“My mother called me Silver. I was born part precious metal part pirate”

#13: Jeanette Winterson — Lighthousekeeping

№13 in my project to discover 52 female creators in 52 weeks is Jeanette Winterson.

Probably best known for her book ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’, a semi-autobiographical novel which was turned into a screenplay in 1990. I was drawn to her novel Lighthousekeeping by the opening line…

“My mother called me Silver. I was born part precious metal part pirate”

Winterson is known for writing about sexual identity within her work and this is very subtly weaved through the story of Silver. Orphaned when her Mother dies carrying home the shopping, Silver is thrust into a new reality. She is taken in by Pew, the ancient and kindly lighthousekeeper on the coast of Scotland where she grew up. It’s a story about stories, knowing your own story, and the transformative power that stories can have.

‘Tell me a story, Pew. What kind of story child?’

I have to confess that whilst I was at first pulled in, around the middle of the book my interest started to wane. Until I suddenly noticed how rhythmic and musical Winterson’s writing is. I tried reading it out loud. It was a revelation! And I skipped through the book till the end. I’m sure that reading it out loud made the writing more emotional. It reminded me of something that Maya Angelou said about how reading out loud gives the words new life. So, read this book for the poetry, to experience the Scottish coastline, and to be reminded of the importance of having a story.

7 things I discovered about Jeanette Winterson

  1. Her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), written when Winterson was 24, won the Whitbread first novel award, and her BBC TV screenplay in 1990 won a Bafta. The novel drew on Winterson’s Pentecostal evangelical upbringing in the north of England, and her rebellious love for another girl (read more here)
  2. By 12 years of age, Winterson’s adoptive mother, a fervid Pentacostalist, had trained her to write sermons and preach on street corners
  3. Her relationship with her adoptive mother, who she called Mrs Winterson, was an unhappy. Winterson recalls being locked in the coal cellar as a child and making up stories to survive being in the cramped and claustrophobic space. She didn’t attend Mrs Winterson’s funeral when she died when Winterson was aged 29.
  4. Winterson claims that Mrs Winterson burst a blood vessel when she told her adoptive mother that she loved another woman. “She had varicose veins and the whole thing burst and hit the ceiling. I was running round in a panic with cloths trying to staunch the flow; I had a tourniquet of tea towels. And she was lying looking up at the ceiling and all she said was: “We’ve just had that ceiling decorated.”
  5. She has also written children’s books — Tanglewreck, The Lion, The Unicorn and Me, and the King of Capri
  6. Winterson writes frankly about experiencing the menopause and the tendency for doctors to follow the medical model of ‘treating’ natural hormonal changes through a women’s life rather than a more holistic model where regular blood tests, advice on diet and exercise, and psychotheraputic interventions sit within medical practice.
  7. Her tip for writing? Don’t be afraid to start again. “Creativity is inexhaustible. Experiment, play, throw away. Above all be confident enough about creativity to throw stuff out. If it isn’t working, don’t cut and paste — scrap it and begin again.”

Here are some lovely pieces I came across by other female creators along the same themes that Winterson shares within her book

What female creator did I discover last week?

This post is part of my FemCult52 project in which I aim to discover 52 female creators in 52 weeks. Last week was all about journalist Jessica Bennett and her book Feminist Fight Club

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