World Writers' Festival 2015: AS Byatt

Booker-prize winning novelist AS Byatt spoke at the Ecole normale supérieure with a fascinating discussion with Le Monde’s Raphaelle Rérolle on creative inspiration, the nature of narrative, and the central role played by language, color and the senses in her writing process.

September 28, 2015
AS Byatt
Booker prize-winning author AS Byatt

“As soon as I knew how to read, I knew I had to write,” remarked the author, who went on to say that: “I never use the word ‘creation’ for what I do…I dislike the term ‘creative writing.’ I think of it rather as constructing something. I make books on order to reconstruct and understand the world.”

Byatt’s commentary was sprinkled with personal anecdotes – like when the draft of Possession was stolen from a train in Italy - and insights into how her rich and multi-layered novels take shape. Her voracious reading of journals and reviews on such divers subjects as economics, natural sciences, and medicine, to which she subscribes in order to “escape the literary world,” seeps into her own narratives as does her admiration for Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Henri Matisse, the artists that have most inspired her.

Byatt spoke admiringly of Matisse’s use of vivid colors and her own habit of using colored notebooks to write the first draft of her novels. “All of my books have their own color. Once I decide on the color, the form of the book takes shape as does its central metaphor,” she explained.

“Writing a book is like knitting,” she continued. “The yarn is the central theme or metaphor, but this one line of thread can be looped and knotted to make various shapes and connections.”