My agent David Miller died, aged 50, on December 30 2016. I write this the same morning.
He was not my agent for long. Among the many people with fond memories of him, I’m one of the least able to speak with authority about who he was. Even so, in seven months, he managed to make me feel that I knew him well. Because David did not keep who he was hidden, I don’t think.
That’s why I’m writing this about him. It is routine when someone dies, and especially when they die so young, to tell the world they were an extraordinary person. And because it is routine I think the world often has its doubts but is too nice to say so. So please listen: David was an extraordinary person. It is terrible that he has died.
He said the most outrageous things that I have ever heard in a work conversation. I can’t repeat any of them. Let’s just say he was honest - and quick about it when there was a chance to outrage people. If someone else had died today, he would merrily denounce any mawkishness around them.
On the other hand his feelings changed, so being honest did not mean being constant. He would insist on one truth about my book. Days later he would insist that the opposite was obvious. At first I thought this undermined his opinions. Being consistent and rational did not seem to matter very much to him, but I came to understand that he was thereby freed from the worry of being wrong. Everybody’s feelings change, but his were never muddied with bet-hedging or politeness. His was the artistic temperament in our relationship.
Yet he was a brilliant agent. When my book was on submission in the summer I discovered that everyone in publishing had a special relationship with David. They knew that he was honest with them too, I think. Getting hold of him could be difficult. He was intensely busy, and always travelling. Yet at one stage he and I spoke on the phone for a long time every day and his cheerfulness never flickered despite the terrible connection at my end. I felt fiercely believed in.
Some of David’s clients and colleagues have lost a friend of decades. I do not know his family, and can’t imagine their grief today. “Tell me what you want and I shall tell you who you are,” he said to me when we first met, quoting Chekhov. He always did this with new clients. He was honest about that too. I want David to be alive.