Thursday, October 20, 2011

Alex Miller II

Alex Miller, in the zone

Author, Alex Miller

Castlemaine author, Alex Miller's latest novel Autumn Laing has been received around the nation with an avalanche of exuberant reviews.
Australian Book Review described it as "a novel of such bravura intensity and insight into the jagged contours of the human heart ... an indispensable novel" while the Sunday Age says it is "an unmistakably Australian work of art".
The Australian agreed calling it "pure and living art" and the Canberra Times raves "Miller has invested this story of art and passion with his own touch of genius, and it is without question, a triumph of a novel".
Alex Miller, who has twice won both the Miles Franklin Literary Award and the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards, looks slightly overwhelmed by the critics' stunning praise for his latest novel, Autumn Laing.
"As a writer, the apprehension you always have before your book is published is that it won't be acknowledged or received the way you see it," he said. "I have never had a book where the reviews have been so totally satisfying to me as they have been with this one. They have been immediately exultant and they seem to have got it.
"Overall, it has been so unexpected and wonderful."
Autumn Laing is the title character of the book and as the story goes, she seduces artist Pat Donlon with her pearly thighs and her lust for life and art. In doing so she not only compromises the trusting love she has with her husband, Arthur, she also steals the future from Pat's young and beautiful wife, Edith, and their unborn child.
Fifty-three years later, cantankerous, engaging, unrestrainable 85-year-old Autumn is shocked to find within herself a powerful need for redemption.
The novel is loosely based on affair between Sidney Nolan and Sunday Reed of Heide fame.
Miller, who has long been fascinated with Nolan's work, tells how he came to write Autumn Laing.
"I first wrote what is now chapter two, Autumn's (realist) portrait of the artist's first wife, Edith. After writing this chapter I had to leave the book while I spent a month on tour in the United Kingdom with my previous novel Lovesong.
"At the end of the tour (2010), I was sitting on a bench in Holland Park watching squirrels and remembering my boyhood in London's parks when the idea for the present form of the book suddenly occurred to me. I hadn't given the book a thought for a month.
"As I was sitting there that lovely September afternoon watching the squirrels diving about among the ivy I suddenly heard the voice of Autumn Laing, 'They are all dead,' she said, 'and I am old and skeleton-gaunt ...' It was a realisation. The realisation that the character I had originally based on Sunday Reed, Nolan's muse and lover and his greatest supporter during his early years, might have lived on until the age of 86, alone, deserted and with a deep sense of having been betrayed.
"The woman whose voice I heard that day was no longer the Sunday Reed of history but was my own fiction, a prompt from my imagination, a fiction of how such a person might have become had she lived another 10 years and had she decided to tell her story, telling it at a time of her life when she had nothing left to lose."
Miller, who is in the midst of a six-week tour promoting Autumn Laing, has just returned from the Ubud writer's conference in Bali where he was on a panel with Pakistani author Daniyal Mueenuddin.
"We were supposed to be talking about the sources of our material but because we are writers neither of us answered the question directly - we just gave a series of anecdotes, which was probably more entertaining."
Back in Castlemaine, Alex Miller sits at the kitchen table with a sandwich and a cup of tea. He says without a hint of boasting that Autumn Laing is definitely the best book he has written so far.
"I could feel it when I was writing it," he said. "I was just hoping it would finish strongly and that the energy wouldn't drop and thankfully, it stayed there. I was in the zone with this book."
He explains "the zone" comes when it is ready.
"You have got to have done the hard work, the hard yards, to reach the zone. You have got to be in a fit state mentally, emotionally and physically and you have got to have that bedrock energy that can be released.
"I've had periods of it before but I have never had it for the whole book like this time. Things were occurring and unfolding and flooding the conscious rather than being worked out by any sort of process.
"This book lived in me from the moment I heard Autumn Laing's voice."
Autumn Laing was officially launched by Belinda Probert at Readings in Hawthorn last Saturday. It is available in bookshops now.

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