David Mitchell is the best-selling author of Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas, and has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Find out which books shaped his life.

The Earthsea Trilogy

By Ursula K Le Guin

I stammered as a child and was shy, so I spent a lot of time reading in my room. But in my head I was articulate and had a rich fantasy life. These books are a feat of world-building. The characters share the same complexities and subtleties as the rest of us, and so have absolute psychological realism. After reading these books, I thought, I want to do for other people what Ursula Le Guin has done for me. I was eight years old.

 

The Master and Margarita

By Mikhail Bulgakov

You’d be hard-pushed to find a literate Russian who doesn’t know, love and inhabit this book with its massive beating heart. It’s a lesson in literary possibility and, aged 23, it made me decide it was time I started writing. It’s all very well knowing you want to be a novelist, but you also need to get disciplined about it. So I wrote bits of stories on index cards (that would have been the detritus of a classic first novel), which I used many years later as the basis of my fourth book Black Swan Green.

 

Independent People

By Halldór Laxness 

This book won Laxness the Nobel Prize in 1955 and is extraordinary. I read it about three years ago when I’d rather lost my mojo. I was floundering around wondering if I had some sort of psychosis, making up page after page of stuff for a living. But this book reminded me that when writing is good, it enchants like nothing else and that there’s nobility in a novelist’s calling. These three books have been my teachers. 

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