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But first, I want to know more about her amazing journey. How does this girl go onto Oxford and get high on mythology? And I thought that everybody had a gospel tent, and went around seaside towns to the northwest trying to convert the heathens.

My mother used to play the harmonium. And she was a good pianist.

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And, she had her portable harmonium. And we'd go around and other people would come from the church, and you'd put your tent up. You know, plumbing laws were less strict in those days. You put your tent up, and then you'd have services. And the heathen would come in and either they'd find Jesus or they wouldn't.

And it went like this, "God has blotted them out. God has blotted them out. My enemies mocked and scoffed at me. He blotted them out when he set me free. If she could have pressed the button she would. You know, she had been there thinking, you know, the sooner we blow up the world the sooner Jesus would come back.

Because, you know, creationism and Armageddon are like the north and south poles of religious fundamentalism, aren't they?

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If you can believe those, everything else in the middle is actually quite easy. My mother was a creationist. And, she did believe in Armageddon. She thought that the world would be rolled up into a fire ball. And Jesus would come back. And she'd go off to heaven, and none of her clothes would be second hand. And-it asks you to believe things which are completely impossible - like creationism. In any case, you know, why would God want to do it that way? You know, there's no reason why God wouldn't do it any other way. I don't know. I've never understood why there's such a fight over that.

But it is an unbending, inflexible kind of religion, that religious fundamentalism. And it is about punishing people. The God of love becomes a God of punishment. You know, it was the craziest place. I mean it was bonkers the way we lived. My father is illiterate and every day my mother used to read to us from the King James Bible and only six books were allowed in the house. The Bible was one, and the other five were books about the Bible. Although in our house books weren't allowed, because I had a job on the market stool I began to buy books with the money that I was earning and smuggle them in secretly and hide them under the bed.

Now anybody with a single bed, standard size, and a collection of paperbacks, standard size, will know that 77 per layer can be accommodated under the mattress. And this is what I did. And over time, my bed began to rise visibly. And one night when I was sleeping closer to the ceiling than to the floor, my mother came in, because she had a suspicious nature. And she saw a corner of the book poking out from under the counter pen. And she tugged at it, and this was a disastrous choice, because it was by D.

She knew that Lawrence was a Satanist and a pornographer, because my mother was an intelligent woman. She had simply barricaded books out of her life, and they had to be barricaded out of our lives. And when challenged with her defense, she always used to say, "Well, the trouble with a book is that you never know what's in it until it's too late.

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  8. The books came tumbling down and me on the top of them onto the floor. Winterson gathered up the piles of books, and she threw them out of my bedroom window and into the back yard. And then she went and got the paraffin stove, emptied the contents onto the pile of books and set fire to them.

    And I learned then that whatever is on the outside can be taken away. Whatever it is that you think of as precious can be destroyed by somebody else. That none of it is safe. That there is always a moment when the things that we love, the things where we put our trust can be taken away, unless they're on the inside.

    And that's why I still memorize text, because if it's on the inside, they can't take it away from you, because nobody knows what's there. And I think that one of the reasons that tyrants hate books, ban them, burn them is not simply what they contain though that's often the obvious reason, but what they represent.

    Because reading is an act of free will, and it's a private act. It's an intimate dialogue between you and the text. And in there is all kinds of possibility. I didn't leave home that night.

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    That happened some years later when I fell in love with another girl, and this was clearly not going to happen in Water Street. And my mother gave me the choice. She said, "Leave the girl or leave home. And as I was going, she called me back and she said, "Jeanette, why be happy when you could be normal? Were such words always in tension? Were they in perpetual fight?

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    Or, could there be some harmony, some sympathy between them? And beginning to weigh those words, I started to weigh other words too. Words like good and evil, black and white, right and wrong, faith, reason.

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    Were these things always going to be oppositions, dichotomies? Was there a way of healing up these spaces? And I began to realize that what we must not do is accept false choices, fake realities, imposed on us by other people. And for me, one of the things that books have done, literature's done, art has done is refuse those false choices, but rather to offer a world where mind and body can be healed, where the heart can be healed, where it is possible to imagine a world constructed differently, a world that we could invent differently, a world that we could live in differently.

    Thank you. I mean, I'm passionately connected to this one. You know, with the world I think you might as well love it or leave it. So I love it. And I want to change it. I'm political. I'm involved. I'm engaged. All of that. But I think there are vast dimensions of which I know nothing. But sometimes I can apprehend them a little bit. So I think that in religious terms that sometimes I think of it as the kick of joy in the universe. It's the moment when you feel that the whole thing is bigger than you, better than you, and you connect with an energy which is gigantic.

    And, I think writers and artists do feel that. I hope that people who are not writers and artists feel that. And it is a moment which is absolutely true, and it absolutely cannot be proved by science. But you feel it. You know, Atlas is punished for rebelling against the gods. And his punishment is that he will have to hold up the cosmos. You know, the great image that we have of him supporting the globe in space.

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    And the name, Atlas, in Greek means "long suffering one". So, his punishment is in his name, because you know, naming is power. When you unravel the name, you often unravel the meaning of the thing that is named.

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    And Atlas is left there, holding up the cosmos, abandoned by the gods, who go off partying, like the gods always do. And then, of course, one day, Hercules comes along, who's the second strongest man in the world after Atlas. Bastard son of Zeus. Always a dangerous thing to be a bastard son of Zeus, you know. And as Hercules says to Atlas. You know Hera, his stepmother, the wife of Zeus, who's really got it in for Hercules, because she was tricked into suckling him as a baby.