You ask the questions: Beryl Bainbridge

(Such as: Beryl Bainbridge, were your recent comments on 'chick lit' misconstrued? And what are the five best books ever written?)
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The Independent Online

The writer Beryl Bainbridge grew up in Liverpool, listening to stories on the radio to drown out the sound of her parents' quarrels. She was expelled from school at 14 for writing rude verse, became an actress and moved to London. She has brought up three children on her own, living in a famously eccentric house in Camden Town, north London, populated with plaster saints and a stuffed buffalo.

She has written 15 novels. Every Man For Himself was a retelling of the Titanic story, The Birthday Boys charted the Scott expedition to the Antarctic, Master Georgie follows Liverpudlians in the Crimean War. Bainbridge has been nominated for the Booker Prize no less than five times but never won. She won the Whitbread Prize for Fiction with Injury Time and Every Man for Himself. Now 67, she has seven grandchildren, and was made a Dame in 2000. Her latest book, According to Queeney, is published by Little, Brown.

You have written books with stories woven around such calamitous episodes in history as the sinking of the Titanic and Scott's Antarctic expedition. What is it that draws you to these particular historical events?

Eileen Dwyer, Norfolk

Because of the connections. Both events took place in the same year, 1912. Scott froze to death in March and the Titanic sank in April. The other factor that connects them is that they both involve disaster and ice. I hadn't known much about Scott, but I was very interested in him. From a writers point of view, the central figure in their novel has to be an interesting character and Scott to me was fascinating. Lastly, they both captured my imagination.

Have you ever lost any sleep over not winning the Booker prize?

T Webb, Kingsbridge

No, but I had a few pangs of disappointment at the Booker dinner in 1998. For the first time ever, I had begun to believe the hype in the newspapers. People kept saying that I would win, so there was a momentary pang when I realised that I hadn't.

Did you enjoy the film Titanic? Did you ever meet any Titanic survivors?

N Brown, Swansea

I enjoyed the underwater filming of the real Titanic at the beginning and the final quarter of an hour when everyone took to the boats. I once met a lady who said she'd been conceived on the Titanic, but I thought it impertinent to ask her for further details.

Will you write a novel set in the present day again? If not, why not?

T Patel, Woking

Most books written by older authors are about some time in the past, as one has a better perspective about the things that happened long ago than about the present day. I might try writing a modern detective story next. It would have to be set about five or ten years back as you can't see anything while its happening, you can only look back. But that's pretty much the present day. I love detective novels and there are some terrific writers around that I admire, PD James, Patricia Cornwall, Ian Rankin and Colin Dexter.

When was the last time you woke up after getting a little sloshed, remembered what you'd done and cringed with embarrassment?

R Case, Cheltenham

What makes you think I can remember anything the following morning?

Were your comments on "chick lit" misconstrued?

O Parry, Bath

Yes and no. I said that I don't think it matters what people read as long as they read something. As a child, I used to read Enid Blyton, but now she's not considered by parents or teachers as a writer that children should read. The "chick lit" thing was blown out of proportion. I spoke about it for probably only a minute and the media portrayed it as a major issue because that's what they think makes a good story. It was all a big fuss over nothing.

One of this year's judges called the Booker prize "sexist". Do you agree?

M Cooper, London N5

No, I don't agree. At the Booker, there's always roughly the same amount of female judges as judges, and there have been quite a few women that have both won and been on the shortlist. I don't think anyone sits down and says I don't want that book to win because it's been written by a woman.

Seeing as people do spend so little time reading, if I were to read only five books in my lifetime, what would you suggest they should be?

S Elbourne, Bristol

Last of the Just by André Schwartzbart; Thérèse Desqueyroux by François Mauriac; The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard; The Red and the Black by Stendhal; The End of the Affair by Graham Greene.

I've stopped going to Camden because of all the tourists and the "characters" hanging round the Tube station and the garbage on the market. How have you seen the area change, in all the years that you've been there?

O Hansen, London W12

The part I live in sees few tourists. The trick is never to go down to the market or the tube station at weekends or indeed at night. The high street itself is now noisy and dirty, and all the old small shops have now been replaced by restaurants and mobile phone shops. But half the time I feel like I'm still living in Liverpool. The great thing about Camden is that there is a good mixture of people. There are smart terraced houses next to council blocks, so it's not too precious. One doesn't like to think that one is living in a district that is very wealthy.

What are your defining memories of your father? How does he appear in your work?

W Smith, London SE22

In his ARP uniform and Tank Regiment beret, scrubbing out the back kitchen. I used bits of him for Captain Scott, who apparently was not ashamed of weeping, either from rage or emotion.

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