Candia McWilliam had just joined the judging panel of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2006 when she started to lose her sight. The gradual onset of blindness seemed like an assault especially tailored for someone whose life consisted of reading and writing. The necessity to look inwards that followed took her on an even more painful personal journey through a waste of snows punctuated by shards of ice as she attempted to write her life back into human shape.
At first she could only dictate, and the unfamiliar process unblocked a flow of memory and association concerning her childhood in Edinburgh, her mother's suicide, her teenage escape into another identity, finding and losing bearings in Cambridge and London, her marriages, her children and, stalking all these, her increasing alcoholism. In What To Look For In Winter, we see her rifling through her many selves for that elusive thing, a sense of self, as all the time she searches the wilder shores of medicine for a cure for her blindness.
This is a writer's book, fascinated by the process and wellsprings of writing. While love and loss are at its centre, it also celebrates friendship, reading, love of children and the consolations of landscape, particularly that of Colonsay, the Hebridean island where, after three years in the dark, and thanks to an unexpected message from a wise and sympathetic reader, she begins to face up to how, falteringly, she might come to see once