Born in Yorkshire, writer and artist Harland Miller is well known on both sides of the Atlantic. Living and exhibiting in New York, Berlin and New Orleans during the 80s and 90s, he achieved huge praise for his debut novel, Slow down Arthur, Stick to Thirty (2000). On a roll he went on to publish First I Was Afraid, I Was Petrified in the same year, based on the true story of a relative with obsessive compulsive disorder. Definitely no one-trick pony, his art continues to receive critical acclaim, namely for his Penguin book jacket creations. Both painterly and nostalgic they are also deeply humorous, successfully combining his experience in literature with his great talent as an artist. Here AnOther proudly speaks to the “peripatetic,” creative.
What are you thinking of right now?
The end of time, (Dr Who is on next door).
What makes you laugh?
The misfortune of others.
What makes you cry?
My own misfortune.
What do you consider to be the greatest invention?
Johannes Gutenberg who invented moving type – so books could get printed, basically.
Do you have a mentor or inspirational figure that has guided or influenced you?
F Scott Fitzgerald, without the drinking.
Where do you feel most at home?
In Yorkshire, which is my real home.
Where are you right now?
No 1 Mornington Crescent, London, NW1 7RH.
What is your proudest achievement in work?
Publishing a book, I guess – just walking past WH Smiths and seeing all the copies in the window, especially the one in Leeds that had “local author” over the cover at a sash-like angle.
What is your proudest achievement in life?
Without being nauseating, my kids: Blake and Ava.
What do you most dislike about contemporary culture?
Quite a lot actually, that’s what I dislike about it: in fact it’s turned me into my dad – a man that goes round shaking his head and mumbling, “Good God.”
What do you most like about the age we live in?
Quite a lot actually, that’s what I like about it: it’s turned me into an optimist for the future.
At what points do life and work intersect?
As a writer of fiction, I write about real life – stuff that’s actually happened, but the act of writing removes me from it. So I guess they intersect in the past and then hopefully again in the future. (That’s the second time I’ve mentioned the future.)
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Things are never so bad they can’t get worse.
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
I accepted a contract killing but pocketed the 30 quid and told Stua… the kid I was supposed to kill, to move to Scarborough instead.
Recommend a book or poem that has changed your perspective on life?
Cat and Mouse by Günter Grass (it’s the portrait of a clown turned hero – we can all change).
What is your earliest childhood memory?
We had a door that had a panel of frosted wheat sheaves in it, I recall the abstract shapes people made coming and going through the frozen glass.
What’s the most important relationship in your life?
What’s the most romantic action you’ve taken?
Delivering Milk Tray… but stealing it first.
What’s the most spiritual action you’ve taken?
Trying to contact the dead...
If you could wish for one change in the world what would it be?
I don’t know, I’d wish that nobody ever had to wish for anything, I guess.