David Mitchell Q&A: “I follow ‘lefty loosey, righty tighty’ every time”

The author talks growing tomatoes, Professor Brian Cox, and a victory for Liverpool FC.

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David Mitchell was born in Southport in 1969. He is the author of nine novels (two of which have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize), two libretti, and the screenplay for the upcoming fourth “Matrix” film.

What’s your earliest memory?

My brother terrifying me with a story about a small boy called Davy, whose mum sent him to the butchers to buy some liver. Davy spent the money on sweets and dug up his grandfather’s liver from the cemetery instead. Nobody noticed the difference. That night, however, the grandfather let himself in…

Who are your heroes?

As a child, Mr Benn, of magic costume shop fame. As an adult, anyone whose principles and acts merit the mantle. 

What book last changed your thinking?

Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers and Ido Kedar’s remarkable autism novel In Two Worlds.

Which political figure do you look up to?

My heart is on the left, but any political figure who acts with compassion and integrity earns altitude on my totem pole. 

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject? 

“Popular culture of the 1960s.” “The Star Trek Universe.” “How to fail tragically at growing tomatoes.” 

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

All in the terms and conditions, innit? Do I get to choose my gender and social status? If yes, being a Basho-style wandering poet in 18th-century Japan has a romantic appeal – but being a peasant’s wife would be miserable servitude. 

What TV show could you not live without?

None of them, but watching Gardeners’ World has me on course for my first ever decent crop of tomatoes.

Who would paint your portrait?

A few friends who think of me in a positive light is enough.

What’s your theme tune?

Maybe “In a Landscape” by John Cage.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A plumber once told me, “It’s lefty loosey, righty tighty.” I follow it every time.

What’s currently bugging you?

If something’s bugging me, it’s up to me to fix it. If I can’t, it’s up to me to think about it differently so it no longer bugs me.

What single thing would make your life better?

Access to a well-equipped temporal lacuna into which I could vanish to write, think, read or plot for days at a time, then return to our time-stream moments after I left.

When were you happiest?

For me, happiness occurs in glimmers: being with my son in the sea for an hour; watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine with my daughter; a hug after a marital sulk; writing a good scene; Thom Yorke performing “Suspirium”; a victory for Liverpool FC; a Nicholas Lezard column in this magazine. Oh dear, I’ve gone all mindfulness coach on you, haven’t I? 

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

Being Professor Brian Cox looks pretty cool. Or Monty Don. He has a bloody brilliant life, from where I’m sitting.

Are we all doomed?

That’s up to whose narrative of reality we buy into. If enough of us seek facts and evidence and act accordingly, there’s hope. If not, then goodnight, civilisation; and truly sorry, kids. 

“Utopia Avenue” by David Mitchell is published by Sceptre

This article appears in the 17 July 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Race for the vaccine

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