Jeanette Winterson at the Cheltenham Literary Festival

Last weekend I took a quick trip to Cheltenham to see Jeanette Winterson at the Literary Festival! I just reviewed her book The Stone Gods on this blog and I really enjoyed it, which is why I didn’t hesitate to jump on a train to go and see her.

jeanette winterson
Jeanette Winterson – image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

She was at the festival to promote her latest novel, The Gap of Time, a rewriting of The Winter’s Tale as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare range. We have a lot more to look forward to from this collection, including retellings of the Hamlet by Gillian Flynn, Macbeth by Jo Nesbo and (OMG!) The Tempest by Margaret Atwood.

In The Gap of Time, Winterson puts Perdita, the foundling child, at the heart of her story – this character has always stood out to her because she was an adopted child herself. At literary events like this I’m used to seeing interviews, but Winterson got on the stage by herself (after some Shakespearean quotes and audio were played on the stage’s big screen) and launched into a funny and fascinating talk about the context of The Winter’s Tale. Then she did a long reading from the beginning of the book, punctuated by sound effects and musical interludes. Whenever she reached a line that was particularly significant, she would remove her glasses, look up at the audience and deliver it from memory. This event was more of a one-woman presentation – quite different from anything I’ve seen before – and I really liked it.

jeanette winterson the gap of time

Afterwards, she took questions from the audience. One person asked whether she still has some of her earliest writing and Winterson explained that she is not “archivally minded”. She said, “writing is either good enough to publish or it’s not. Sometimes people put work away in a drawer and hope it will somehow come out better. I don’t do that, I don’t have a magic drawer”. Apparently, in the Winterson household, bad writing ends up on the woodburning stove!

At one point she mentioned the after-life and said that she likes to believe in one because she “likes to keep busy” and so really hopes there’ll be something to do after death. In a similar vein, she said, “It’s funny, given that we all drop dead, how obsessed we are with finding meaning. We get older and just as we figure a few things out, BAM! I can’t get my head around it.” I hope I’m not making her sound morbid – Winterson seems to have a brilliant ability to make even the darkest topics funny. At one point, when someone suggested she write a retellingof a Greek myth, she said, “Are you giving me a job? Because I’m very expensive!”

jeanette winterson signature

Once the talk was over, I went straight to the Waterstones tent to get my copy of The Gap of Time signed. I didn’t have to wait too long and Winterson was very friendly – she asked how I was, so obviously I asked her how she was in return. Maybe that was a weird thing to say – I never know what to do at book signings!

Jeanette Winterson is a fantastic writer and she came across as a genuinely nice person. I can’t wait to read her latest book, and then get stuck into her back catalogue.

Have you read any Jeanette Winterson? Which book is your favourite?

What do you think?

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