Tuesday, 7 April 2009

We were charmed and entertained

Photo by Richard Wilcocks
Tea with Beryl Bainbridge was on Saturday 28 March. Framed photographs of battleships and Royal Navy reunions were behind her on the wall of the long meeting room at the back of the New Headingley Club, which was until a few years ago owned by the British Legion. In front of her was a large audience expecting to be charmed and entertained. It was. We loved her! At one end of the room, a selection of her novels had been spread along the top of a table All were later sold.

Introduced by Richard Wilcocks, who had invited her to Headingley after a conversation during a visit to the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth, she spoke about her early career as an actress at Liverpool Rep, about her influences, about recent illness, about recurring themes, and about death, which was the subject of an essay to be broadcast on Radio 3 a few days later. This can be heard by clicking here.

She made special mention of According to Queenie and her view of Dr Samuel Johnson, of The Dressmaker and the repressive atmosphere during the War, and of The Bottle Factory Outing, but the main part of the talk was taken up by a reading from the manuscript of The Girl in the Polka Dot dress, which has yet to be completed. After a short explanation about the background (who was the widely reported, untraced young woman seen in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in which Bobby Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in 1968?) we heard the story of Harold and Rose, who are travelling through the States in search of a sinister Dr Wheeler. They end up in Los Angeles on the night of the assassination. Rose is wearing her favourite dress – the polka dot one.

Questions afterwards were well fielded, and a queue of admirers formed for the book signing. A major event! 

In conversations later on, after the main audience had departed, she expressed great interest in the Victorian aspects of Leeds, of which there are many, of course, especially the streets of red-brick houses and two of the buildings in the city centre designed by Cuthbert Brodrick - Leeds Town Hall and the Corn Exchange.


Here is an extract from her July 2010 Guardian obituary:   She did not read modern fiction, only "anything from Graham Greene backwards". Her discipline as a writer was intense. Each novel emerged from a few months in which she wrote through the nights, smoked a lot, slept and ate little. She constantly read aloud what she had produced, to get "the music of the prose" right, and in an alchemical process of cutting and perfecting, she would distil every dozen or so draft pages into one sheet without a single wasted word.

Read the whole thing here

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