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Alex Miller

Alex Miller’s most recent book, A Kind of Confession, begins with notebook entries from his pre-publication period – long years in which his deep trust in his identity as a writer appears to have been unshaken. In 1971, he notes: ‘I’ve been committed to writing since I was 21, 13 years. Quite a stretch, considering I’ve yet to publish.’ He was in his fifties before his first novel emerged. Yet even when he complains about his apparent failure – ‘Almost 40 and only 2 short stories published. It makes no sense’ – there is no real lapse of direction; he knows what he is. We can’t read excerpts from these early notebooks and diaries without an awareness of his later success as the winner of significant prizes, including the Miles Franklin Literary Award (twice), the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Melbourne Prize for Literature, the Manning Clark Medal, and the Weishanhi Best Foreign Novel of the Year.

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Frances Egan, ‘a smart-looking woman of forty-two’, seems to lead a charmed life.  A scholar of national distinction in the field of management, she was recently shoehorned into the role of head of school by a vice-chancellor who needed a woman ‘for the appearance of the thing’. Driven by ambition (she wants to be a professor), she accepted. She and her husband, Tom, a cabinetmaker committed to traditional methods of woodcraft, live with their two children, Margie and ‘little Tommy’, on a farm near Castlemaine they bought last year, fulfilling a lifelong dream.

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Max by Alex Miller

October 2020, no. 425

When Alex Miller first thought of writing about Max Blatt, he imagined a celebration of his life. But would Max have wanted that? He was a melancholy, chainsmoking European migrant, quiet and self-effacing, who claimed nothing for himself except defeat and futility.

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Every author has some version of origin story: a narrative describing what it was that first compelled him or her to write, or at least what attracted them to the role. You can hear the tale harden into myth as an emerging author shapes themselves to those obligatory rubrics of self-disclosure required by writers’ festivals. Sometimes ...

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In The Simplest Words, Alex Miller's recently published work on his own journey through country, writing, love, friendship, and fatherhood, there is a remarkable scene of levitation. Miller describes his young daughter soaring up his own bookshelves, pas ...

Alex Miller (1936–), is an Australian novelist. His first novel, Watching the Climbers on the Mountain was published in 1988. Since then, he has won many awards for his fiction. He has twice won the Miles Franklin award, for The Ancestor Game (1993) and for Journey to the Stone Country (2003), and also twice won the Christina Stead Prize for ...

There is no recommended apprenticeship for writers. Nor are there any prescribed personal or professional qualifications. Hermits, obsessives, insurance clerks, customs officers, women who embroider, men who write letters, public servants, soldiers, drunks, provincial doctors and gulag inmates have all become great writers. How? A mystery. But avidity – about the ...

We do nothing alone,’ writes Alex Miller, in his brief memoir ‘The Mask of Fiction’, where he gives an account of the generative processes of his writing. Art, according to Miller, comes from the capacity of the writer to ‘see ourselves as the other’. Early in his career, Miller’s friend Max Blatt woke him, in his farmhouse at Araluen, in order to dismiss the weighty and unsuccessful manuscript that Miller had given him to read. Blatt’s urgent and unsociable rejection of the manuscript may have saved Miller’s work, establishing a new emotional basis for his writing. ‘Why don’t you write about something you love?’ Blatt asked. That night, Blatt told Miller a true story of personal survival and Miller began to write afresh. In the morning, Blatt accepted Miller’s version of the story he had told with the words: ‘You could have been there.’

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The writing of a novel, Alex Miller has said, ‘is a kind of journey of the imagination in which there’s the liberty to dream your own dream … There’s always got to be a model located somewhere in fact and reality … But some of your best characters are what you think of as being purely made up, just characters that needed to be there.’  

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As creative writing programs continue to surge in popularity, it has become something of an uphill battle to recruit students for literature courses in universities. In an environment overstocked with would-be writers fixated on the image of a potential publisher whose own field of vision is a mass of BookScan figures, a collection of critical essays on a literary writer has something of an ambassadorial role to play. Can those who profess an interest in books and writing be persuaded that there is value in complex engagements with context and tradition, form, and theme?

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