HOW WE MET

ELIZABETH AND MALCOLM BRADBURY
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Elizabeth Bradbury was born in Chesterfield in 1931. For the past 15 years she has been adapting novels and short stories for broadcast on Radio Four's Woman's Hour and Book at Bedtime. She also abridges books for transfer to audio cassette. The Bradburys have two sons and live in Norwich. Born in 1932, Malcolm Bradbury grew up in Nottingham. His first book was published in 1959; his latest, Dangerous Pilgrimages, is published next week. In 1970 he founded the Creative Writing course at the University of East Anglia; in June he retires to become Emeritus Professor of American Studies.

MALCOLM BRADBURY: We met in the spring of 1955. I was completing a two-year MA with a thesis and got stuck on the bibliography. I was living in Nottingham with my family, and went into the Nottinghamshire County Library to look for help. Elizabeth was the librarian who helped sort out my quite considerable bibliographical problems. We got to know each other, and one day she invited me back to her flat for drinks - I think essentially because she thought I would suit her flatmate. But I wasn't so interested in the flatmate as I was in her.

Elizabeth was very much my type - tall and dark and flamboyant. She was very stylish: she smoked cigarettes through a holder and had a long black scarf, and was something of a femme fatale. I admired her strong personality and the fact that she was very good at getting things done, but the important thing was that she shared my fondness for books. In those days librarians read the books they had on their shelves, so they were the same kind of people as writers and university lecturers.

Elizabeth and I started going to pubs together, particularly The Salutation in Nottingham. I was a graduate student with no money and she was a librarian with an income. I used to try to buy her beer because that's all I could afford, and she would order gin-and-tonics which she had to pay for herself and often buy my beer as well. The relationship prospered, but I got a scholarship to go to Indiana University and we didn't see each other for a year.

In the summer of 1956 I returned to a Nottingham that was much livelier than when I'd left it. It was the time of the Suez protest which pul-led young people together. A Beat Generation atmosphere prevailed, and there were various writers around like Alan Sillitoe, who'd just written Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. I decided to hang around Nottingham for the literary flavour. Elizabeth was part of a group of librarians, would-be writers and painters who met in pubs and coffee bars; my memory is that the relationship was found again in the atmosphere of the time.

I was very fond of Elizabeth, but our relationship had its ups and downs. Between 1956 and 1958 she gave up her job and went home to nurse her mother, who had Parkinson's Disease. She lived in Staveley, outside Notting-ham, and although we used to meet most weekends Elizabeth had other "country" boyfriends as well. They wore hacking jackets, and my attitude to them was rather classbound and condescending. These were the "Darling Dodos", as Angus Wilson called them, and it was the time of the new meritocrats.

In 1958 I got extremely ill. I didn't realise how ill I was and walked to the hospital. They immediately put me in bed and said I was dying. I not only had bacterial endocarditis - an infection of the heart lining - but also a congenital heart condition. They shot me full of penicillin and antibiotics and cured the endocarditis, and I was kept in hospital to be fattened up for major heart surgery.

I think I was the first person to have adult heart surgery in Britain, and there was a less than 50:50 chance that I would survive. I was, of course, in a deep depression. I desperately finished my first novel, Eating People is Wrong, while I was waiting for my operation, which is why the last chapter is set in a hospital. I willed the book to Elizabeth who was the mainstay to me in that terrible situation. She came every day, and I was intensely grateful for the love and kindness she showed me, as well as being deeply fond of her. After my operation, which was a success, I started to think about marrying Elizabeth. Before my illness I had felt footloose and fancy free, but afterwards I felt more vulnerable, and there was a feeling of us two against the world.

In early 1959 I went off to the States again to take up a scholarship to Yale University to complete my PhD. Elizabeth and I wrote to each other and in one letter I asked her to marry me. She took a lot of persuading. I had been offered a teaching job at Yale and Elizabeth had never been to America before and wasn't sure things would work out. I persuaded her that they would by writing her poems and many letters. Then I was offered a second teaching job at Hull University. I hadn't been able to find a nice place for us to live in America and I knew that Elizabeth would be happier staying in England, so I took the job at Hull.

I came back and we got married in October 1959 - the week my first novel came out. We started out very happily and as far as I'm concerned we've been very happy ever since. Elizabeth has been a wonderful mother to our two sons, and she has the kindness to put up with a self-obsessed writer.

There is a strong sense of partnership between us. I'm hopeless at organising in the domestic world, so Elizabeth runs that part of our lives and she's wonderfully efficient at it. Were it not for Elizabeth's support and strength, I would not write as much as I do.

ELIZABETH BRADBURY: We first met in the Nottinghamshire County Library when he came in with the bibliography of his MA thesis which he had got in a muddle with. He was very handsome with dark curly hair and I thought, "Oh, what an interesting young man."

At first I wasn't thinking about romance. I wanted him to meet my flatmate Mary: she was much more intellectually able than I, and I thought they would find each other interesting. But Malcolm and I found we had a lot in common.

We started to go about together, but I still went off to balls at the RAF station where my twin brother was an officer. I had a liking for fast cars and I loved to dance, but Malcolm thought all that was not really on. In fact if we went to a party together he would sit on the floor with his back to everybody and read a book.

Our relationship was very off and on, but I gradually realised that dancing and all that sort of thing was not enough. I found Malcolm a lot more interesting than the ``hacking jackets'' because my main interest was modern literature. I'd had a reasonable education but my knowledge of English stopped well before Hardy, and I had been educating myself in modern literature. Mal-colm had read everything and I found him absolutely fascinating. We were great Lawrentian fans and we used to go round Eastwood and all the places where Lawrence had been. When Malcolm was away in America I read the Guardian and took magazines and kept up with everything going on in the literary world, so I could report back to him.

After Malcolm got ill we became closer. He could have died and it was a really dreadful time. I'll never forget going to see him the day after the operation. He had been in the end bed nearest the door, where they put everybody they think is going to die so they can get them out without disturbing other patients. When I arrived there was nobody in the bed. I was devastated and nearly fainted. Then after a few moments I saw Malcolm sitting in a chair - I couldn't speak with relief.

As soon as he got better he went to America again and there was another parting of the ways for a while. We wrote long letters and more or less decided to get married, but there were complications. After my mother died I felt responsible for my father, but Malcolm wanted me to live in America because he had been offered a job at Yale. It took a long time for me to make my mind up, but I did decide to go. When Malcolm wrote and said he'd decided to take the job at Hull I was so relieved.

We got married as soon as he came back. I organised the wedding in a lunch hour. I went to the Flying Horse Hotel and ordered lots to drink and lunch for fifty. Because we were all northerners, it had to be a proper hot lunch with feet under the table - none of this buffet nonsense! I nipped across to Burtons and ordered the wedding cake for a hundred, so pieces could be sent out. And I bought a short gold brocade dress from a friend who owned a dress shop.

Malcolm is an agnostic and didn't want to be married in church, but I am Anglican and insisted. Unfortunately the vicar was one of those who make you go and talk to him about life. He wanted to know how Malcolm felt about the marriage service and that sort of thing. During these meetings Malcolm would remain silent and look absolutely furious, and I'd answer for him. On the day Malcolm was so nervous that as we came out of the church, he tried to get back into the car that he had come in with his parents.

Malcolm is easy to live with, but I can get very cross in the mornings. I don't like to talk at breakfast, and as soon as our sons could read I would give them a page of the Guardian each and forbid them to open their mouths. Luckily Malcolm likes to get up late and I get up early. We've never eaten breakfast together all our married life.

Malcolm never rows: I row, but I have to row by myself! The problem is that sometimes Malcolm doesn't say what he wants. It is in my nature to make a decision and get something done straight away rather than to think about it endlessly.

I am very happy for Malcolm to be the successful one. By nature, thank God, I am not envious, though occasionally it crosses my mind that I have to do a lot more work than Malcolm for similar rewards. 8

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