Pleasure and pain
Chicken abattoirs are a long way from the world of literary awards, but ANDREW MILLER has just bridged that gap with his acclaimed novel Ingenious Pain.
Words: Brian Donaldson
Addendum to the old ‘never judge a book by its cover’ chestnut — on no account believe that an author will bear any resemblance to the snapshot on the tome's jacket.
Far from the psycho kid brother of muso/poet/body-builder Henry Rollins who stares at you menacineg from the back of Ingenious Pain. 37-year-old West Country boy Andrew Miller has preferred to channel his muscular power into a ﬁerce. amiable mind. This almost allows you to forget his status as a second level black belt in Aikido. his past employment at a chicken abattoir and the terrifying images of anaesthetic-free surgery and fragile bodies which pepper his debut novel
Miller has just received the James Tait Black Memorial award for Ingenious Pain. newly out in paperback. It follows wide critical acclaim. Everyone from The List down to The Literary Review has raved about the tale of 18th century medic James Dyer who is stricken with the inability to feel pain along with the emotions of love. compassion. empathy. all that malarkey.
‘What I was concerned about was what makes a good person.‘ recalls Miller. ‘James Dyer starts out as a very flawed human being. ending tip as a damaged one but someone who has regained his essential elements of humanity. It‘s a fairy tale in some ways. With his transformation. he is almost a gender reversal Sleeping Beauty.‘
The film industry is also recognising Miller‘s talent. with his next novel Casanova. the story of the archetypal lover‘s year in London in 1763. well on its way to the big screen.
‘The second book (due out in the autumn) is a more obvious subject for a film and I‘m writing the script for that now.’ says Miller. ‘I think Ingenious Pain is filmable. though it may be expensive and you’d need some quite crafty casting to set someone like James Dyer right.‘
Any candidates in mind‘.’ ‘I have no idea but it would have to be someone who could play him with a passionate absence. While he revels in his aloofness
96 THE MM 23 Jan—5 Feb 1998
‘l formally decided to be a writer at eighteen -~ in my little bedsit, chicken factory by day, Franz Kafka by night.’
Andrew Miller: from abattoir worker to literary big gun
from suffering. I don‘t see him as a neutral. robotic character at all.‘
And to think that the novel almost failed to reach the nation‘s shelves with years of research into surgical procedures. birth and death registers. meteorological records. visits to operating theatres and double-figure rewrites almost going to waste.
"There were several occasions when I thought I
couldn‘t go on with it.‘ recalls Miller. ‘l‘d set myself
problems. which were about writing novels rather than Ingenious I’ain itself. I finished it in the spirit of. if I hadn‘t. psychologically. it would be a disaster and I wouldn‘t have been able to finish any other book.‘
And rather than causing a buzz or two in the literary world. Miller could still be watching poultry having
their throats cut. feathers plucked. knees lopped off and then gutted before going to the staff canteen for
‘At that point I formally decided to be a writer — at eighteen in my little bedsit. chicken factory by day. Franz Kafka by night.‘
Not a case of III(’ Trial then error.
Ingenious Pain by Andrew Miller is published by Sceptre at £6.99.
The write stuff
From singing waiter to successful author, Patrick Gale knows how to spin a good line - including his latest novel Tree Surgery For Beginners.
NAME: Patrick Gale.
PREVIOUS JOBS: I've been a bone- washer and sorter on an
archaeological unit, a singing waiter and a typist.
ROUTE TO BECOMING A WRITER: I wrote as a child though I never took
it very seriously as a job — I wanted to be an actor or a musician. I wrote
my first book for fun and a friend from university who worked for an agent borrowed the book and lent it to the agent who said he thought he
could sell it. I thought: ‘This has to be
easier than trying to get my Equity
; DAILY ROUTINE: I try to get up before eight o'clock and be writing by nine. I walk the dog first thing - a big
lurcher who takes a lot of exercise - and try and work all morning, walk the dog on the beach in the afternoon and then footle around in the afternoon. I quite often work in the evening.
INFLUENCES: Muriel Spark, Iris Murdoch. I'm an omnivore, I read everybody from Jackie Collins to Jane Austen. But, something like Alice In Wonderland got me at an early age.
AMBITIONS: I'm singularly unambitious, though I'd like to see one of my film scripts get made.
FEARS: Going deaf. I could just about cope with blindness, but I'd hate not to be able to hear conversations or music — I couldn’t live without music. My dad is going very deaf, he's quite an old man now and I can see how it isolates him socially. It scares me.
INCOME: Probably somewhere between £20—30,000. It fluctuates. I do other kinds of writing other than
novels. There are the film scripts and
a certain amount of reviewing.
a Tree Surgery for Beginners by Patrick Gale, published by Flamingo,
£16.99. See book events