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About the book
  • Published: 1 October 2011
  • ISBN: 9781446499085
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 496

What to Look for in Winter

A beautifully written, moving and extraordinary work of autobiography from one of the leading figures of the British literary world.

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

  • Pub date: 1 October 2011
  • ISBN: 9781446499085
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 496

About the Author

Candia McWilliam

Candia McWilliam was born in Edinburgh. She is the author of A Case of Knives (1988) which won a Betty Trask Prize, A Little Stranger (1989), Debatable Land (1994) which was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize and its Italian translation won the Premio Grinzane Cavour for the best foreign novel of the year, a collection of stories, Wait Till I Tell You (1997), and What To Look For In Winter (2010). In 2006 she began to suffer from the effects of blepharospasm and became functionally blind as a result. In 2009 she underwent an operation which harvested tendons from her leg in order to enable her to open her eyelids.

Praise for What to Look for in Winter

“One of the most extraordinary literary autobiographies of this or any other year”

The Times

“It is an essential book in all of its aspects, a thing of beauty and of unbearable hurt, of dreadful harm and intense humanity. It brims with perceptions to be unwrapped like the most precious of presents...This is the work of a capacious, open, vulnerable and unfailingly generous soul. It is replete with redemption.”


“What a precise and poetic dissection of a life this is; how brave she was, and how wise, to undertake it”

Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph

“McWilliam writes with elegance, with sardonic humour and with honesty...readers can only be grateful for this unforgettable book”

Daisy Goodwin, Sunday Times

“The most startling, discomforting, complicated, ungovernable, hilarious and heart-rending of memoirs”

Daily Telegraph

“The people in this book are so precisely and deftly drawn you might peel them off the page...it cements her status as one of our most important literary writers beyond question”

Financial Times

“One of the most devastatingly moving memoirs I've ever read...a work of beauty and truth ”


“A kind of literary origami trick, where the author folds in on herself in tight, dense, intricate coils, then unfolds herself again with miraculous lightness and delicacy”


“It's a book written out of sorrow and pain and love. A book that, for all the brilliance of its author, doesn't seem completely aware of everything it has revealed.”

Andrew Motion, Guardian

“Beautiful, harrowing and in every way remarkable”

New Statesman

“A searingly honest, beautiful book”

Kate Mosse, Daily Telegraph

“Transcends its apparent category through the beauty and freshness of its language, and the stoic nobility of its spirit”

Philip Hensher, Spectator, Christmas roundup

“Stayed up all night to finish”

Allison Pearson, Daily Telegraph, Christmas roundup

“Beautiful..you are left with a sense of desolation”

Kate Saunders, The Times

“My favourite book of the year, startingly honest, wry, sad and wise”

David Nicholls, Guardian, Christmas roundup

“Is as bleak and deep as a snowscape, with the sudden golden shafts of humour and scholarly erudition one relishes in Candia's work”

Nicky Haslam, Evening Standard, Christmas roundup

“Eloquent and insightful, Candia McWilliam's What to Look for in Winter moved me more than any other book I read this year”

Robert Crawford, Sunday Herald, Christmas roundup

“No book has moved me more this year. Heartfelt, subtly nuanced and unflinching”

Times Literary Supplement, Christmas round up

“One of the year's most engaging, sardonic and self-flagellating works of confession”

Sunday Times, Christmas roundup

“It's as if we're reading her thoughts unedited, which makes the many rhythmic, arresting passages all the more impressive. McWilliam doesn't hold back: she makes us feel how frightening it is inside her head. There's no sickly heroism. Resentful, muddles, undignified, unmoored, she is captivating”

London Review of Books

“Brilliant but lacerating memoir, written with elegance, sardonic humour and honesty”

Daisy Goodwin, Sunday Times

“Candia McWilliam's story is one of idyllic happiness, terrifying disaster and resolute fightback... Her sentences are like sound ice-cubes - translucent, perfectly shaped, always fit for purpose”

The Times

“What makes her memoir impressive isn't the story she has to tell - rich in drama though it is - but her artistry as a writer”


“Magnificent memoir. Moving from her childhood in Edinburgh to the experimental surgery that restored her sight, the book is a triumph”

Colin Waters

“In this most startling, discomfiting, complicated, ungovernable, hilarious and heart-rendering of memoirs, McWilliam recounts the suicide of her mother, the breakdown of two marriages, a decade of alcoholism, and the loss of her sight”

Daily Telegraph

“An endlessly rewarding account”


“McWilliam is such a good writer, this is an important and useful book”


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