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Jeanette Winterson: on life before death and her ‘nasty little book’

Jeanette Winterson held up her latest book The Daylight Gate on Saturday afternoon at Byron Bay Writers’ Festival. “It’s a true story and a nasty little book,” she said. Winterson gave the keynote address for the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival on Friday.

Written after Winterson was approached by Hammer, the horror imprint, reignited by Random House, at first she thought the idea was the stupidest thing ever, but then she thought, “Why not? If I can’t stand it, I can burn it.”

Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson signing one of many books at Byron Bay Writers’ Festival – Image: Cath Piltz, @scuonline #bbwf2014

Winterson has no hesitation in burning work she is not satisfied with. She tosses it into a wood burning stove in her study and it won’t end up in ‘a library in Texas.’ It’s not going to improve if you put it away in the draw. It’s not wine. If it was rubbish it will be still be rubbish when you take it out, she said.

Winterson grew up in the shadow of Pendle Hill, Lancashire, where the first witch trial documented anywhere in the world took place in 1612. Little is known of the real facts except that although little is known of the real facts.
Winterson ran into an early problem with the book. She’s doesn’t normally plot a beginning, middle and end for her books.

“So I went to my friend, Ruth Rendell and said ‘Plot?” Rendell, English author of thrillers and psychological murder mysteries looked at her pityingly, then told her that every chapter had to end somewhere to ensure readers had something to go on to in the next chapter.

It was a lesson in plotting from one of the world’s leading genre writers.
But Winterson herself influences and inspires many young and aspiring writers, by being passionate about the creative process, language and story, and about living in the now.

She read the opening scene from The Daylight Gate and another where the woman facing trial accused of being witches are enduring a terrible ‘now’ of torture and deprivation.

We can’t change the time we live in, says Winterson.
“This is your now. It is enough for Winterson to be able to create and share in that and not to worry about what people think. Winterson also spoke about her creativity and her personal challenges in a packed session with her partner Susie Orbach, and she gave the keynote address for this year’s festival.

Winterson often quotes her late mother by whom she was adopted and who was written about in her novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

“Mrs. Winterson used to think of life as a pre-death experience, which is disconcerting when you’re five.”

“I don’t care. I need to have life before death.”

Marian Edmunds

Marian Edmunds is a writer, editor and mentor.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Creativity and Craziness: Discovering your inner creature with Jeanette Winterson and Susie Orbach | BYRON BAY WRITERS' FESTIVAL

  2. Pingback: Jeanette Winterson: making journeys out of stories and stories out of journeys | BYRON BAY WRITERS' FESTIVAL

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