MINUTES after he learnt that he had won this year's Commonwealth Writers Prize on Thursday, Australian author Alex Miller tried to describe his winning book, The Ancestor Game. ''It's quite autobiographical, about a writer who writes the tale of a Chinese Australian and about the cultural difficulties of his life,'' he started, and paused. ''I was in this position last week, stumbling over a description of the book, and a Chinese friend, Professor Huang Yuen-shun of the East China Normal University in Shanghai, was standing next to me and touched my arm,'' Mr Miller said. ''He said my book was really about a little boy standing in a field flying a kite. The boy is in the field where he should be, and the kite is in the air where it should be; the story is about the tension in the piece of string connecting the two.'' ''I wish I'd thought of that,'' Mr Miller said. The Commonwealth Writers Prize is the second high-profile prize won by The Ancestor Game, following Mr Miller's award of the Miles Franklin Award - Australia's most prestigious literary prize - earlier this year. Mr Miller said, and sounded, surprised that he had won. ''I didn't expect this at all, I was just lying down, reading and resting before the prize ceremony, and now I find that I have won. I am delighted.'' And he went on, movingly, to tell another story behind his book, the story that perhaps explains why he won the prize in Singapore, ahead of the other regional finalists: Lee Langley from the United Kingdom, with Persistent Rumours, Isidore Okpewho from Nigeria with Tides and joint Booker Prize-winner in 1992, Michael Ondaatje from Canada with The English Patient. ''When I was teaching in school in Melbourne I had a colleague who was an art teacher. He was a Chinese-Australian - fourth-generation Australian. We got to know each other well: when my son was a little boy he would run to him for a cuddle. ''He was the best friend that I've ever had. But he was an artist, very frustrated, very unable to make headway. It was something to do with the incipient racism that you find in Australia and Malaysia and so many other countries. ''Often racism comes from the people with small power, from people in shops who don't look at you when they give you your change, from a bus driver. They spoil your day, and if you're Chinese then you notice it, if not you just don't know that it is happening. ''They never did it while he was with me, yet they made it impossible for him, as an artist, to find a suitable image of himself,'' he said. ''He shot himself. ''It was terrible. I blamed him for giving up: he always used to tell me: remember Alex, success is surviving failure.'' ''That was about 13 years ago. I decided to write this book to vindicate the lie and give Australia the chance to understand what it is like to be ignored and belittled and what it does to people. ''In the end it didn't turn out to be about racism in an overt way but it is about finding an identity. Perhaps that is why they awarded me the prize, because identity is such a big issue in Commonwealth countries.'' He said one of the most important reactions to his book had been from a woman who ran an antique shop that he and the artist used to visit regularly at weekends. ''The three of us used to drink tea, but I had not seen her for 10 years until a letter arrived saying: you brought him back to life.'' ''That was incredible,'' Mr Miller said. Dr Kirpal Singh, judge and organiser of the prize ceremony, said the prize had been given to Mr Miller because the book is ''fabulous in the fullest sense: it touched each of us and made us rethink some of our concepts''. ''Miller's book had a slight edge over the others because of the complex new ways it looks at identity and tensions of different cultures.'' ''The judges come from all over the Commonwealth and yet, wherever we came from, the book still managed to have a relevance.'' ''It is about China and Australia and it challenges every assumption you might make about both those places.'' The award of this year's Commonwealth Writers Prize to an Australian - the third time in the seven years since the prize began that an Australasian has won - has already given rise to lengthy discussions about whether the competition is organised fairly. ''Each publisher can only submit two entries for the Writers prize and two entries for the First Book prize, which means that sometimes the smaller countries without many publishing houses will miss out,'' said Dr Singh. ''For example, although more than 300 books from 55 countries entered, we haven't had an entry from Hong Kong for a couple of years; there have also been very few entries from Papua New Guinea or from Western Samoa, because they don't have any big publishing houses. ''But after a long talk among all the judges we reinforced the idea that there should be no change and no compromise for the smaller countries. ''We believe that the best should be judged with the best which is what our prize is all about.'' The winner in the first prize category was Gita Hariharan, 38, from India, with her book The Thousand Faces of Night, the story of the inter-relations between three generations of Indian women. After the judges had finally decided the winner of that category, the chairman Tommy Ko, who is also chairman of the National Arts Council of Singapore, told them that they should also read Wild Swans because it was a similarly powerful account of three generations of women in China. Entries for the 1994 prize will open in January. Publishers are invited to submit works in English from Commonwealth authors published this year. Self-published books are also welcome.