David Mitchell (Web | Twitter) is an English author of six books of fiction including the international bestseller Cloud Atlas (2004), which you may recall was made into a film starring Tom Hanks. Recently, our paths crossed when Mitchell was in Houston reading from his latest work, The Bone Clocks (2014). If you aren’t familiar with his work, both I and the literati highly recommend it.
Following his reading, Mitchell spoke with author Mat Johnson, observing that at age 45 he’s had an epiphany: He’s not a novelist but rather a novella-ist. As with Cloud Atlas, The Bones Clock is a series of novellas that reference and situate one another to tell a larger narrative – in this case, a woman’s life from birth to death. Even though “people don’t buy novellas,” he prefers the format as it allows him the privileges of the short story without carrying on past its “natural” conclusion. (I think we can all name a few works that, like some dying animal, resists the end).
When Johnson asked if he noticed certain themes or tropes appearing throughout his work, Mitchell answered that there were two: The first was predatory and the other miscommunication. As he identified instances of these in his work, he added that every author is merely a handful of archetypes. As these stem from the author’s experiences, this limitation is not a bad thing. All it means is that one has to keep finding novel ways to orient them – through new environments, characters, and so on.
After his reading I waited around to get him to sign my copy of Cloud Atlas — and that was when I made the ask. Even though the woman behind me (rudely) groaned and, under her breath, kept telling me to “hurry up,” Mitchell drew what I regard as The Little Prince fan-fiction. I present to you: The Planet of The Giraffe.
As I said to him afterward, “If your writing career ever sours, I don’t think illustrating is an option.”