For celebrated Castlemaine author Alex Miller, fiction gives writers the opportunity to explore the depths of their heart and reveal personal truths they themselves sometimes do not even realise.
This is why Mr Miller has delivered what is essentially an autobiography in his latest novel The Passage of Love, released at the start of this month.
“It deals with the sort of struggle years when I was young, seen from me, now,” Mr Miller said.
The novel tells the story of Robert Crofts as he moves from Far North Queensland to Melbourne and discovers writing, his relationship with his wife Lena, and their efforts with their individual creativity.
The novel largely reflects Mr Miller’s relationship with his first wife, an artist, and their life together as two creatives.
While The Passage of Love mirrors Mr Miller’s life, he is adamant he will never write a conventional autobiography, saying he loves fiction “far too much”.
“There’s a liberty in fiction, too... I find my truth in fiction,” Mr Miller said.
He said even accounts written as purely as non-fiction were not the truth, but rather interpretations of certain events, and built from both the inclusion and omission of certain facts.
“There’s no superior claim to truth by autobiography than fiction,” Mr Miller said.
He told the Bendigo Advertiser of a time when something he did not realise himself was revealed to him by a reader.
Visiting Tarrengower women’s prison, he spoke to an inmate who had read his books closely and asked him why there was a theme of the ‘missing mother’ through his work.
Mr Miller told her why his books must carry that theme, something he’d never told anyone: at the age of 18 months, the peak time for bonding with his mother, he was put into a children’s home for a week while his father worked and his mother gave birth.
“At that age, a week was a lifetime, as far as I knew… I’ve got fractured memories, revealed in books,” he said.
He said he became a writer because he wanted to tell stories; he was a storyteller as a boy, and his father before him was also a storyteller.
While it was a solitary pursuit, Mr Miller said he felt lonely when he was not writing.
As a young man, Mr Miller worked as a stockman in Queensland’s Central Highlands and Gulf Country.
But after a few years he grew restless, and felt he was repeating himself year on year.
So Mr Miller moved to Melbourne to study reading and history studies at university to prepare himself for writing, and then met the woman who would become Lena in The Passage of Love.
After separating from his first wife, Mr Miller spent time in Paris with another woman (who also appears in The Passage of Love) but after coming back to Australia for what was meant to be a temporary trip he met his wife, Stephanie, who he has now been with for 43 years.
They lived in Port Melbourne for two decades and had two children before moving to Castlemaine 17 years ago, a place which has given him a sense of belonging to a community he never experienced in the city.
Mr Miller is a two-time winner of Australia’s most prestigious literature prize, the Miles Franklin Literary Award, and has also been awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, among other accolades.
The Passage of Love is his 12th novel and 13th book.