Speaking immediately after winning the Orange Prize for Fiction with The Song of Achilles (Bloomsbury) Madeline Miller said the book, set in classical Greece, was a suitably epic decade in the making.
The novel follows Patroclus, an awkward young prince, who has been exiled to Phthia to live in the shadow of King Peleus and his strong, beautiful son, Achilles. By rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as a friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper.
On adapting the classics, Miller said: “I would never say rewrite…I would say 'write back to', or 'take inspiration from', because they are amazing on their own.” And if she were to take inspiration from another of the classics for her next novel? “I love Sophocles’ play Philoctetes—that’s a play I felt very, very strongly about. It’s this beautiful kind of sad story about an older soldier who’s been left behind, and there was a lot of Philoctetes in the first draft because I loved his character so much I wanted him to appear in the novel, so there’s lot of him on the cutting room floor. But I would not be rewriting Sophocles, only sort of writing around it.”
Miller says the Orange Prize is a “wonderful” prize to have, and, that an award for women’s fiction is “absolutely relevant…you have so many statistics coming out about the number of women [in books]; for every woman who gets reviewed two men get reviewed.
"[But] this is not about women’s fiction, this is about fiction by women that’s for everyone. I feel like that’s the message of the Orange Prize and I’m so glad that that exists."
Miller added that the orange dress she wore at the awards was lent to her by fellow shortlisted author Ann Patchett as a good luck charm. “She’s been so generous to me,” Miller said, “She’s like my fairy godmother.
“The day the shortlist was announced was the day I was doing a reading at her bookstore [Parnassus Books in Nashville, Texas], so we were both there. It was as if it was all planned.” Patchett’s staff at the store “went out and bought some oranges and some orange flowers…and now I have the orange dress.”
And what about her winnings—the anonymously donated £30,000? Miller says she would love to “give back…people have been so generous to me throughout my life".