Orange Q&A: Georgina Harding
24/05/2012 by Hannah Lewis
Georgina Harding talks about her Orange Prize-nominated Painter of Silence
You travelled through Ceausescu’s Romania. What was it like?
Travelling through time. In the countryside, in the Carpathians where mountain land had not been collectivised by the Communists, I was travelling through an almost medieval landscape: horses and carts on the road, men walking with scythes on their shoulders, shepherds on hillsides, women haymaking, storks’ nests, geese, forests; villages and figures out of Germanic fairy tales. And in the cities, a twentieth century out of Cold War nightmare: an eerie greyness, vast apartment blocks and vaster factories displaying concrete and metal in every stage of decay, sullen faces, moments of paranoia and absurdity.
Did you intend Painter of Silence to be a historical novel?
I never set out to write a historical novel. It’s an atmosphere, a place, a story, that draws me, and then I find myself in the time to which it belongs. In my first novel there was a story and a sense of ice, and I found myself in the Arctic in the seventeenth century. My second began not as history to me but in the remembered world of my own childhood, and then looked back further into the past for its dramatisation. My third followed those first impressions of Romania to the period of time in which they might most clearly be worked through. I am now working on a contemporary novel. As I write, I have barely noticed the change in approach. There was an initial requirement for distance, to distill a living subject that might otherwise crowd in and confuse the story; but then there is a freedom from fear of anachronism.
You write fiction and non-fiction; how do you differentiate in writing styles?
For me, the process is very different. I wrote my non-fiction before I wrote fiction, and before that I worked as an editor, earning money freelance and then going travelling. The travel books grew out of the travelling, and once I sat down at home to write them I knew each day where the writing was going as I knew where I had been. My direction was ordered, fixed in advance. That was why I started to write novels. It was hard at first to first to shed the habitual control of the editor and let my imagination go. Once I did, I found that the novel itself could become a journey.
Painter of Silence is published by Bloomsbury.