We who were born were not witnesses to our birth: like death, it is something we are forever after trying to catch sight of.
Leaving things behind and starting again is a way of coping with difficulties. I learnt very early in my life that I was able to leave a place and still remain myself.
Female hysteria is a subject I'm very fond of. I always try to bring it in somewhere. For me, it is the finest part of the line between comedy and tragedy.
If I know somebody is coming 'round, it is incredibly difficult for me to work because I'm waiting for this interruption – even the children's comings and goings are interruptions. Cake-making is a good way of coming out of that space.
There's this really good line in 'Women in Love' where Ursula says, 'I always thought it was a sin to be unhappy.' And actually I think that's very common, it's what a lot of people feel – that you have an obligation to life to be happy if you can.
There is always shame in the creation of an expressive work, whether it's a book or a clay pot. Every artist worries about how they will be seen by others through their work. When you create, you aspire to do justice to yourself, to remake yourself, and there is always the fear that you will expose the very thing that you hoped to transform.
Some people are better at maths than others: no one thinks you can be 'taught' to be a mathematical genius. And no one thinks of teaching, in that context, as a kind of forcing of the will. But there seems to be an idea of writing as an intuitive pastime which is being dishonestly subjected to counterintuitive methods.
What compromises women – babies, domesticity, mediocrity – compromises writing even more.
I have some pretty forceful ideas about the world – obviously I do. But I suppose I can only really speak about them from within the protection of a literary form.
In domestic life, the woman's value is inherent, unquantifiable; at home she exchanges proven values for mythological ones. She 'wants' to be at home, and because she is a woman, she's allowed to want it. This desire is her mystique, it is both what enables her to domesticate herself and what disempowers her.
A feminist man is a bit like a vegetarian: it's the humanitarian principle he's defending, I suppose.
Writing, more than any other art, is indexed to the worthiness of the self because it is identified in people's minds with emotion.
I'm particularly drawn to actors in their own little drama. I find it's that area I'm very alive to. And I don't encounter it that often. You have to be far from civilization, you have to be far from New York or London to find people who do that.
Having your second child, in case you were wondering, is a lot harder than having your first, except for those people who find it easier. I'm afraid I don't have the latest figures to confirm this.
Christianity has kept itself going for centuries on hope alone, and has perpetrated all manner of naughtiness in the meantime.
For years I had lived in my body half-consciously, ignoring it mostly, dismissing its agendas wherever I could, and forever pressing it into the service of mental conceptions that resulted, almost as a by-product, sometimes in its pleasuring and sometimes in its abuse.
An eating disorder epidemic suggests that love and disgust are being jointly marketed, as it were; that wherever the proposition might first have come from, the unacceptability of the female body has been disseminated culturally.
The woman who thinks she can choose femininity, can toy with it like the social drinker toys with wine – well, she's asking for it, asking to be undone, devoured, asking to spend her life perpetrating a new fraud, manufacturing a new fake identity, only this time it's her equality that's fake.
The old world of England was picturesque and safe in a way that L.A. wasn't, but it was so amazingly socially cruel. I had never experienced that in America – never in school, nowhere.
I have a romantic conception of the writer's life, and the sort of writer's life that I admire is probably a childless life, possibly a marriageless life, certainly a travelling life – I'm in awe of how much D.H. Lawrence managed to get around. But that's never been something I'm capable of doing.
Society in the English countryside is still strangely, quaintly divided. If black comedy and a certain type of social commentary are what you want, I think English rural communities offer quite a lot of material.
Shame is something you'll find a lot of – particularly Catholic – girls feel about their bodies, about their sexuality, about their diet, about anything you like. Shame is the way you keep them down. That's the way to crush a girl.
The true self seeks release, not constraint. It doesn't want to be corseted in a sonnet or made to learn a system of musical notations. It wants liberation, which is why very often it fastens on the novel, for the novel seems spacious, undefined, free.
A book is not an example of 'women's writing' simply because it is written by a woman. Writing may become 'women's writing' when it could not have been written by a man.
I was born abroad, but my parents were both English. Still, those few years of separation, and then coming back to England as an outsider, did give me an ability to see the country in a slightly detached way. I suppose I was made aware of what Englishness actually is because I only became immersed in it later in life.
The anorexic body is held in the grip of will alone; its meaning is far from stable. What it says – 'Notice me, feed me, mother me' – is not what it means, for such attentions constitute an agonising test of that will, and also threaten to return the body to the dreaded 'normality' it has been such ecstasy to escape.
I have no sense of a model or predecessor when I write a memoir: For me, the form exists as a method of processing material that retains too many connections to life to be approached strictly and aesthetically. A memoir is a risk, a one-off, a bastard child.
The anorexic is out to prove how little she needs, how little she can survive on; she is out, in a sense, to discredit her nurturers, while at the same time making a public crisis out of her need for nurture. Such vulnerability and such power: it brings the whole female machinery to a halt.
To become a mother is to learn a whole language – to relearn it, perhaps, as it was the tongue to which we were born – and hence gain entrance to a forgotten world of comprehension.
Hope is one of those no-win-no-fee things, and although it needs some encouragement to survive, its existence doesn't necessarily prove anything.
I absolutely don't dislike children – I would choose their company over adult company any time.
It's a taboo that comes back over and over, to suggest that women can feel divided – that you can love your child and want to do everything for it, and at the same time want to put it away from you and reclaim something of yourself.
It seems to me that 'women's writing' by nature would not seek equivalence in the male world. It would be a writing that sought to express a distinction, not deny it.
There are certain types of slightly hysterical human characters who, rather than creating, walk around with a sense of their own potential – it's as if they themselves were art objects. They feel as if their lives are written narratives, or pieces of music.
Childhood, after all, is not an ending, but rather a state full of potent curiosity.
Help is dangerous because it exists outside the human economy: the only payment for help is gratitude.
I don't think I knew that you could be a novelist. I think a lot of my students are in the same condition. I thought it was unreachable, that it was sort of dead people. It took me a long time – I think I was well into novel writing before I really thought, 'Actually, this is a valid pastime.'
Parenthood, like death, is an event for which it is nearly impossible to be prepared. It brings you into a new relationship with the fact of your own existence, a relationship in which one may be rendered helpless.
In memoir, you have to be particularly careful not to alienate the reader by making the material seem too lived-in. It mustn't have too much of the smell of yourself, otherwise the reader will be unable to make it her own.
As it stands, motherhood is a sort of wilderness through which each woman hacks her way, part martyr, part pioneer; a turn of events from which some women derive feelings of heroism, while others experience a sense of exile from the world they knew.
I don't go to church any more, but I think that Catholicism is rather like the brand they use on cattle: I feel so formed in that Catholic mould that I don't think I could adopt any other form of spirituality. I still get feelings of consolation about churches.
You could time a suburban story by your watch: it lasts as long as it takes a small furry animal that's lonely to find friends, or a small furry animal that's lost to find its parents; it lasts as long as a quick avowal of love; it lasts precisely as long as the average parent is disposed on a Tuesday night to spend reading aloud to children.
The 'good' mother, with her fixed smile, her rigidity, her goody-goody outlook, her obsession with unnecessary hygiene, is in fact a fool. It is the 'bad' mother, unafraid of a joke and a glass of wine, richly self-expressive, scornful of suburban values, who is, in reality, good.
I'm waiting for the day when my children cease to find my domestic propriety reassuring and actually find it annoying.
As writers go, I have a skin of average thickness. I am pleased by a good review, disappointed by a bad. None of it penetrates far enough to influence the thing I write next.
It is expected that a children's story will raise a difficulty and then resolve it: increasingly, this resolution is so prompt and so resounding that one forgets what exactly the difficulty was.
I remain fascinated by where you go as a woman once you are a mother, and if you ever come back.
What I increasingly felt, in marriage and in motherhood, was that to live as a woman and to live as a feminist were two different and possibly irreconcilable things.
Hope is like one of those orchids that grows around toxic waste: lovely in itself – and an assertion, if you like, of indefatigable good – but a sure sign that something nasty lies underneath.
The creativity of childhood was often surrendered amid feelings of unworthiness. So the idea that others are demanding to be given it back – to be 'taught' – is disturbing.
I sometimes feel that the world is a very uncivilised place where it is meant to be at its most civilised. Where it's meant to be intellectual or artistic or compassionate, it isn't, and that makes me very angry.
Even if they knew the truth of their own feelings, most mothers would be socially and emotionally incapable of revealing it.
For me, a novel is always the result of my attempt to impose myself on raw circumstances. It is a concrete form of lived experience.
I was aware, in those early days of motherhood, that my behaviour was strange to the people who knew me well. It was as though I had been brainwashed, taken over by a cult religion. And yet this cult, motherhood, was not a place where I could actually live. Like any cult, it demanded a complete surrender of identity to belong to it.
I think men and women are the same. Even as parents, I think we're the same. We're just conditioned to think that we're different. Having said that, it's true that motherhood is a particularly vulnerable area. It's an open wound, really. A woman is exposed to being turned into a different kind of person by the experience of motherhood.
Human beings have a need, generally, to destroy things. The Freudian principle of civilisation is correct. There's always, always a difference between the family image and the reality.
The woman who has her being in marriage and motherhood has become part of antithetical reality, revoking property from the woman who remains in a condition of intangible femininity.
A creative writing workshop will contain students whose ambitions and abilities, whose conceptions of literature itself, are so diverse that what they have in common – the desire to write – could almost be considered meaningless.
Like the child, the creative writing student is posited as a centre of vulnerable creativity, needful of attention and authority.
My children are living, thinking human beings. It isn't in my power to regret them, for they belong to themselves.
The reaction to 'Aftermath' has been far worse than to 'A Life's Work,' yet I find I'm perhaps a little less touched by it. In both cases, I've coped artistically by believing the criticisms weren't right. They upset me, but they didn't challenge my understanding of how to write, nor of how morality functions in literature.
The distinctive feature of my family was intolerance of sensitivity and emotion – 'Everything's great, it all has to be great all the time and why do you have to spoil it?' Whereas probably the most fundamental and important thing to me has been defending my right to tell the truth about how I feel.
Honest criticism, I suppose, has its place. But honest writing is infinitely more valuable.
To be optimistic about something that is absolutely unknown to you is unfounded.
How can there be so many mothers in the world but so little sense of what it might be to become one?
I have absolutely no concept of work, except for university. But I like to talk to people a lot about their jobs.