“I don’t write pretty” Lisa Harding tells me just a few minutes into our interview on a chilly park bench that’s happily within both our 5km limits. It’s the middle of the afternoon and the paths are thronged with nannies, buggies and well-groomed mothers sporting perky pompom hats and coffee to go. On the surface it’s all bright and shiny, but you don’t know what people are really going through do you, we agree.
I’m fresh from finishing Harding’s second novel, Bright Burning Things, parts of which take place in this very park where single mother Sonya runs in frantic circles to get away from the fact that she’s failed as an actor and is barely coping with everything else. Isolated in her chaotic cottage, barely able to feed five-year-old Tommy, her only friend is “the white witch” – the chilled wine she glugs by the bottle as the fish-fingers burn. “She’s at a very dangerous stage,” says Harding who admits that she’s witnessed, close up, the kind of damage such a character can do. “There are people close to me who I love who have addiction problems,” she says, “and when I was younger I was a wild thing for a couple of years. I was wild with alcohol.”
Those years seem firmly behind Harding as she continues to establish herself as an author and a teacher of creating writing. Her debut novel, Harvesting, which portrayed two young girls from very different backgrounds caught up in Dublin’s grim world of sex-trafficking, is to be made into a film, directed by Michael Lennox, the director of Derry Girls. Bright Burning Things, too, has been optioned for film. Harding came to writing late, honing her voice with monologues and plays that she wrote in frustration at the lack of suitable roles being offered to her as an actress in London and Dublin. A part in Fair City paid the rent for a while but she could see her star waning. “It’s a tough, tough job. I would have played the ingénue and I was very good at it, but then it dries up.”
That sense of dwindling options hangs around Sonya as she endures numbing weeks of rehab, the inevitable slippages and a relationship that quickly moves in a sinister direction. Harding handles words beautifully, spinning a new world for Sonya that’s as fragile as glass – always on the edge of shattering. The creative impulse, she finds, comes from a place of damage, or at least that has been her experience. “In my drama school, for instance, every single one of us came from broken homes.” Harding is working on her third novel – “a dysfunctional coming of age story that’s quite dark”. It might not end up that way. Bright Burning Things went through several iterations, she says, at one stage heading into the realm of psychological thriller before she pulled back, eventually allowing it to end on a hint of hope. “I do believe in goodness. I don’t believe in writing just pure hideousness, to shock for shock’s sake.”
Bright Burning Things (Bloomsbury, €15.95) is out now.
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