Mitchell and web of plotlines

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Revered as one of the most inventive of contemporary British novelists, David Mitchell is coming to Sheffield next week on the only Northern date of a promotional tour for his highly-anticipated new book, The Bone Clocks.

Like his best known novel Cloud Atlas, it has an ambitious scope in covering six decades in the life of a girl called Holly from being a teenage runaway in Kent in 1984 to an old lady in rural Ireland in an apocalyptic 2042 visiting Switzerland, Australia, China, the USA and various other places on the way.

It’s also a metaphysical thriller in which Holly is unwittingly caught up in a battle between good and bad body-hopping mystic immortals.

Mitchell weaves into the narrative an array of social and political issues such as global inequality, the folly of war in Iraq, religious zeal, along with musing on love and families and mortality.

How do you plan a book like that? “It’s a big hairy beast but it just grew that way. I like large books that you can inhabit and in a way the richness of its themes comes out of writing about different stages of a life journey and life experience over different decades,” he says down the line from rural Ireland which has been his home for the past decade.

“As to the element of mortality, this is a midlife crisis book. I am 45 and can no longer ignore the idea of death as something that will never happen to me. I am reminded if I look in the mirror or the state of my kneecaps or the lines on my face.

“You have interests which have gravitational pulls to different themes. This book was a major undertaking which entailed three or four years of constant cohabitation and you have to make sure it’s something you want to cohabit.”

Using many locations around the world satisfies the wanderlust he still has but as a family man is not able to follow in the same way as when he was younger.

Sheffield even gets a name check as the place from where a character makes an important phone call. Not that it came into it but it’s a city he has pleasant memories from his student days when he had a girlfriend from these parts.

Mitchell went to the University of Kent, the county in which the story begins. Though Holly, as a pub landlord’s daughter from Gravesend, has a very different background to the author he did give her the same date of birth as his own so she occupies a time he is familiar with culturally.

There is, of course, another prominent David Mitchell, the comedian, which at one point did cause confusion but the author believes they are now sufficiently well established in their own rights. “We haven’t met yet but I like what he does and I think if you are going to have a namesake it’s good to have someone you admire.”

David Mitchell is at the Crucible Theatre in a pre-Off the Shelf event on Monday.