Today, I have great pleasure in interviewing someone very familiar with the writing craft. Not many of us can claim to have sold ONE MILLION BOOKS, but Beryl Kingston can. I can’t begin to imagine how that feels … Hugely proud and gratifying, I’m sure, and she must have worked so hard to have achieved that figure.
I’ll tell you more about Beryl later on, but first I’ve invited her to answer a few questions to give you some insight into what makes this amazing lady tick.
Hi Beryl, a warm welcome to the ‘writer’s hot seat.’ It’s great having you as my guest today. I promise it won’t be a bumpy ride!
Where were you born and what is your earliest memory?
To start at the beginning, I was born in Tooting in South London 88 years ago and my first memory is probably singing and dancing on a stage somewhere feeling completely happy with spotlights shining on my head and foot-lights warming my feet and people clapping and cheering in the darkness below me. I was probably about five.
Were your early years marked by an outstanding/unusual or particularly disturbing/amusing incident?
I’m afraid I can’t tell you amusing stories about my childhood because I was an abused child and spent most of my time in a state of twitchy anxiety and fear. The abuser was my mother who beat me with a cane from the time I was five, when my younger sister was born, until I was seventeen and finally took action to stop her. Not a pretty story. I wrote about it in some detail in ‘A Family at War’ so anyone who is interested can find it there. But there’s one fact that might interest other writers. In a roundabout way, being beaten made a writer of me. My mother enjoyed her brutality and was buoyed up by it, but she also had an image to protect, which meant that she had to take steps to ensure that her neighbours knew nothing about it. I had strict instructions to hide the marks she left on my legs and arms by wearing a thick cardigan and black stockings – she never hit my face, only my back, legs and arms. She used to say ‘Cover yourself up. You don’t want people to know what a wicked child you are.’ And I did as I was told because I agreed with her then and thought she was right. But I needed to talk about it and I needed it desperately. It didn’t seem right to me, that she could be so cruel and get away with it. And in the end I decided to keep a diary. I nicked and exercise book from school, kept it well hidden and wrote in it freely and honestly from the time I was seven and for the next twelve years until I married my darling. I never considered that anything I wrote or did could ever be any good or of any value. My mother made sure of that. She told me so often that I was a nasty wicked child, that I should never have been born, that I was useless and would never amount to a ‘row of beans’ and that my ‘dear little sister Pat’ would ‘make ten of me’. Naturally I believed her. So when I started to write poems and stories and plays I threw them away like the trash I thought they were.
Did evacuation in World War II have a lasting – good or bad – effect on you?
I don’t think being evacuated made a lot of difference to me. It was just something that happened. The London Blitz, on the other hand, was another matter altogether. That had a profound effect. My mother evacuated us all to Felpham on the day before war was declared, but having decided that we were going to make peace with Germany and that the Germans were going to fight the Russians, she brought us back to London in August 1940. We were just in time for me to watch the bombing of Croydon from the flat roof at the top of an apartment block, and, not long after that, the Blitz began. From then on we spent our nights in the cellar, listening to the ack-ack and the dreadful laboured droning of the German bombers, until November, when we were bombed out and she evacuated us again. But I was back in London in 1944 – on my own this time – so that I could attend the local Grammar School. And that meant I saw the terrible casualties and the widespread devastation that was caused by the doodle-bugs and Werner Braun’s obscene rockets. All of which I’ve written about in ‘London Pride’ and ‘Citizen Armies’ which is my latest book.
During your teaching years, did you nurture a growing desire to write?
It rather tickled me to be asked whether I ‘nurtured a growing desire to write during my teaching career’, because the question is so wonderfully inapplicable. I didn’t ‘nurture a desire’ to write, I just wrote and enjoyed it, even though I was still sure it wasn’t any good. It was as simple as that. Most of the time I wrote plays. I taught in a variety of schools and the bulk of my time was taken up with encouraging my pupils to enjoy learning, but whenever I found a drama club or a group of kids who wanted to act in a play, I wrote one for them. Very cumbersome things they were because anyone who wanted a part had to have one, so the casts were enormous – on several occasions over a hundred strong. It was great fun. The last five or six were musicals which I wrote in conjunction with a talented teacher from the music department. I learnt a lot from doing that.
What advice would I give to a young writer just starting out?
I don’t think I would give them any advice at all. We all have to discover our own writing methods and we are all different. I expect what a newbie would most like to know would be how to persuade one of the big publishers to take their manuscript and publish it and sell it in millions. But another writer can’t tell him/her that. What they need is a good agent. I can tell them how to set about looking for one but that’s the limit. I feel very sorry for newbies in these pushy times. There are thousands of wannabees out there all pushing their work as hard as they can and the competition must be soul destroying. I feel very fortunate to have had a Fairy Godmother around at the two big turning points of my life. One saw to it that the man I was going to marry should turn up on my doorstep at just the right time. The other arranged for an agent to be at the Frankfurt Book Fair and to pick up a rather esoteric book on the next stall on how to cope with period pain that had been published by Ebury and to be interested enough to read it. With his help and support – offered out of the blue and doggedly – I ended up having my first novel published by Century/Futura – no less – and became a best seller. But that’s the stuff of fairy tales. When I tell people the story I also tell them that when I’ve finished they’re at perfect liberty to chant, ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire’ because I don’t believe it either.
Separate from your writing, how would you like to be remembered?
I’m going to answer that with a – suitable when slightly adapted – quotation from Hilaire Belloc.
‘‘When I am dead,’’ he wrote, ‘‘I hope it may be said
His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.’’
More about Beryl and her books:
She was evacuated to a place called Felpham, during World War II, igniting an interest in poet William Blake, and went on to become a teacher until 1985 when she became a full-time writer.
Her debut novel “Gates of Paradise” was her 20th novel on Google Books. She admits to writing VERY BAD poems, aged seven but, hey, give a little girl a break! She redeemed herself when her first novel became an instant best seller years later. Beryl is an eclectic writer, publishing family sagas, modern stories and historical novels, including books about the first and second world wars. She reached the pinnacle of one million books with No. 12, and has also written plays for children, stories for magazines and a novella about a conceited cat!
Our celebrated author won The Blake Society Tithe Grant Award, and has been married for 54 years, has three children, five grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren – all apples of her eye… Another distinction, is for receiving the top level for public library lending with her 4th book.
Beryl’s books, include:
“Hearts and Farthings”
And the sequel “Kisses and Ha’pennies”
Modern: “Laura’s Way” and “Maggie’s Boy”
Historical: 18th/19th/20th centuries, WWI & II – “A Time to Love” and “Avalanche of Daisies.”
Beryl’s 30th book, ‘Citizen Armies’, will be published this year on 2nd September.
Her books can be purchased from Amazon UK / Amazon.com and from bookstores
© Joy Lennick 2019
Pictures © copyright Beryl Kingston & Imperial War Museum