The Thursday Interview: George Orwell

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Down and out in Paris and London, 1933

– Mr. Orwell, you’ve been dead for over 60 years. My readers, I’m sure, would be eager to know your impressions on the afterlife.

– I’m afraid they’re of no interest. During my life, I was far more concerned with the conditions of living people than in whatever might happen to them after they die. And on that point I haven’t changed. I actually had more religious belief than some give me credit for, but you mustn’t forget it’s guesswork at best. If it diverts attention from the life that goes on around us, I have no time for it.

– But for you it’s not guesswork. You’re there.

– It would only worsen matters if I told you. What counts is the life you live and the lives of the people around you.

– All right, we’ll leave it at that. A shame – it would have been quite a scoop! But let’s move on. You’re remembered most for your last two books, Animal Farm and 1984, but while I agree they’re both powerful, it was actually your documentary writing that had a more profound effect on me – Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Peer. Would you say that’s a fair judgement?

– They’re difficult to compare. I do think it was important to have written 1984. It might have turned out better if I hadn’t been dying from TB at the time, but still, it’s a decent effort, given the circumstances. Down and Out was less far-reaching but I was still cutting my teeth as a writer and as a piece of reporting it’s not entirely without merit, if I say so myself.

– You saw 1984 not as a prediction but as a warning, a bleak prophecy of what might happen if we’re not careful. Looking at today’s world, what do you think?

– To a large extent, you have, mercifully, heeded the warning – on the whole, totalitarianism has declined. But I spot the seeds of a different danger now – not so much governments as big business, although often they go hand in hand. I wrote in 1984, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” But you could shorten that now to “Who controls the present controls the future.” I believe that’s what companies like Google are setting out to do. And although you may be better off materially, it hasn’t made people any happier. That doesn’t surprise me – I often found I was happiest in conditions of extreme hardship. But it’s only natural for people who have nothing to envy or resent those that do, and if it’s not sorted out, the gap I see today between rich and poor, both within countries and between them, can only spell trouble for the future.

– Yesterday I posted your rules for effective writing, which attracted quite a few comments. Is there any other advice you could give to those of us who like writing?

– Is this your blogging 101 assignment? I thought you were supposed to elaborate on a comment you made on someone else’s blog.

– I know. But I didn’t make any comments. I replied to the ones I received, though. And I put links to other blogs in my post.

– I see. A sneaky way out of it, but still. I can’t really criticise, I was sometimes the same myself. Advice to writers? If it’s what you really want to do, don’t give up! But don’t expect to make any money either. The first book of mine to sell in any quantity was Animal Farm, by which time I had only a few years to live. But I knew from an early age that I would write, and I’m happy that I did.

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4 thoughts on “The Thursday Interview: George Orwell

  1. Ye, you were very sneaky with that comment thing! 😉 My advice? I started my writing later in life than I wish I had. Seize the moment because life slips away fast…So many words in my head and so many unfinished pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

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