The Powerbook

May 2, 2001

The PowerBook is twenty-first century fiction that uses past, present and future as shifting dimensions of a multiple reality.

The story is simple.

An e-writer called Ali or Alix will write to order anything you like, provided that you are prepared to enter the story as yourself and take the risk of leaving it as someone else.

You can be the hero of your own life.

You can have freedom just for one night.

But there is a price to pay.

‘Winterson is a rangy pirate, a world-swashbuckler, a plunderer of stories, literatures and hearts’ Ali Smith

‘Gorgeously written, shockingly moving…a wonderful, unforgettable read. Buy it for someone you really love’ Simon Schama, Mail on Sunday  

‘Winterson writes with evangelical assurance, vaulting ambition, total control…witty, original, and good at what she does’ Observer 

‘Mischievous and intelligent, determined to provoke thoughts about love’s reason, and its risk’ The Times

Why do you call it twenty first century fiction?

There’s been a lot of talk about the death of the book, but there is no death of the book, only a transformation of the book, both as artefact and as idea. In a new century we need new ways of looking at familiar things – that’s the only way we make them ours, otherwise they’re just borrowed and soon become clichés. I’ve used all kinds of devices to keep asking the big questions and to defamiliarise what’s important but in danger of becoming stale. The shape of the book, its structure, its language, is a different way of working.

Are you sure it’s not all a gimmick?

What a bloody waste of time that would be! Who am I kidding? I’m in this because I’m passionate about language, in love with books, and because I want to move on the discussion. We can’t go on writing traditional nineteenth century fiction, we have to recognise that Modernism and Post Modernism have changed the map, and any writer worth their weight in floppy discs will want to go on changing that map. I don’t want to be a curator in the Museum of Literature, I want to be part of what happens next.

You use what you call cover-versions – re-writes of well-known texts. Why?

I’ve said before that a writer needs to be soaked in books. A writer can’t ever read too much or know too much about the literature of the past. Those writers are your teachers and private ancestors. Their work informs your work, which is why, out of respect, you should never copy them, but try to honour their experiments with some of your own. We have to remember that what we now call traditional, was experiment once. Malory and Danté are two writers who have influenced me and so I wrote a couple of cover versions of two very famous stories.

There’s no story as such, is there?

There are plenty of stories in this book. Tons of them. What there isn’t is an old-fashioned plot line. Sorry, you’ll have to watch TV if that’s what you want, or read any of those books that are really just printed television. It seems to me that TV and cinema have taken over the narrative function of the novel, in much the same way that the novel once took over the narrative function of poetry. That frees me up for story, for poetry and for language that does more than convey meaning.

Not everyone will like this kind of thing will they?

No. Not everyone likes Tate Modern.

Why do you keep doing the gender bending?

Because I’m queer. Well no, that’s only part of the answer. Being queer, that is not straight-line, not belonging, tells me that gender is only the beginning of the story, not the last word. I like some ambiguity. One of the exciting – and dangerous – things about email is that we have no way of discerning gender, and that upsets a lot of our notions about innate masculine or feminine traits. Listen, I don’t want a unisex world. I like it the way it is, but I think we should have more fun with it, and the fun and the experiment is what Queer Culture is all about. To that extent, my own experience interfaces with my work.

You’ve said The.Powerbook is the end of a cycle.

Yes. There are seven books and they make a whole cycle. Oranges, The Passion, Sexing the Cherry, Written on the Body, Art and Lies, Gut Symmetries, and The Powerbook. At least I don’t do boring titles… I don’t count the short stories for obvious reasons, and I don’t count Boating for Beginners because it was written separately, as a comic book, as you will see below. I’ve done a lot of work over the last fifteen years, all the books, screenplays, loads of journalism, but it is in the cycle of the fiction that I can be found.

What happens now?

I don’t know. I have to sit by the still pool and wait.

Perhaps this is how it is – life flowing smoothly over memory and history, the past returning or not, depending on the tide. History is a collection of found objects washed up through time. Goods, ideas, personalities, surface towards us then sink away. Some we hook out, others we ignore, and as the pattern changes, so does the meaning. We cannot rely on the facts. Time which returns everything, changes everything.


Publication: May 2, 2001

Publisher: Vintage