Small talk: Magnus Mills

Bus driver by day, novelist by night, Magnus Mills was born in Birmingham in 1954 and brought up in Bristol. He has produced three collections of short stories and seven novels, including The Restraint of Beasts, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 1998. Mills is married and lives in London.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

I’m a bus driver so the only thing on my bedside table is an alarm clock but I am reading TB Macaulay’s History of England. The quality of the writing is fantastic.

What book changed your life?

The first one I wrote, The Restraint of Beasts. But in terms of reading it was The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien. It made me realise the importance of structure and style.

What is your daily writing routine?

I write when I feel like it – and when my roster allows. My books take over all my spare time.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

All my research is retrospective; I don’t realise it is research until later. I spent seven years building fences, so I absorbed stuff, which I drew on in The Restraint of Beasts. It was the same with bus driving and The Maintenance of Headway.

Which literary character most resembles you?

Icarus; I always take things a little too far. Although I’ve never flown towards the sun.

Who are your literary influences?

Aesop, Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Conrad, Orwell, AJP Taylor, Flann O’Brien, Churchill, Maurice Maeterlinck, HG Wells, RL Stevenson, Henry Lawson, Mervyn Peake, DH Lawrence, Pinter, Dylan Thomas, Hunter S Thompson, Belloc. Is that enough?

Can you remember the first novel you read?

Biggles: The Rescue Flight. I was 10 years old. I became obsessed by Biggles; I’ve named one of my characters after Captain WE Johns.

When do you feel most free?

When I’m walking home from the swimming pool.

What is your current favourite word?

It has always been the same one: disgruntlement.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

Cromwell, Jimi Hendrix and Ted Heath. It’d be nice if they met.

What book do you wish you’d written?

The Life of the Bee [1901] by Maeterlinck. He makes the life of the bee sound like an epic poem.

What does it mean to be a writer?

It used to be a lucrative pastime. Now it’s an enjoyable pastime but not so lucrative any more.

Magnus Mills’ latest novel is ‘A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In’ (Bloomsbury)

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