Getting Rilke with Martin Millar

We all want someone to talk to, who understands us, and maybe that’s why generations of writers, readers and searching souls have responded so strongly to Rainer-Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, a series of exchanges that, while exactly as it sounds on paper, soars to the stars in its unrelenting attempts to unravel the complexities of life on a scale that makes sense in our everyday lives. Remembering how nice it was to read the first time, we thought we’d return to the text to unearth those searching queries, and ask some of our brightest stars today to either answer questions drawn from the text or write a letter to their teenage selves. Today, we have Martin Millar (, author of novels including The Good Fairies of New York (which has an introduction by Neil Gaiman) and Lonely Werewolf Girl, a book that we have bought, and given away to someone who absolutely must read it, bought it again, given it away again, and so on. Today that person is you, so just take our word for it. There’s also a new sequel out, Curse of the Werewolf Girl. We heart him for many reasons, including that his Facebook quote is Forsan miseros meliora sequentur – For those in misery perhaps better things will follow (Virgil). Here are Martin’s answers to some eternal questions:

1) Why must you write? What would you do if you weren’t a writer? (Or, what was the best job you had before becoming an author?)
I wouldn’t say that I must write. I don’t feel obligated. I like writing but I could live without it.
I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t a writer. Something menial, most probably. I’ve always had a problem with lack of ambition.
I never had a good job before I was a writer. I was a labourer, a clerk, a warehouse worker and a library assistant. Actually I liked being a library assistant. Also, I signed on (as in welfare) quite a lot.

2) What two books do you find indispensable? Who has given you the greatest experience of the essence of creativity, its depths and eternity?
This question is taking me a lot more seriously than I take myself.  I couldn’t honestly say I find any book indispensable. I don’t know what the essence of creativity is and it would probably be harmful to my work if I found it.

3) If you could not send a reader all of your books, which one would you recommend first?
Lonely Werewolf Girl. It’s the most fun. Although it is a long book. If you have a short attention span, I’d recommend Suzy, Led Zeppelin and Me.

4) Which question did you once have, that you love most in retrospect (and have since answered or not answered)?
I don’t really understand this question. If I had some question about something, why would I love it? I can’t even make up an answer for this.

5) Where is the place in which you most love to write?
Again, I wouldn’t say that I love to write. Generally I like it well enough, but if I was rich I’d probably spend a very long time quite happily not doing it. In general, my writing is quite a workmanlike experience. I like writing, and it pays the rent, but there’s nothing very emotional about the process.
When I’m writing I sit at my desk in my living room. It’s messy and there’s nothing special there. I could write anywhere that was quiet. I’ve moved around a lot in London. As long as I have a quite room for my desk, it’s OK to work.

6) What is the value of solitude to a writer?
Well, you can’t write with someone disturbing you, or at least, I can’t. So some peace while you’re actually writing is necessary.
As for other times, it depends. I like being on my own at times, but when I wrote my first novel I was sharing a flat with some other people, and working in a warehouse, so there was no solitude in my life at that time.  But if you want to write, you just have to make the best of your circumstances, and get on and write. There’s not much point waiting for your circumstances to be ideal. They probably will never be ideal.

7) What advice would you give to a young person, or your younger self, about love?
Be prepared for it to go badly. Then expect to feel as bad as you possibly can. However, you will feel better eventually.

8) What is the value of sadness to a writer?
Like all bad experiences, very helpful. There is some comfort in knowing that whatever bad experiences you have, you can put them to good use in your books.

9) What book, story or poem brought you greatest comfort as a teen?
The Hobbit. I’ve always liked it as a comfort book. I’ve read it many times.

10) In closing, what single best piece of advice would you give to a hopeful young writer, in a sentence?
That depends on what stage the writer is at. If you’re ready to start publishing your work, then my best advice is – Find an agent, it will make your life much easier.
If you’re not at that stage yet, my advice on writing is to make sure you write very regularly, even when you don’t feel like it, and don’t waste your time constantly showing your writing to friends for their approval. Trust your own judgement and write exactly what you want to write.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *