The View From Here Interview:
Paolo Giordano was born in Turin in 1982. He received a degree with honours in Fundamental Physics from the University of Turin in 2007 and is now working on a doctorate in particle physics. The Solitude of Prime Numbers, his first novel, has sold over a million copies in its native Italian since its launch in 2008, and has sold in 34 countries topping the Dutch and Spanish bestseller lists. It won Italy’s answer to the Man Booker Prize, the Premio Strega Award, making him the youngest author to receive this award.
With The Solitude of Prime Numbers easily ranking as my favourite read of the year, I caught up with him in the middle of his book tour.
What's your ideal night?
Aperitif with friends + sushi + cinema + walk back home, not alone.
Can you take us through how you got your publishing deal and how that made you feel?
I sent a short story I wrote to a well-known literary magazine, called “Nuovi Argomenti”. The people there liked it and decided to publish it. As I got in contact with an editor there, I gave him a copy of the novel and he proposed it to Mondadori (my Italian publishing house, the biggest in the country). Everything happened very fast. I received a phone call at 11.30 p.m. from the chief editor. He told me: “Come here tomorrow. We need to talk.” So, it happened exactly in the way one would dream it to happen...
How much of the plot and theme formed and took shape in your mind before you started writing?
I decided to start writing without a complete idea of the plot: if I know where I'm headed I tend to rush and not to have fun. I need to discover things while I write. I only knew there would be a few stories intersecting (they were three in the beginning, then I cancelled one) and I had a series of small details and snapshots in my mind, that I knew I had to bind together.
What influences did you bring to your writing that you were conscious of?
Some books were crucial for this novel. The ones that have a direct link to my story are: “The child in time” (Ian McEwan), “Towelhead” (Alicia Erian), “Flesh and blood” (Michael Cunningham), “The elementary particles” (Michel Houllebecq). For one who knows them, the reason is self-evident.
Did you write a rough first draft and then bring definition and shape to it?
I seldom change a lot from the first version. I am very slow in writing, but then I don't need to re-write much. What I do is usually to cut redundant parts and to substitute words with more precise ones, if available.
How easy was it for you to show your work to other people?
Before writing I played the guitar and I wanted to be a rockstar. I had to quit because I was too afraid of being on stage... That doesn't happen to me with literature, as it is not a “live performance” (there are also live performances after the book is out, but it's quite different). I only show my work when I feel I don't have to be ashamed for it.
Do you know what caused the book to be so popular when it launched in Italy and was it a slow build in sales or an overnight success?
The book started selling well quite soon. I think its success was due to a complicated combination of factors. To me, the most important ones are that the book is very “accessible” in the language, but not commercial, so it can reach a large number of readers, and that it talks about those secret and invisible universes and scars that all of us feel in their personalities.
How have your friends and family reacted to your success?
At first they were a bit lost (as I was), but they soon got used to it. I think they made a big effort to give me the impression that nothing had changed in my personal relationships.
Well done for being the youngest writer to win Italy's prestigious Premio Strega Award for fiction. Has that and the massive success of your book caused you to rethink your future plans? And do you feel in control of what is happening or are you getting swept along with the momentum?
(Thank you). The book and the Prize changed drastically my life in many aspects. In a very short time, the perception all people had of me (even the closest ones) changed. We never like sudden changes in the people we love and I was aware of that. So, that was quite shocking, I had the fear of losing everybody and also my own centre of gravity. It took me a lot of energy and concentration (and isolation as well) to remain stable. Of course, my prospects have also mutated, but this was a much slower change. For the first time in my life I let the events choose what was the right ambition to follow.
Part 2 of this interview here.