Author Beryl Bainbridge dies aged 77

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The Independent Online

Tributes from the literary world poured in today for novelist Dame Beryl Bainbridge, who died this morning at the age of 77.

The author, whose acclaimed works included An Awfully Big Adventure and Master Georgie, died at a London hospital at around 2am after a short battle with cancer.

Sir Michael Holroyd, Dame Beryl's biographer, said she should be remembered as one of the greats of British literature.

"She's up there with the best," he said.

He said that, although she did not win the Man Booker Prize despite being shortlisted five times, she did win the David Cohen Prize.

This, he said, puts her alongside literary heavyweights like Seamus Heaney, Harold Pinter and VS Naipaul, who also won Nobel prizes for literature.

Liverpool-born Dame Beryl had been working on a new book, The Girl In The Polka-Dot Dress, her first since the publication of According To Queeney in 2001. The new novel focused on the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.

Sir Michael said she was working on the book right up to the time her cancer took hold.

He said: "She told me she had got to page 35 in her latest novel. She had got all her characters into a taxi, but didn't know how to get them out."

The author, a smoker for much of her life, had previously been treated for cancer in 2006.

She was often pictured smoking cigarettes and her biographer said smoking was part of her creativity.

He said: "She was always going out for an illicit cigarette. She had cancer and she knew she couldn't smoke, but, for her, smoking was a part of the process of writing. She said she was 'just going outside', but we all knew what she was up to."

Dame Beryl was regarded as a master storyteller and her historical novels had made her one of the best-known figures in post-war British literature.

She often drew on her own experiences during her early literary career, with books such as The Dressmaker and debut A Weekend With Claude featuring fictionalised episodes from her own life.

Sir Michael remembered how her personality had a great effect on her writing: "She was very entertaining and there were a lot of jokes when you got to know her, but there was a poignancy and sadness.

"Like the great comics, there was an interesting mix of comedy and tragedy."

He said she touched so many people through her work and she would be remembered with great affection among her readers.

"Her books were unlike anyone else's," he said. "They were short novellas really, packed with content, plot and story."

She was educated at Liverpool's Merchant Taylors' School and during her early working life spent many years as an actress, which took her from Liverpool Repertory Theatre to a role in Coronation Street.

Sir Michael said Dame Beryl's home city was very influential on her life and work.

"Liverpool was important to her and she liked it very much. She was certainly a Liverpool girl."

Despite her near-misses with the Booker, Dame Beryl achieved other awards success, landing the Whitbread Novel Award twice.

And her books The Dressmaker, Sweet William and An Awfully Big Adventure were all adapted for the screen, the latter starring Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman.

Dame Beryl was a keen writer as a child and wrote her first novel, Harriet Said, in the 1950s, although it was rejected by publishers and did not make it into print until 1972.

The writer, who lived in Camden, north London, had long been convinced that she would die at 71 - the age, or thereabouts, at which her parents and grandparents died.

Her own age became a matter of confusion when she struggled to remember whether she was born in 1932 or 1934, after fibbing about her birthdate to enable her to take a trip to France as a youngster without her parents' knowledge.

Dame Beryl said she was unafraid of dying. In one interview she said: "Death has never worried me. I wouldn't like to go quickly of a heart attack or something. I'd like a proper goodbye, with lots of words and things said."