Author Andy Miller made waves with his most recent novel, The Year of Reading Dangerously. Exploring the world of classical novels and how they can be properly appreciated, his book was described in turns as ‘High Fidelity for bookworms’ and ‘utterly wonderful’. Therefore, what could be better than for him to be interviewed by The Bubble in anticipation of his appearance at the Durham Book Festival?
1) What inspired you to start writing?
Reading. I’ve loved reading since childhood- it was what I was good at, whilst other children were good at playing the recorder! I mostly read books like Winnie the Pooh, never typically ‘boyish’ ones such as the Adventure Books for Boys. I also think that writers are often moved to write because nobody has written the books they want to read.
2) What inspired you to start reading the classics?
I read the classics at school and at university, but because I had to: I had a basic grounding in classical texts, but prior to The Year of Reading Dangerously I’d never read them for pleasure. One of the things that changed for me as a result of reading the classics was learning how to approach and enjoy them properly.
3) How do you approach and enjoy the classics properly?
You have to approach them differently – it’s not a beach read! These books are written by clever people; we can’t be expected to be as clever as them but that’s okay. It’s more important to let the book sink into you slowly. You can’t be expected to understand all of it, so take your time: I always think it’s a good idea to read fifty pages a day and then do something else. Treat it like practising a piece of music: reading properly is like flexing a muscle; you have to get used to the rhythms of the book you’re reading.
4) What made you start writing Reading Dangerously?
I started reading books because I wanted to. I read about eight or nine, and was halfway through Anna Karenina when I had my lightbulb moment: I wanted to write about this! Reading these books had a profound effect on me, and I wanted to communicate that, and share the experience with others.
5) Do you have a writing routine?
I get up every day at 6.00am; the family is out by 7.30am and that’s when I get to work. I work from 7.30am to lunch- for me, that’s the best bit of the day- and then stop. If I carry on, I’ll spend the rest of the day looking at one sentence and trying to decide whether it’s good or not!
6) Has having had a career in publishing helped you as an author?
Yes. Lots of writers have a background in journalism or publishing to begin with. I’ve always enjoyed working with books: prior to working in publishing I worked in a bookstore, selling novels. I’ve always loved books and wanted to be around them, but publishing is a little bit of a double-edged sword: you can’t control what happens to the book once it’s out in the world!
7) What’s your favourite thing about being a writer?
Not writing! One of my favourite authors, the great Douglas Adams, said that he hated writing, but loved having written. I can see where he’s coming from! Writing’s not physically exhausting like working down a mine is, but it’s difficult, and not as much fun as reading. The best thing about writing is having an excuse to read.
8) Which book was your favourite to write?
Definitely Reading Dangerously. It was difficult to write, but it’s the one I like best. I feel that I got a lot of things right with it.
9) Are you working on anything now?
I’m currently working on my fourth book. It’s under wraps at the moment but what I can say is that it tackles the broader subject of books, films, music and art together, rather than just novels.
10) What’s the strangest book you’ve ever read?
The strangest book I’ve ever read is Boring Postcards by Martin Parr. It’s made up of a collection of postcards of everyday places- airports, streets and bus stops- that honestly superficially look rather boring. There’s not any text at all, but it’s a hilarious and poignant, informative and entertaining book. It tells us how people in the fifties and sixties viewed architecture: what we might think of as ugly and brutalist now was then seen as optimistic and technological.
11) What’s your favourite novel?
My favourite novel is definitely Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes. I read it when I was fifteen and it changed my life. I definitely recommend it; it’s a huge source of sadness for me that when I tour the country that nobody knows what the book is. For me, it captures the essence of being a teenager.
12) Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
My advice would be to write every day. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, but as a writer the only way to improve is through practice. Writing is like a muscle; the more you write the more you can appreciate and improve.
Thank you Andy Miller, and see you in Durham!