Beryl Bainbridge needs no introduction as one of the finest novelists of our times. But few people know that painting and drawing were also lifelong passions, which she found relaxing and altogether less pressurized than writing. They were also a source of income in the days before her writing career took off.
She painted landscapes, scenes from her novels, and above all people – friends, lovers, her children, and fictional and historical characters (she had a particular fascination for Napoleon). From her youth in Formby and Liverpool through her decades in London, art, life and writing intersect.
Wholly undeterred by her lack of formal training, Beryl had an exuberance of technique to match her imagination. She would often incorporate everyday materials such as paper doilies, newspaper or cut-out photographs. As one of her many friends observes, the paintings were like Beryl herself: ‘irreverent, funny and highly original.’
Psiche Hughes first met Beryl in summer 1963, when they were neighbours in north London. Psiche became a confidante to Beryl in both her personal and her artistic life, and their close friendship endured until Beryl’s death in 2010. Beryl’s eldest grandson, Charlie, recalls how his grandmother gave him the feeling that everything was possible, ‘and that creativity for its own sake coming out of your head and your own past was the real meaning of life.’
Her power to inspire is vividly conveyed in this first-hand portrait of a woman who combined towering creative talent with a tremendous sense of fun and an incorrigible free spirit.