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.
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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