In the first in a regular series of interviews with the authors of newly-published paperbacks, Man Booker shortlistee AD Miller talks about writing his novel, Snowdrops
1. How did you come to write Snowdrops?
When I was a foreign correspondent in Russia, I wrote an article about the role of snow in the life of Moscow. I discovered the concept of the human "snowdrop": Russian slang for a body that lies buried in the winter snow, emerging in the thaw. The image seemed to capture the harshness of life in Russia, but also potentially to be a metaphor for other ideas, too, such as the way experiences that you try to repress can catch up with you. I fixed on the voice of the narrator ? a lonely, drifting, 30something expat lawyer, living in Moscow during the few-questions-asked oil boom. Those were the two initial elements of the novel.
2. What was most difficult about it?
First-person storytelling turned out to be a lot harder than I had anticipated: the whole business of conveying things to the reader that the narrator himself can't see, or doesn't want to; hoping readers won't mind not liking him. Depicting his moral decline ? which is what the book is ultimately about ? through his voice was tough. But I think the hardest part of any extended piece of writing is sustaining the morale of the author.
3. What did you most enjoy?
Very occasionally, you feel you've got a scene or passage right and true; that you managed to put down what you were hoping to. There are a few bits of Snowdrops in that category. Oddly they mostly involve torture of one kind or another.
4. How long did it take?
About two and a half years, plus another six months or so for revisions after the book found a publisher (for most of that first period I wasn't at all sure it ever would). I had a full-time job for all of that time, though. I'm not sure how long it would have taken if I hadn't. Maybe longer.
5. What has changed for you since it was first published?
It's a weird feeling when people start talking to you about the characters who've been living in your head; what had felt intimate suddenly becomes very public. It's upsetting when readers don't get what you wanted to do but lovely when they seem to.
6. Who's your favourite writer?
Shakespeare. Also Isaac Babel, Dostoevsky, WG Sebald, Nabokov, Melville.
7. What are your inspirations?
Hard to say. My novice's view of creative writing isn't altogether romantic. It does involve feelings and ideas ? you can't just turn it on and off ? but it is also long, lonely work.
8. Give us a writing tip.
Do it your own way.
9. What, if anything, would you do differently if you were starting the book again?
Lots of things. But it might not be a good idea to specify.
10. What are you working on now?
A short story about politicians and phone-hacking, and another about a man collecting a takeaway.