The book and subsequent BBC mini series are semi-autobiographical and are generally based on Winterson's life in Accrington, Lancashire, where she lived after moving from her birth town Manchester. "I wrote about some of these things in Oranges, and when it was published, my mother sent me a furious note." A parallel non-fictional account of her life at this time is given in her 2011 memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Although the protagonist of Oranges bears the author's first name, John Mullan has argued that it is neither an autobiography nor a memoir, but a Künstlerroman.
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