Jeanette Winterson interview

The Independent interviews Jeanette Winterson on her latest effort, Lighthousekeeping.

“I was walking on the canal in Regent’s Park,” she tells me, “and a sentence came into my head fully formed, which is the first sentence. And I thought, ooh, I wonder who that is… Then I wait to see if the thing goes away, or if it’s just an over-excitable bit of lunch I’ve had and it will pass. It didn’t pass,” she grins. “The process is maddening,” she adds, “because I don’t write sequentially, and I never number pages till the very end. It’s a real act of faith – so it’s a good job I was brought up the way I was!”

As models of creativity go, it’s pretty much the Romantic one, which, she says, “allows free play amongst those chaotic and disturbing elements that are often lost in the personality and in the busy lives that we lead”. It is clearly no picnic. “I go to my study and it’s just awful,” she confides. “You can sit there for hours at a time and produce nothing of any value and it all has to be thrown away… This isn’t a real fire,” she says, gesturing towards the flames flickering a few feet away from us, “but in the country all my fires are real, and I always have one at the ready… In a way I think anything that’s good will return.”

For this novel, she threw out 1,500 pages in order to reach the 200-odd that remain. She writes in her studio, “a big, open space with no books in it”, and puts the sections in piles on the floor. “There might be 50 or more sections,” she explains, “and then if I’m really cross I’ll just shove them on top of each other. And then I have to read it all again… I read it obsessively and I read it out loud, and move the sections if I have to.”