mardi 12 juin 2012


I am very fond of the name Beryl.  My brilliant Nan is called Beryl, for one.  My boyfriend used to be in a band called Beryl, which I do think is a particularly excellent band name.

I can now add to this, rather belatedly, a new fangirlish enthusiasm for Beryl Bainbridge.

Of course, hers was a name that I had always been kind of aware of, but I had never read anything she’d written.  Recently, I was looking up old articles written by Lynn Barber – another perennial literary crush of mine – and happened to read her interview with Beryl Bainbridge.

I was absolutely fascinated (the awesome fringe, the chainsmoking and falling over at parties, the stuffed buffalo in the hallway, wandering the streets of Camden with a bone-handled knife concealed in her tatty old raincoat) and so of course instantly set about reading everything I could get my hands on about this lady, who sadly died a couple of years ago.

Her writing practices intrigued me – how she would lock herself away in her study (at a school desk and ancient computer) for four months at a time, writing pretty much round the clock, barely stopping to sleep or eat.   Amazingly, she reckoned she could cut twelve pages of her first draft for every page that would eventually make it into print.  She would read everything out loud over and over again until the rhythm was perfect.  She made it sound easy and silly, but it wasn’t, and it was actually the most important thing to her.

This hardworking attitude was somewhat belied by her public persona, which is where the intrigue really kicks in.  I am a big fan of anyone who invites underestimating, and that was Beryl Bainbridge personified.  With the ‘schoolgirl haircut and schoolgirl voice’ (said Lynn Barber), everyone knew she liked a drink, and she’d just turn up to parties, make jokes at her own expense, and end up falling over – funny old Beryl and her eccentric ways and her slight little books.

Of course,  the real joke is that they weren’t slight at all.  She wrote so much that I wasn’t sure where to start, but I’ve gone out and bought a first batch – starting with ‘Winter Garden’.  I’ve only just started it but am already in awe of her subtle, spare style and wicked jokes.  I’ve a feeling this is going to be a longstanding crush, somehow.

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