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The world of character in cloud atlas a novel by david mitchell

Larger text size Very large text size David Mitchell has woken earlier than usual for our phone interview — he's at home in County Cork in Ireland, where he lives with his wife and two children — but he's happy as he was having a disturbing dream.

He spends a good five minutes describing it in vivid detail before we get caught up in a lengthy — and enjoyable — discussion about the evolution of language, and neologisms. The multiple narratives in his books have made him the subject of rock star-level fandom and academic papers alike. It feels wholly appropriate, given Mitchell's famously tangential storytelling.

Regarded as one of the best authors of his generation, he has made multi-stranded narratives his signature style over a 15-year, six-novel career.

The author has been interweaving his best-selling novels to create one vast, connected universe.

He weaves science fiction with contemporary, historical and fantasy stylings, and is a master of jumping his stories between time periods and even universes. His latest novel, The Bone Clocks the fifth of his novels to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prizefeels even more ambitious than the multiverse he created in the best-selling Cloud Atlas. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Advertisement It consists of six parts and follows the life of one character, Holly Sykes, from teen runaway in 1980s Britain to her old age in the 2040s as the world heads towards environmental apocalypse.

David Mitchell reveals the secrets behind his multi-stranded narratives

It's a challenging read and, one imagines, quite the logistical feat to construct: I envisage Mitchell scrambling about between whiteboards with Post-it notes like a cliched TV detective obsessed with a cold case. He laughs, but says he's nowhere near as organised as that. My books look complex but they were all built out of smaller units than a novel usually is; they're built out of novellas," he says.

You can hold all of that in your head at one time.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. The fact these novellas are "stitched together" gives the impression of deep complexity. But "it's more like Lego really. Lego units that you then build bridges and tunnels or trade routes between.

It's a device that has helped make him the subject of rock star-level fandom and academic papers alike. But Mitchell has a bigger plan — although he concedes he initially began doing it for his own amusement.

Then I started to believe — and I still do — that it has literary merit, in so far as if you learnt the life story of one character or you believed in a character in another book, in another world, then when they show up in the new context they bring all those associations, all that baggage with them," he says.

And it can also be fun, "like when the composer's daughter, Eva van Crommelynck from Cloud Atlas appears in Black Swan Green his vaguely autobiographical 2006 novel as an older woman". Luisa Rey, the investigative journalist in Cloud Atlas, also briefly appears in Ghostwritten although she's a fiction within the fiction, which opens up another layer of literary theory and there's even a "moon-grey cat" that has made several cameos.

There's a fancy literary word for this clever device: They were prequels and sequels then off to one side in The Merry Wives of Windsor you've got Falstaff," Mitchell says.

I can build this kind of Middle Earth and then map it out and at the end of it get this geeky kick out of it. But I also get to be omnivorous; I don't have to dedicate half my creative life to one world, which Tolkien or George R. Most recently he was approached about Kazuo Ishiguro's new work, The Buried Giant, which has been the subject of debate after fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin attacked its use of "fantasy".

But surely the only question that matters is is it a good book or not? Who cares about genre?

He's self-deprecating and modest, at times like a bloke you've met at the pub explaining his job to you; he refers to aspects of The Bone Clocks as "reincarnate-y", and prefaces a mention of Cloud Atlas, which sold more than a million copies worldwide and was adapted into a film by the Wachowskis, as "another book I wrote".

He also laughs when I relay a friend's name for the film that stars, in multiple roles, Hugh Grant. That's very good; I like that. Over seven days, he "published" The Right Sort, a story told in 280 tweets. Now he's expanding it into "a short novel", Slade House, due in October. Writing in such small chunks was a great challenge, he says. The tighter the straitjacket, the more singular the act of escape has to be to get out of it. In literary terms, to make the story work," he says.

He harks back to an earlier part of our chat about the French novelist Georges Perec who famously wrote an entire book without using the letter "e". One Boy's Voice from the Silence of Autism, and his son has autism. And of course it's part of his master plan.