I Like Mixing People and Places


David Mitchell counted among this year's Book World star guests. When he sat down on the imaginary couch in the park next to the Industrial Palace, the auditorium was filled to the last place.

"I am quite old now, past fifty, and I've never been to Prague before. This is my first time here. I tried to see everything I could - the Jewish cemetery, the Old Town, Wenceslas Square. I also paid a visit to the National Museum. Every morning I went for a walk, enjoying the sights. I'm afraid there are still many places I have missed. I will have to come back one day," David Mitchell said at the start of the debate, moderated by Anna Luňáková. The author's natural charm quickly won everyone over. His manner was amicable, he laughed and joked, asking himself questions rather than answering the ones he was given. He let himself be momentarily distracted by the sound of a passing tram, which reminded him of Brian Eno's music, or a child's cry. Everything he sees, he said, can become a source of inspiration. "I don't usually draw inspiration from cities as such, but rather from countries as a whole. I must say, though, that London, where I used to live, influenced me immensely. Its double-decker buses, its coffee houses... Now I live in Ireland, in Cork, and I also want to write a book about it," he disclosed some of his plans. In the nineties, Mitchell had lived for some time in Japan, and considers the sojourn a landmark in his writing. "Back then I was very young, still at the beginning. It was before the internet and TV was in Japanese only, which meant there was nothing else left for me to do but write. I wanted to learn Japanese, but gave up eventually," he laughs. The next question was about his 1999 novel Ghostwritten, published in Czech in 2005. Its main source of inspiration was the butterfly effect. "I was fascinated by it then, and I am still fascinated today. Who wouldn't be? Reality is relative, interactive. Reality is the Matrix. Who can tell what is real? I like thinking about these things," he explained. He delved even further into the topic with his answer to the next question on whether or not he believes in destiny. "What do we mean by destiny? Is it the same as asking about the existence of God? These are the questions we all ask ourselves." He admitted his longstanding penchant for creating imaginary worlds: "Even as a child I loved Tolkien, the Grimm brothers, I always had quite a rich imagination." He enjoyed writing Cloud Atlas, his most famous work, which was also adapted for the screen with numerous Hollywood stars, for its imaginative plot and characters. "I like intertextuality - the mixing of characters and places. I let my characters appear and vanish again, sometimes across several books. Some of them feature in a number of books of mine. They may just quickly pass through one, but in another they are given more space, and already feel like old acquaintances. Homer or Shakespeare also used the same characters or places in their works." David Mitchell is the author of a total of nine books, one is currently being written and one of his novels will only be available to read in the year 2114. It is a part of the Future Library project, in which various writers participate with their works, knowing they will not be published until the next century. "It is quite fascinating. Nobody knows what books will look like by then, what their existence will be like or if they will be alive at all," he mused.

In the ensuing debate he said that he considers himself a minimalist and a maximalist in an equal measure, and tries to strike a balance between the two. He strives to say as much as he can, but using the most economic means, trying to make the plot denser rather than creating excessively sized volumes. Mitchell also revealed that he used to write down his dreams, which were very eventful especially in his childhood, but now he is much more interested in the dreams of other people. He also likes to listen to words in foreign languages, trying to figure out their meaning. He concluded by paying tribute to the interpreters for bearing with his frequent digressions, laughter and numerous other obstructions to the smooth running of the debate. But both the interpreters and the audience were quick to forgive him for this. David Mitchell's "rebelliousness" proved highly original and entertaining - much like his books.