Q&A | James Miller

James MillerJAMES MILLER LIVES IN LONDON and is the author of the acclaimed literary thrillers Lost Boys (Little, Brown 2008) and Sunshine State (Little, Brown 2010). He teaches creative writing and English literature at Kingston University. His story ‘From the Archive’ is an academic spoof set in the future in which fragments from the First Digital Age (2000-2037) are examined. He will be reading from ‘From the Archive’ with fellow writer Jan Woolf at the Still launch event 26 September 2012 at Foyles on Charing Cross Road, London.

What’s the appeal of London?
I live in London because it’s the centre of the universe. A writer can either be in the centre or on the margins. I’m on the margins but within the centre. I love London.

Where do you write?
Usually in the British Library. It’s like going to the office. One needs to be disciplined and follow a structured routine.

What made you take up writing?
I’ve always thought one is basically born a writer. It’s a vocation or maybe a curse. I was brought up in the Home Counties which are a nice place to be but also incredibly boring – people live in the Home Counties because they know it’s a place where nothing will ever happen. Nothing happened during my childhood and adolescence but I always had an incredibly intense imagination and a strong curiosity about the wider world – it was obvious to me that a lot was happening in the world, just not in Surrey. For me I think writing was a way of bridging the distance between the boredom of my surroundings, the intensity of my imagination and my awareness of all the drama, tragedy and struggle of the wider world. I also just like telling a story, entertaining and provoking people. I’m a provocative individual.

The Council Chamber by Roelof Bakker
The Council Chamber
 © 2012 Roelof Bakker

Why did you select this photograph?
I was struck by the symmetry of the picture.

What’s the idea behind your story ‘From the Archive’?
There were a couple of ideas. For a start, I’m interested in the way archaeologists are able to draw conclusions about a civilisation based on a few fragments of evidence and I found myself thinking, ‘what if this picture was one of the few remaining objects from this particular epoch? What conclusions might the archaeologists of the future draw from it?’ In addition to being a novelist, I’m also an academic and teach a lot of critical theory. I love theory, but it also amuses me to send-up some of the jargon and ideas behind critical theory, so I thought it would be fun to write a sort of academic spoof, parodying certain styles of academic writing while passing oblique satirical comment on our own culture.

Do you tend to use visuals to inspire your writing?
Yes! I keep large digital folders of images, both taken by myself or culled from the internet. I often adapt or distort them using Photoshop. As a child I loved comics and used to write and draw my own. I was always attracted to these fusions of word and image, and collecting images in this way is a continuation of this practice.

Do you prefer to write short stories or novels?
I like both. One can’t be prescriptive, the form has to fit the idea. Some ideas are best expressed in a short story, some in a novel.

Sunshine State by James MillerHave you collaborated with artists before?
No, but it’s something I’m open to. I did try to collaborate with a street artist called Part2ism because he was painting images of a naked woman in a gas mask all over east London at the same time as my first novel Lost Boys came out – and I was struck by the uncanny synchronicity of his images and certain scenes in that novel involving a sadomasochistic gasmask wearing prostitute. He kindly let me use some of these images on my website. We tried to organise an event together but it never happened. I’m always open to collaboration across disciplines. I’ve found visual and experimental artists tend to understand my work better than most literary critics.

Any new novels in the pipeline?
I’m about two thirds of the way through a novel called either Capitalist Punishment or The Grid, or maybe something different. It’s about the present global financial crisis, amongst other things.