Tilda Swinton in The Telegraph:
One morning, Virginia Woolf sat down to work on a critical piece of fiction and, having first dropped her head in her hands in despair: “dipped my pen in the ink, and wrote these words as if automatically, on a clean sheet: Orlando: a Biography. “No sooner had I done this than my body was flooded with rapture and my brain with ideas. I wrote rapidly till 12.” A year and two days later, she laid down her pen, having written the date – 11 October 1928 – as the book’s final words.
Virginia Woolf was the loyal daughter, not only of an erudite and distinguished biographer, but also of his library, her early dependence on which formed the foundation of her entire intellectual life. Her later biography of Roger Fry must have satisfied this debt in a quite particular way. But at this point she wanted to write freely – “wildly” – as an imaginative novelist, and Orlando gave her the chance to split the atom: a fantastical biography – inspired by a very real human being – but essentially a whim of imagination, a wild-goose chase. She called it her “writer’s holiday”. Vita Sackville-West was the intended recipient of “the longest love letter in the world”, as Sackville-West’s own son Nigel Nicholson described it. She was certainly its primary inspiration. Writing to her on the day of Orlando’s inception, Woolf asks: “Suppose Orlando turns out to be Vita… there’s a kind of shimmer of reality which sometimes attaches itself to my people, as the lustre on an oyster shell… shall you mind? Say yes or no.