Guest Post: Beryl Bainbridge. A memory, by Maureen Hanscomb

Today I have a special post for you. A couple of weeks ago when I was publicising #ReadingBeryl23, a lovely sounding lady contacted me to ask if there were plans for the week, and that she’d been tutored by Beryl on a writing course. I replied – it’s just an encouragement to read more Beryl, but I wondered if she’d like to write me a short piece about meeting her. It is lovely to meet (even virtually) those who’ve brushed up against her – as author Stephen May did writing a piece for the last Beryl reading week about how he gave her a piggy back to her hotel after a book event (you can read that here).

Imagine my delight then, when I got an email back from Maureen with the following, let me hand you over to her . . .

Sometime during the early 1990s I attended a short 4-day Residential Writing Course. It was held in a remote and rambling country house in North Wales, and the main guest tutor was Beryl Bainbridge. I had recently read her Birthday Boys, which I had really enjoyed for its style and simplicity, and I couldn’t believe my luck when she appeared on the first evening offering one-to-one tutoring sessions each morning. I was the first one of the five students to leap onto this offer and for three mornings she and I would meet in the study, at 9 o’clock prompt. This was her demand.

I was fairly new to writing fiction and felt quite insecure. I listed various stumbling blocks that repeatedly came my way. The main one was Getting Started. A new story, a new chapter and so on. Beryl simply stood up, sauntered over to the shelves and pulled out a book at random. She opened the first page and read a sentence to me. Then she repeated this with another random book. ‘There you go,’ she said. ‘It’s a beginning.’ What she was saying was that the main thing was to get words down onto paper. Alterations, adjustments, changes etc etc could all be done later. The main thing was to physically write.

This was, in my plodding amateur world, revolutionary and hugely freeing. A marvellous shortcut to becoming Unblocked. Eventually, I managed to show her a story I was then working on. It concerned a young, down on her luck, office worker who contrives, through a mixture of quick thinking and despair, to steal a fabulous Xmas Hamper, from Fortnums. Beryl was hugely encouraging and at the same time was full of suggestions, for instance, ways to bring the most dreary office-work to life.

As the days wore on, I realised she was also wildly funny and, above all, kind. I could never
forget this brief encounter.

Maureen Hanscomb

Thank you so much Maureen for sharing your memories of Beryl.

7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Beryl Bainbridge. A memory, by Maureen Hanscomb

  1. Claire 'Word by Word' says:

    What a fabulous encounter with Beryl and an inspiring beginning to the practice of writing. And now I’m left wanting to read the story of the Xmas hamper!! Thank you to your guest for sharing this wonderful memory.

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