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Creativity and Craziness: Discovering your inner creature with Jeanette Winterson and Susie Orbach

Authors and partners, Jeannette Winterson and Susie Orbach Photo: Greg Saunders

Authors and partners, Jeannette Winterson and Susie Orbach Photo: Greg Saunders

“I tried to kill myself, it didn’t work.” On the final day of the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival 2014, these are the surprising words spoken by world-renowned British writer, Jeanette Winterson.

In conversation with her partner and personal therapist, Susie Orbach, Winterson took the audience on a journey through her struggles as a writer and getting through life as a successful human being.

Winterson said the moment when the craziness caught up with her was during the loss of a relationship that she was not prepared for. It’s “like a death” she said.

“I’d always had enough fuel and energy to push me forward, and find a way through using language and writing,” she said.

Winterson said she always thought she could stay “ahead of the fire”, but during this experience of loss, it caught up with her.

“It caused me to go into a place that was completely terrifying because I’d lost language… I lost any sense of being able to describe what was happening to me,” she said.

Orbach then raised the question as to whether the gift of Winterson’s creativity was related to her craziness, and what would happen if she were to lose her craziness.

“I think creativity is on the side of health, I think it’s the thing that is trying to keep you sane,” Winterson explained.

It was at the point of Winterson’s attempted suicide that she realised that death was not meant to be for her. The point, she said, was that she could no longer go on as that Jeanette Winterson.

“I either had to find myself again, or just stop,” she said.

Orbach added her therapeutical insights regarding some of the people she has treated in a similar situation.

“The selves that they’ve been are no longer working and they’re not ready to bury it,” she said.

Along with the Byron Bay weather, the conversation continued in a mix of light and dark, particularly dark when Winterson began to describe the part of her that was “complete madness”, a part she called “The Creature”.

“It was a very dirty, unwashed child… and the way I controlled the madness at that point was by saying to The Creature ‘look, we can talk about this between ten and twelve every morning, but you can’t just come whenever you feel like it’,” she said.

Winterson said that this dialogue seemed to pacify the part of her that was in “complete madness”.

“I would be saying these things to myself… it was completely schizophrenic,” she said.

In very unreassuringly manner, Winterson seemed to try to put the crowd at ease in saying  “I’m not crazy now, I don’t think”.

“What about the fact that you have a permanent shrink?” Orbach, jokingly, countered.

Needless to say, this particular conversation certainly kept the attention of the overflowing crowd in the Feros Marquee on Sunday afternoon.  Jeanette Winterson also gave the keynote address for this years festival and spoke  about her most recent book, The Daylight Gate and Susie Orbach spoke about girls’ bodies and her work as a psychotherapist.

A question Winterson raised that I would like to leave you with is this: “What do you notice? Are you in the world at all? Or just living in your own head?”

Sophie Sambrook is a Southern Cross University Media student.




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

  2. Pingback: Jeanette Winterson: on life before death and her ‘nasty little book’ | BYRON BAY WRITERS' FESTIVAL

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