David Mitchell's "unfilmable" 2004 novel, Cloud Atlas, is finally to be released as a film this Friday, having already divided the critics in America. Salon called it "an amazing, baffling, thrilling and (for many, it would appear) irritating experience, and for my money the most beautiful and distinctive big-screen vision of the year", but Rolling Stone thought that it was "an uphill battle". Mitchell's brilliant "Russian doll" structure of interlocking stories which cross generations has been adapted into a "mosaic structure", in which the actors – including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant plus Jim Broadbent and Susan Sarandon – play different roles. It is directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. Look out for Mitchell in a cameo appearance – he's a tall, blond, English man, possibly with a slight stammer.
Mitchell told The New Yorker: "As I was writing Cloud Atlas, I thought, 'It's a shame this is unfilmable.'" It was the script which persuaded him otherwise. "This could be one of those movies that are better than the book," he decided after reading it.
As well as a best-seller, Mitchell is very much an author's author. Dave Eggers wrote, in The New York Times: "Cloud Atlas is one of those how-the-holy-hell-did-he-do-it? modern classics that no doubt is – and should be – read by any student of contemporary fiction." A S Byatt has always been a fan, and said: "David tells a good story. He doesn't have any intention of refashioning the world, he doesn't even really have a message. His writing just gives intense pleasure."
Cloud Atlas is one of two David Mitchell novels which have been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It lost out, in 2004, to Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty. The other book was number9dream, which was beaten to the prize by Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang. Mitchell's fourth and fifth novels, Black Swan Green and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, were longlisted in 2006 and 2010.
The author David Mitchell is significantly less touchy than the comedian David Mitchell about being called "the other David Mitchell". There are also David Mitchells in acting, directing, music (the keyboard player with The Supernaturals), politics (a former Conservative MP) and sport (at least four footballers, a cricketer and a figure skater), as well as a Scottish bishop who died of a mortal fever in 1662.
Mitchell wrote his "first novel", Black Swan Green, fourth. By that, he means that it was a semi-autobiographical novel about a young boy with a stammer, growing up in Worcestershire. It even has a cameo appearance by a character from Cloud Atlas. Black Swan Green is currently being adapted for the screen by Ruby Films and Channel 4.
Mitchell was once turned down for a job opening at McDonald's. He is a patron of the British Stammering Association.
When a previous literary editor of The IoS asked Mitchell about his writing style, he drafted a story that ended up with her dead, face down in a pie.
Mitchell is currently finishing his sixth novel. Last month, he told The Spectator it has "dollops of the fantastic in it", as well as "stuff between life and death. And the soul."