Alex Miller: ‘Simple prose is valued more now than a decade ago’
‘Brought to Book’ Q&A: Australian author of Coal Creek and The Ancestor Game on the books that have inspired him
Author Alex Miller in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Alex Miller is an Australian author, who won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1993 for his novel The Ancestor Game. His eleventh novel, Coal Creek, was published in 2013.
What was the first book to make an impression on you?
A picture book about clipper ships. No idea who wrote it.
What was your favourite book as a child?
Billy Bunter Omnibus
And what is your favourite book or books now?
At the moment it’s Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian.
What is your favourite quotation?
“The fictional paradox of truthfulness” - Drusilla Modjeska.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Voss, in Patrick White’s novel of that name.
Which do you prefer - ebooks or the traditional print version?
Well, ebooks are not books but are ebooks. I prefer books. They have very little in common with ebooks.
What is the most beautiful book you own?
My father’s battered copy of Burns’ 1787 Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect.
Where and how do you write?
In my study in the old schoolroom in this house, with pen and pencils and computers and anything else that is to hand.
What book changed the way you think about fiction?
Drusilla Modjeska’s biography of her mother, Poppy.
What is the most research you have done for a book?
Researching The Ancestor Game took me to China and to a new world of literature. I gained far more than the book from the research.
What book influenced you the most?
Fred Hoyle’s The nature of the universe.
What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?
John Berger’s About Looking.
What book do you wish you had read when you were young?
I wish I’d read the Icelandic Sagas when I was a boy.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Write about something you love.
What weight do you give reviews?
On the day, a great deal. Two days later, very little.
Where do you see the publishing industry going?
If we can believe farmers and publishers the trends are always set against them, but somehow they both manage to survive, some even brilliantly. I suppose this will go on for some time yet.
What writing trends have you struck lately?
Clean simplicity of prose seems to be valued more than it was a decade or two ago, but not yet as much as it was five decades ago.
What lessons have you learned about life from reading?
Mainly that very little in the privacy of the human heart has changed over the centuries.
What has being a writer taught you?
To never be in a hurry.
Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
What is the funniest scene you’ve read?
Almost any scene from Martin Amis’s The Information.
What is your favourite word?
Enigma. My editor tells me I overuse it, so it tends to get clipped and seldom survives in any of my published works.
If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?
Rosa Luxemburg and her murder.
To read more ‘Brought to Book’ Q&As with authors, click here.