'Life is compost.'
'You think that a strange thing to say, but it’s true. All my life and all my experience, the events that have befallen me, the people I have known, all my memories, dreams, fantasies, everything I have ever read, all of that has been chucked into the compost heap where over time it has rotted down to a dark, rich, organic mulch. The process of cellular breakdown makes it unrecognizable. Other people call it the imagination. I think of it as a compost heap. Every so often I take an idea, plant it in the compost, and wait. It feeds on that black stuff that used to be a life, takes its energy for its own. It germinates. Takes root. Produces shoots. And so on and so forth, until one fine day I have a story, or a novel.'
I nodded, liking the analogy.
'Readers,' continued Miss Winter, 'are fools. They believe all writing is autobiographical. And so it is, but not in the way they think. The writer’s life needs time to rot away before it can be used to nourish a work of fiction. It must be allowed to decay. That’s why I couldn’t have journalists and biographers rummaging around in my past, retrieving bits and pieces of it, preserving it in their words. To write my books I needed my past left in peace, for time to do its work.'
From Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale (2006).