Meeting Alex Miller part two: on wisdom and imagination

1_MillerAlex1See also – ‘part one: on the origins of a contemporary story‘.

My feature interview with Alex Miller on his new novel, Lovesong (Aus, US), was published in Readings Monthly. You can find it here.

Miller spoke proudly about his 18-year-old daughter, who told him, when he said he was writing a ‘simple love story’, with Lovesong: ‘Dad, love’s not simple, you should know that’. He told me: ‘I don’t believe in the old wise man theory of wisdom, but you, young people have wisdom. Kate [his daughter] is fortunate enough not to be totally dedicated to a career path or becoming the finest doctor in the world or marriage or whatever else, and she’s in a period of wisdom …’

Miller is originally from England, but has lived in Australia since the age of 16. He spent ‘a very lonely number of years trying to become a writer’ after different work experiences and studying English and history at university. He bought a farm for $12,000 and made a living off it, using the time to write. His first novel was published when he was 51.

I asked Miller, in regards to the character Ken, in Lovesong, who is a writer: when Ken decides to gather the story of this couple after witnessing the sadness in Sabiha’s eyes – does the spark (for the story) come from curiosity or empathy? He said:

‘The imagination is the ability to empathise. It’s the ability to – not necessarily consciously – quite unconsciously, find that you’re hugely sympathetic to someone else’s situation. So much so that you imagine a full realisation of it.

‘A really perfect example of that for me is in Landscape – in the scene where Dougald’s father beats him. And he sort of draws it upon himself – this violence to come. There is a deserved violence to come. And okay, life has violence in it, it always does. We’re not getting rid of it. Sometimes it needs to be expressed. In a sense he allows the family violence to be expressed safely, ‘cos he knows he can take it. That happened to me when I was a kid. I never thought of it. I never thought of it when I wrote the thing. It was someone else who pointed it out to me. When they did I was shocked. I thought, oh Christ you’re right. But I remember when I was writing it, I felt I understood the situation. And I maintained my empathy for both Dougald’s father, who was a lost man, and Dougald himself, who had the strength of his grandfather, holding him up. So he didn’t despair, didn’t lose his way. The kind of thing – at least it was helping him. Who knows what he would have done without his grandfather? Maybe he would have continued to stand up anyway. So yeah, I think it’s always a combination. Everything is always a combination of nearly everything else. We have words like imagination – what is that but a conversation with the unconscious?’

There will be more snippets from my conversation with Alex Miller in the coming weeks.

6 thoughts on “Meeting Alex Miller part two: on wisdom and imagination

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Meeting Alex Miller part two: on wisdom and imagination – LiteraryMinded --

  2. Reading these Alex Miller posts reminds me of a this quote I dimly remember about a good writer making you think you’d like to have dinner with them… or something to that effect. Do you happen to know what I’m thinking of?

    Anyway, sounds like an interesting fellow.

  3. Hi Patrick,

    I don’t know the quote… sorry!

    He is an interesting fellow – one of the most interesting I’ve met. I got to have coffee with him – not dinner, but it was lovely anyway. You know what’s great though? I can have dinner with his books anytime, and that’s just as grand.

  4. Pingback: Meeting Alex Miller part one: on the origins of a contemporary story – LiteraryMinded

  5. Pingback: Meeting Alex Miller part four: on re-reading, storytelling, and writing as a woman – LiteraryMinded

  6. Pingback: Meeting Alex Miller part three: on cross-eyed novels, the time we have, and liberties of language – LiteraryMinded

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