In 2005 Teddy Jamieson travelled to Tracey Emin's studio to talk to her about life and sex and art:

All things considered, Tracy is not a name that lends itself naturally to high achievement. The Tracies of this world are not found in any great number among the great and the good. Or even among the merely famous.

Rack them up: there's Tracy Ullman (though she doesn't seem to have been too busy of late), Tracy Chapman, and at a push Tracy Tracy, lead singer with The Primitives (for any experts on the British indie music scene circa 1989). Oh, and there's former underage porn star Traci Lords, but perhaps that's not an achievement to shout about.

A pretty poor showing, isn't it? The world's Sharons, you could argue, aren't much better, but at least they include a Hollywood actress and rock manager turned X Factor judge. The best known Tracies are probably Tracy Barlow and Tracy Beaker. All of which should make the singular achievements of the one Tracey we've not mentioned all the more impressive.

She's the one Tracey - maybe that extra "e" makes all the difference - whose life and work outshines even the creative imaginations of Coronation Street's scriptwriters and author Jacqueline Wilson. The top Tracey, the transcendent Tracey of the day, is the artist who goes by the name of Tracey Emin.

Think about it. She has not only overcome a painfully messy childhood in Margate, a severely inadequate secondary education (she first left school at 13 and has no O-levels, although she later emerged from Maidstone College of Art with a first in fine art), her welldocumented abusive teen years (she was raped when she was 13), and, her most vindictive critics would say, a lack of any perceived artistic talent, but also the natural selection of nomenclature. And she has done it not by damping down or hiding her Traciness, but by making a virtue of it, raising it to the level of art. You could argue that her work is far more representative of binge-drinking, bed-hopping, Heat-reading contemporary Britain than anything Lucian Freud or Peter Blake have managed for years. Just consider her bestknown work: the infamous unmade bed or the tent decorated with the names of all the men she had slept

with, which went up in flames in the Momart fire last year.

Certainly Emin has managed to parlay her art into the currency of recognition, and into hard currency - she's just bought herself a house by the sea to go along with her London home and a couple of other properties. She is one of the few in the art world to attract the attention of the nation's tabloids (although not always approvingly), helped by her friendships with fashionistas and Hollywood film stars - everyone from Vivienne Westwood to Val Kilmer. Ask a random member of the general public to name a winner of the Turner Prize and Emin is likely to be named, even though she's never actually won it. The one time she was nominated, in 1999, she was beaten to the cheque by London artist Steve McQueen. Two years earlier, when she wasn't even up for the prize, Emin grabbed the headlines thanks to a spectacularly drunken rant captured by the television cameras. Tracey by name, Tracey by nature,

you might say.

Tracey by wardrobe too. Here she comes now, bustling in to her studio in London's East End, just the ten minutes late, wrapped up in a new coat which she's very pleased with and wraparound sunglasses - Yves Saint Laurent, I think - that cover half her face. Both are removed to reveal a white skirt, showy trainers and a mint-green cardy that she hasn't quite managed to button up as she sits down to talk. Well, if you've got it, flaunt it - and Emin knows she's got it.

Despite the obvious temptation, I manage to maintain eye contact throughout our conversation. Well, most of the time. Actually it's not that difficult. She has these great dark eyes which add to her surprisingly delicate features, her raggedy lower teeth and that compellingly crooked mouth. It's hard to take your eyes off her. At 42 she can maybe no longer pass as a YBA - "I say MABA: middle-aged British artist, " she suggests - but she's an archetype of the successful single woman. "I've got four properties, a really nice car, a fantastic career, " she says. "I'm not good looking - a bit weird looking - but I definitely don't look 42 and I'm quite fit."

She's quite old-fashioned too, despite her reputation. Perhaps surprisingly, given the circles she moves in, she is drug free. Always has been. "My friend said to me at one point it was easier to buy a gram of coke than to buy a pint of milk. I've just never been into it. I think that if I had been a complete cokehead at the age of 19 I probably would have been dead [by now]. I'm not hedonistic at all but I am quite addictive I suppose."

As for the drinking, well even that is on the wane, she says. Admittedly, while I sit drinking tea she asks for a glass of water and a headache tablet. But don't get the wrong idea.

"In the last four weeks I've drunk less than I would normally do in three nights, " she says.

In the past, she remarks, she'd have been more than ten minutes late, maybe more than an hour. And when she did arrive she'd have been bleary eyed and feeling the worse for wear.

There are no signs of that today. She's bright eyed, in good humour and very humorous.

Her change of behaviour, she says, was sparked by passing her driving test a month ago at the third attempt (hence that nice car).

She wants it to be the beginning of a new chapter in her life. She's got that flat by the sea, she can visit it any time she wants, and she can "bomb around" and visit friends. "I went to Cornwall for the first time in my life a couple of weeks ago. So it will be really nice to explore England a little bit. Middle-aged things. I've got no-one to do it with but at least I can go and do it on my own."

You could say that doing it on her own has been the story of Emin's life, something that is very obvious if you read Strangeland, an edited collation and distillation of Emin's writings over the last 25 years that is the spur for today's conversation. The book's dedication to her mother and father thanks them for "making me so independent".

What follows is proof positive that, spelling apart, Emin has a way with words. Strangeland could be read as an autobiography, though she is not so sure. "I don't know what it is. Prose. Memoirs. I don't know because some bits . . .they are not made up but there are parts where it dabbles into a surreal dream world."

This is true. As maybe we should expect from an artist, her writings are as much concerned as with her dream life as her real life. That said, anyone who reads her book will emerge with a vivid vision of Emin's life in nearly all its strangeness, nearly all its fractured, frightening, frankly messed-up fullness. She reveals that she, her twin brother, Paul, and their mother, Pam, were not the only family of her Turkish-Cypriot father Enver (there was another in London - her dadwould commute between them); the circumstances of her rape and her subsequent teenage promiscuousness; her hard times in "bedsitland" in Margate and London in the following years; her abusive relationships; her sexual diseases; her two abortions; even her sexual fantasies are all to be found in its pages.

The first section, Motherland, a grim fairy tale coloured in in the darkest of hues, is particularly strong, but then it has the material to work with. Emin conjures up an image of Margate as a ghostly, seedy wreck of a place, the perfect backdrop to a wreck of a life - from the age of seven anyway. That was when the hotel her parents ran in Margate closed and the family was reduced to squatting in the hotel cottage. Around the same time her parents separated (though Emin remains in touch with both). Then at 13, walking back from a New Year's Eve disco, Emin was raped.

By someone she knew. Her description in the book is harrowing but short. And, like many moments in Strangeland, it leaves some questions unanswered.

When you were raped, I say, you went home and your mum washed your coat. "My new petrol-blue Mac, " she says, remembering. But she didn't phone the police. "You didn't in Margate. Where do you come from?"

Northern Ireland, I tell her. "You don't call the police in Northern Ireland, do you? Exactly.

You don't call the police and say my daughter has just been 'broken into', because that was the Margate term.

"This is how it happened. When I say rape it was sex against your will. It was, 'No, no I don't want to, no, no, no, no, no, ' and then they do it anyway. That's what it is. It isn't like a gang of hell's angels - not hell's angels, because they're like a big gay bears these days; they're dads, bankers, pillars of the establishment - shall we say it isn't like a gang of Vikings? The Viking Society will come in their longships to sue the paper.

"There are many different kinds of sexual attacks that happen and they do go on on different levels, but the thing is, if you say no you mean no. It's against your will, full stop.

And I always had the stupid idea . . . there's a side of me that is really sweet and in my youth it all got f?ed up by these outside elements, and a lot of it was to do with love."

And a desire for love? "Yeah." Which you weren't getting? "My mum and dad really loved me but love is not always about . . ." She pauses for a second before continuing. "Love is being told to go and brush your teeth, to go to bed early, to do your homework, to read your book, to be quiet, to not talk to people, to not stay up all night." But that wasn't the kind of love she was looking for, it seems. "There were other ways of showing love and I say that's what I was missing out on. It wasn't anyone's fault. It wasn't an intentional thing.

It was just the way that it was."

It probably didn't help that when Emin was 14 her mother "sort of left home" to move in with her best friend Margarete. Were they lovers? "Don't know. Never know. Never will find out. I've asked my mum and my mum's never said. My mum has this idea that you can be really close to someone - love someone - without being lovers which I absolutely know is true. Nevertheless, I would say that Margarete was one of the great loves of my mum's life. Whether or not they were physically having an affair I don't know. Me, in that situation, I would have been. I can't see how you wouldn't. But on the other hand it's up to my mum. It was her life, it was her vision.

"And why would my mum lie to me? There's no reason to. That's the main big point. Yet the ambiguity was important. Because, as I tried to explain to my mum, the book is about how I felt. The book isn't about my mum; it's about how I felt about my mum and about the jealousy that I felt to my mum's closeness to a woman. I should have been the woman in her life. And you would think if she wasn't having a physical relationship with Margarete, [it's] even worse because it was just love and affection for another female and at the age of 13, 14 you need your mum. And your mum's not there because your mum's with Margarete. It's a hard thing to swallow."

At 14 Emin began to sleep around, mostly with older men of around 19 or 20. At the time, she writes in the book, she thought it was an adventure. But she gradually realised the men were using her. "I was talking about this the other day to someone, " she says now. "I was trying to work out what their IQ must have been. I don't know how bright those men were. One of them I saw a few years ago. He was a really amazing dancer in Las Vegas and had teenage daughters. We had a great conversation about those times and how he treated me and girls my age, and how it was, and how he feels now being a father looking back on it."

I can't imagine he could have enjoyed it.

Emin says she slept with more men between the ages of 14 and 15 than she's done since. But things didn't get much better straight away.

When she was 19, "nihilistic and anorexic", there was the "lover" who for three years would never kiss her, never even hold her, but would, almost every night, force her into anal sex. And then, a few years later, there was the man who got her pregnant but didn't love her.

"Someone who pats you on the stomach and says, 'We're going to kill you, ' is not going to make good father material. And I was psychologically unhinged at that time and the whole situation was not good."

You would think such experiences would have put her off men for life. "It puts me off being vulnerable with men, " she admits. "So I put my guard up." She has also, she says, been conditioned by the complexities of her parents' lives. "Yeah. I'm really monogamous. It does my f?ing head in. Do you think I wouldn't like to shag around? I'm monogamous, that's it. So it takes a long time for me to meet someone that I like, that I trust, that I can be with.

"I've had two relationships in 13 years, and both of them I'm best friends with. It's fantastic. In fact, when me and Mat [her last boyfriend, artist Mat Collishaw] lived together, Carl [gallerist Carl Freedman, her previous boyfriend] lived in the cottage in my garden because we got on so well."

She's been on her own for the last three years, but she's certainly not averse to the idea of meeting someone new. You wonder, though, how any men would measure up. "I would say I've got more testosterone in my little finger that most blokes have. I'm so male in the way I do things. That's why I am so successful."

Anyone who wants to date her has to be just as self-confident, just as in control and just as clever, she says. She mentions a tall, goodlooking man who tried to get her phone number last week. "My friends were going, 'Give him your phone number.' You must be f?ing joking. If he wants my phone number he can find it. You've got to be a bit more assertive than asking me for my phone number. That's not going to do it for me at all."

It is time for her picture to be taken outside on her roof. While she poses I have a nosey around the studio. It's a long white space more notable for its contents than its architecture.

Its most prominent feature is a long work table, covered with scissors, sewing tackle and examples of Emin's work - her distinctive spidery drawings, mostly female nudes masturbating. There are also her distinctive sewn samplers, rolls of fabric underneath the table, a tailor's dummy wearing a snazzy leopardskin hat and a golden metallic belt.

On the windowsill there's a copy of Julie Burchill's autobiography, another working class girl made good, and a tiny sculpture of an oriental gentleman who would have been impressively endowed if his endowment hadn't broken off. The windows themselves are full of holes, big and small - rock sized and bullet sized. Not everyone, it seems, is taken with our Tracey.

And that's always been the case. The typical slur is that her art just mines her life and would be nothing without it. It's a criticism that offends Emin. "Everything I do is edited. I'm a professional. People always think I just go around throwing up or shitting everywhere, scrape it all together and stick it on a wall or in a book and that's it. But it's not about that. It's about being decisive and understanding what might work and what might not work."

What Emin's art isn't is heavy with theory.

She's maybe the only artist I've interviewed who hasn't draped our conversation in a web of isms. "There's nothing postmodern about what I do, " she admits. "I'm just totally sincere."

Would she be an artist if she'd grown up in middle-class Croydon? "I'd be a supermodel like Kate. No, you can't say that. My mum reckons if I hadn't done art I'd be dead. I can't believe - I say it quite often - that I got through my youth and the only bad things that happened to me were being raped and a couple of other things. Very little trouble happened to me. I don't know how I managed to be 15, on my own in London and living in squats and never got into drugs and never got into prostitution."

This is something that isn't said enough about Tracey Emin. Critics say she just mines her own life but the point is that she has lived that life and still made something of it. There must have always been some inner steel there, even in her most nihilistic moments (she threw herself off a cliff when she was 20, but swam ashore). As a teenager her careers advisors suggested she work in a factory. Butlins, meanwhile, didn't reckon she was qualified enough to load a dishwasher. If she had stuck at the fashion course she wangled her way into in Margate she reckons she might now be a "second pattern undercutter for Jaeger if you pushed it or a factory floor manager for a Burberry outlet".

Instead, she is an international artist who can sell pieces for six-figure sums (Charles Saatchi paid [GBP]150,000 for My Bed). It's this that means you can forgive her the odd occasion of self-aggrandisement which she lapses into without apparent thought. Talking about her artistic development she mentions her second best known work, Everyone I Ever Slept With 1963-1995: "And then I made the tent - I had no idea that I was making a piece of seminal art that would go down in art history." She is confident she is part of history now.

No-one can doubt her commitment. For all of her regular appearances at catwalk shows and down the Met Bar she has never stopped working. There's another show in New York opening next week. In the book she writes that it is art that has carried her through. But now she says she wants more, desires more. Does she know what that "more" is?

"I'm a workaholic so I'd like to ease up on that quite a lot. And I'd like to have more spiritual fulfilment, definitely. Peace. And that's why I'm pleased about this house I've bought by the sea. I'll have that there. I can have long walks along the cliffs. No dogs, just long walks along the cliff. And I'll be able to cleanse my soul, kind of thing, and go back to somewhere I was a long time ago. I'll be able to pick up that thread and pull that bit of me that I like through when I was not really materialistic and had no possessions. And it would be fantastic to share life with someone."

What makes you laugh Tracey? "I laugh so much. People who have the ability to turn me on make me laugh the most, definitely. That's one of the most sexy things. If he can make me laugh, make me smile . . ." He might get your phone number. "Yeah."

And what makes you cry? "Hmm, I don't cry very often."

Strangeland is out on Monday, published by Sceptre priced £14.99.