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