itself – it’s out in May.

(Bear in mind I was there for fun, not taking proper notes, so the above is paraphrased).