In an interview, Mitchell stated that the title was inspired by the piece of music of the same name by the Japanese composer Toshi Ichiyanagi: "I bought the CD just because of that track's beautiful title." Mitchell's previous novel, number9dream, had also been inspired by a piece of music by John Lennon; Mitchell has said this fact "pleases me ... though I couldn’t duplicate the pattern indefinitely."
The book's style was inspired by Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler, which contains several incomplete, interrupted narratives. Mitchell's innovation was to add a 'mirror' in the centre of his book so that each story could be brought to a conclusion.
Mitchell said that Vyvyan Ayrs and Robert Frobisher were inspired by English composer Frederick Delius and his amanuensis Eric Fenby.
The book contains links to Mitchell's other works. The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish and Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery revisit minor characters from his novel Ghostwritten, and Eva, the daughter of Ayrs in Letters from Zedelghem, reappears in Black Swan Green as an elderly woman befriended by the main character.