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Remembering Beryl Bainbridge

Learning of the death of the author Beryl Bainbridge two days ago, (July 2, 2010) my mind went back to the meetings I had with her at her home on Albert Street in Camden Town.

The seed of these meetings have their origin in my early teen days in Crosby, a suburb of Liverpool. At that time Beryl had finished, or rather been expelled from Merchant Taylor’s school, Crosby! One of my closest friends in those days was a young woman, Dot, who wanted to be an artist. Dot and I had many talks together, long walks on Sunday mornings and evenings at her home when she played her grand piano while we talked about everything under the sun. But then Dot left school and went to art college in Liverpool where she told me of her friendship with another student she felt was very creative, John Lennon.

Dot and I continued to meet until she took off to London with one of her art professors, Austin Davies, who at the time was married to an actress, Beryl Bainbridge.

Years went by and now I was living in Canada, and Beryl had left the stage for a career as a writer. It was at this time I came across her second published novel Another Part of the Wood, and recognised the setting as Sniggery Woods, where Dot and I used to walk. What is more I realised that the character of ‘Dotty’ was none other than my friend Dot! I wrote to Beryl and she invited me to visit next time I was in London. When I arrived she said ‘You must be Dot’s friend Crow (Dot’s nickname for me as a teenager).’ This was the start of many visits and Beryl even invited my wife and I to stay at her house for a month while she was on holiday.

Beryl showed me the Bottle Factory where she had once worked and on several evenings I met at her home the various characters who appear in her novel Injury Time. Beryl and I discussed many things. One of our discussions turned to ‘writer’s block.’ It is generally assumed that this block is associated with some sort of psychological difficulty. For example, the film director David Lean had a block after his later film epics were strongly criticized by Pauline Kael. Beryl thought differently and believed the block always involved a technical matter. An author may have adopted a certain approach to a novel—for example, writing in the first or third person—and something was telling that writer that the approach was wrong; that it was not working. In other words the block was creating a pause—a chance for the author to rethink their whole approach. So maybe Lean’s block was of a similar nature!

There are other memories but one in particular involves a phone call one morning to go round and visit her. Beryl was quite upset; she had sent the manuscript of her latest novel to Duckworth, her publisher, but had not heard back from her editor. Beryl gave me a bag and asked me to buy a half bottle of whisky and bring it back in the bag so the neighbours would not see. After taking several swigs she asked me to stay while she got up the courage to telephone the publisher. As it turned out everything was fine, except if I recall, the origin of a quote in the novel.

I am sure that other memories will flood back but for today that it enough. Beryl, I really enjoyed meeting you, your attitude to life and your generosity.