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Man Booker Prize 2011 shortlist: A D Miller interview

Man Booker Prize 2011 shortlist: A D Miller interview

MBP: Congratulations on being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Where were you when you heard the news and how did you react?

ADM: I was sitting at my desk at work and a colleague who had seen the release called me. We've got a four-month-old baby at home, and I am in a state of advanced sleep deprivation, so when I looked at the screen and saw Snowdrops on the list, I thought I might be hallucinating. I had a long, hard stare, and then I called my wife.

MBP: Snowdrops is your debut novel. Do you believe literary prizes to be important and is the Man Booker Prize particularly significant?

ADM: Yes, because they encourage people to read and discuss books, none more so than the Man Booker. For anyone interested in fiction it has a sort of magical status. I have to say, though, that the Booker was a long way from being a consideration when I was writing Snowdrops. It's my first novel, and until it turned out that someone wanted to publish it, I wasn't confident that it would ever see the light of day.

MBP: You were formerly the Moscow correspondent for The Economist. How does writing fiction compare to journalism? How do you approach each writing project?

ADM: For me the similarities between the forms are as striking as the differences. The challenges overlap: decision-making, structure, above all the morale of the author. Digressions in an article and sub-plots in a novel are both hard to pull off. Beginnings and endings are always tough. Some of the writers I admire, such as Isaak Babel, are as interested in minute description, which you might call journalistic, as they are in plot and character. In my case, my novel wouldn't have happened without journalism, because that took me to Russia.

MBP: You lived in Moscow for three years. How much of Snowdrops is drawn from personal experience? How important is authenticity when writing fiction?

ADM: The image of the snowdrop-slang for a body that is buried in the snow, emerging in the thaw-came from some work I did on the effects of the Russian winter; in the novel I've tried to use the snowdrop as a symbol of psychological habits as well as criminal ones. The kinds of crime that the book describes, the pervasive corruption it depicts and the awful vulnerability of anyone without powerful connections are real, as people who have spent time in Moscow will recognise. The details of the Metro, the dacha, the night-life and so on are, I hope, true to life.

Having said that, this book is not an encyclopaedia of Putin's Russia: it's a first-person vision of Moscow through the eyes and experiences of one louche expat. Nick Platt, the narrator, is partly drawn from personal observations too, if not direct personal experience. He's an unmoored thirty-something-suggestible, self-deluding, able to persuade himself that real culpability for the acts in which he becomes complicit lies elsewhere.

So authenticity is important, but in this case that applies to the voice and character of the narrator as well as the setting of his story. In the end I hope readers will see that this is a book about a person's incremental moral decline as much or more than it's about Moscow.

MBP: What are you working on next?

ADM: In my very limited experience of both, books are a bit like foreign languages: only one can live in my head at any one time. If I try to speak French these days, Russian comes out instead; Snowdrops is still rattling around up there, and it's been hard for another idea to move in. But I hope to write another novel soon-ish. I had planned for it to be set in America, but now I don't think it will be.

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A D Miller, shot for the Man Booker Prize (c)Jainey Airey
A D Miller, shot for the Man Booker Prize (c)Jainey Airey