Literary Birthday – 24 July – Madeline Miller

Happy Birthday, Madeline Miller, born 24 July 1978.


  1. A part of what makes myths live is their multiplicity, the way different voices retell them in every generation. Homer survives because his poetry was outstanding, yes, but also because he’s been passed down by so many by luminaries like Vergil and Ovid, Shakespeare, James Joyce and Margaret Atwood, but also by countless others. I wanted to do my part for these tremendous stories.
  2. No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.
  3. What’s amazing to me is how many of the issues facing women in the ancient world still linger today. Take Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, a brilliant, resourceful woman who ends up in a terrible situation: in her husband’s absence, she is being held hostage in her own home by men who claim to be courting her. She tries to make them leave, but because she’s a woman they refuse, blaming their bad behaviour on her desirability.
  4. When I first started studying Greek, one of my absolute favourite parts was realising that so many English words had these old, secret roots. Learning Greek was like being given a super-power: linguistic x-ray vision.
  5. As an author, one of the most important things I think you can do once you’ve written a novel is step back. When the book is out, it belongs to the readers and you can’t stand there breathing over their shoulders.
  6. The very dull truth is that writing love scenes is the same as writing other scenes – your job is to be fully engaged in the character’s experience. What does this mean to them? How are they changed by it, or not? I remember being a little nervous, as I am when writing any high-stakes, intense scene (death, sex, grief, joy).
  7. People are people, whatever age they’re living in. The circumstances may have changed – we go to war with planes instead of chariots – but experiences of grief, longing, rage and love remain the same.
  8. It’s important for me to touch base with the story every day. Even if I know I don’t have time to write, taking ten minutes to think about it, or reread a chapter, helps to keep the fictional dream firmly in my mind.
  9. At the same time, I think there’s nothing like perspective–taking a break from a particular scene, and coming back to it a week later. I also swear by long walks outside. No matter how stuck I am, I always figure something out from a walk– something about the motion of my body gets my mind moving as well.
  10. And finally, I love to read literary criticism of ancient texts. Hearing scholars argue with each other helps to clarify my own thinking, and spark new ideas.

Madeline Miller is an American novelist. Her debut novel, The Song of Achilles, won the Orange Prize for Fiction, making Miller the fourth debut novelist to win the prize.

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by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 23rd July 2017