A. S. Byatt

  • English novelist
  • Born August 24, 1936

Dame Antonia Susan Duffy HonFBA (née Drabble; born 24 August 1936), known professionally as A. S. Byatt ( BY-ət), is an English novelist, poet and Booker Prize winner. In 2008, The Times newspaper named her on its list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.

In my mind's eye, Shakespeare is a huge, hot sea-beast, with fire in his veins and ice on his claws and inscrutable eyes, who looks like an inchoate hump under the encrustations of live barnacle-commentaries, limpets and trailing weeds.

There are things I take sides about, like capital punishment, which it seems to me there is only one side about: it is evil. But there are two or three sides to sexual harassment, and the moment you get into particular cases, there is injustice in every conceivable direction. It's a mess.

For a long time, I felt instinctively irritated - sometimes repelled - by scientific friends' automatic use of the word 'mechanism' for automatic bodily processes. A machine was man-made; it was not a sentient being; a man was not a machine.

In novels in general - and also on the television - we do live in a world where bodies is what we are. We do not talk about the spirit or the soul, and there is a sense that we no longer talk about beliefs, either Freudian or Marxist.

America is full of readers of all different sorts who love books in many different ways, and I keep meeting them. And I think editors should look after them, and make less effort to please people who don't actually like books.

You learn different things through fiction. Historians are always making a plot about how certain things came to happen. Whereas a novelist looks at tiny little things and builds up a sort of map, like a painting, so that you see the shapes of things.

I have never been able to read Agatha Christie - the pleasure is purely in the puzzle, and the reader is toyed with by someone who didn't decide herself who the killer was until the end of the writing.

In our world of sleek flesh and collagen, Botox and liposuction, what we most fear is the dissolution of the body-mind, the death of the brain.

I think that most of the children's writers live in the world that they've created, and their children are kind of phantoms that wander around the edge of it in the world, but actually the children's writers are the children.

I always say I write my own novels and the characters don't take control of me, but in fact, I look at the characters in the early stages and I think, 'What is he or she like,' and they slowly come together and they become the person they are.

I think vestigially there's a synesthete in me, but not like a real one who immediately knows what colour Wednesday is.

I think there are a lot more important things than art in the world. But not to me.

I grew up with that completely fictive idea of motherhood, where the mother never strayed from the kitchen. All the women in my books are very afraid that if they do anything with their minds they won't be complete women. I don't think my daughters' generation has that feeling.

Cyclists. I really hate them. I wish they would not be so self-righteous and realise they are a danger to pedestrians. I wish cyclists would not vindictively snap off wing mirrors on cars when they were trying to cross in front of the car at a danger to motorists and pedestrians.

In England, everyone believes if you think, then you don't feel. But all my novels are about joining together thinking and feeling.

The true exercise of freedom is - cannily and wisely and with grace - to move inside what space confines - and not seek to know what lies beyond and cannot be touched or tasted.

Books that change you, even later in life, give you a kind of electrical shock as the world takes a different shape.

I did a lot of my writing as though I was an academic, doing some piece of research as perfectly as possible.

When I was a child - in wartime, pre-television - books were my life.

I don't only write about English literature; I also write about chaos theory and... ants. I can understand ants.

If you want to teach women to be great writers, you should show them the best, and the best was often done by men. It was more often done by men than by women, if we're going to be truthful.

I'm not very interested in myself. I do have a deep moral belief that you should always look out at other things and not be self-centred.

I sort of mind living in a time when most of the literature is terribly personal. I suppose it's because I grew up on a love of history, philosophy, science and religion, but not to think too much about yourself.

Biographies are no longer written to explain or explore the greatness of the great. They redress balances, explore secret weaknesses, demolish legends.

You learn a lot about love before you ever get there. You learn at least as much about love from books as you do from watching your parents.

I don't understand why, in my work, writing is always so dangerous. It's very destructive. People who write books are destroyers.

I think the virtue I prize above all others is curiosity. If you look really hard at almost anybody, and try to see why they're doing what they're doing, taking a dig at them ceases to be what you want to do even if you hate them.

I am not an academic who happens to have written a novel. I am a novelist who happens to be quite good academically.

The point of painting is not really deception or imitation.

It's a terrible poison, writing.

One of the reasons I've gotten so attached to talking to scientists is that... they know there is a reality.

Why do we take pleasure in gruesome death, neatly packaged as a puzzle to which we may find a satisfactory solution through clues - or if we are not clever enough, have it revealed by the all-powerful tale-teller at the end of the book? It is something to do with being reduced to, and comforted by, playing by the rules.

I know that part of the reason I read Tolkien when I'm ill is that there is an almost total absence of sexuality in his world, which is restful.

A surprising number of people - including many students of literature - will tell you they haven't really lived in a book since they were children. Sadly, being taught literature often destroys the life of the books.

I don't think it is an easy thing to write and expect to be commercial, even if you are from Venus and a hermaphrodite.

My professional and human obsession is the nature of language, and my best relationships are with other writers. In many ways, I know George Eliot better than I know my husband.