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Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson, one of our leading novelists, talks candidly to Melvyn Bragg about her strict religious upbringing, her sheltered early years, and her zealous appetite for art.

Winterson made her debut in 1985 with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

A story based of her extraordinary upbringing.

The novel won the Whitbread Prize the following year and in 1990, was made into a television series.

Born in 1959, Winterson was adopted by a family of Elim Pentacostalists, an Evangelical church which teaches that every word of the Bible is literally true.

Winterson was brought up in a fanatically religious household in a parochial town in the North of England called Accrington.

Her adoptive mother raised her daughter to be a missionary and by the age of eight, she was preaching.

Opposed to any other form of literature other then religious text, Winterson’s home had 'only six books in it.’

Her desire to read led her to smuggle books in to the house and hide them under her mattress. When eventually her mother found out, she burnt every last one.

A vital turning point in Winterson’s life came at the age of 16 when she announced that she had fallen in love with another woman.

Her extreme naivety and ignorance of the ways of the world left her totally unprepared for the ramifications of her actions.

She was publicly denounced by both the church and her parents.

Forced to leave the security net of life as she knew it, Winterson left home to take ‘A’ levels at a local technical college and supported herself doing odd-jobs.

She then won a place, in a very unorthodox way, at St. Catherine's College Oxford, to read English.

‘I don’t think of life as a documentary. I think of it as a poetic journey, and perhaps a journey without a destination, but one that is a series of arrivals’, says Winterson.

Her books include The Passion, Written on the Body, and The Powerbook.

No longer a strict believer, she nevertheless has an almost religious zeal for the importance of art which she regards as the most truthful of all possible forms of human expression.

Winterson believes ‘it is oxygen, it is life’. She has just finished her latest novel, Lighthousekeeping.

Produced and directed by David Thomas Edited and presented by Melvyn Bragg

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