Romantic novelist Tricity Bendicks was a regular contributor to Smoke: a London Peculiar, and I’m currently helping her to edit I’m Just A Girl Who Can’t Say Pwllheli, the long-awaited memoir in which she speaks candidly of a misplaced girlhood and of her struggle to be taken seriously both as a writer and as a woman. She also offers her thoughts on life, love, nuns, and the best way to bathe an over-excited labrador. It’s all taking rather longer than expected on account of Tricity’s life containing a surprising number of continuity errors – as is often the case when one’s been around a bit and is fond of the odd G&T – but she did briefly have a blog, and the following biography (copied with Tricity’s approval) originally appeared on that.
Tricity Bendicks: a short biography
Tricity Bendicks was born in April 1955, somewhere near Godalming in Surrey. Her mother, Elizabeth, is vague on the precise geography, remembering only fields, something that might have been a horse – or possibly a thin cow – and the icy indignation of her fellow passengers when informed that the bus would not be continuing to Guildford until the midwife had arrived. As for Tricity’s father, he can shed no light on the matter at all: when his infant daughter took her first breath of warm spring air, George Bendicks was, like a lot of men of his generation, in Leeds.
Soon after Tricity’s birth, the Bendicks family moved to London, to a red-brick villa in Hampstead which George Bendicks had acquired through some sort of deal or bet – he didn’t like to be pinned down to details – with Labour finance spokesman (and future prime minister) Harold Wilson. The two men had, it seemed, bonded over a pipe and set of travel dominoes after finding themselves sharing a First Class compartment on the train down from Yorkshire. Wilson, George Bendicks later recalled, had spent much of the journey enthusiastically outlining his plans for forging a new Britain in the white heat of a technological revolution while he, George, not to be outdone, had shown Wilson some preliminary sketches of a device he’d just invented for helping dogs to climb trees.
Although Wilson later strengthened his links with the Bendicks family by becoming Elizabeth Bendicks’s lover, this was pure coincidence, and had nothing at all to do with the dominoes: indeed, according to Elizabeth, Wilson had denied knowing anyone called George Bendicks almost as strenuously as she had. In her mother’s defence, Tricity is always at pains to point out that, while shameless dissembling of this sort would be second nature to such a consummate politician as Wilson, her mother has simply never been very good with faces; a decade before meeting Wilson she had, after all, departed Our Lady of the Seas in Farnham under a shower of confetti and the firm impression that the man to whom she’d just pledged her troth was Housing Minister (and future prime minister) Harold Macmillan, even after the priest had twice corrected her (the third time, it seems, he just let it go).
Despite her mother’s affair with Wilson – and the one she had had roughly contemporaneously (and, again, entirely coincidentally) with his arch parliamentary rival (and future prime minister) Ted Heath – Tricity’s Hampstead childhood is, she maintains, a time of which she has only good memories; save, perhaps, for the summer of ’66, when George Bendicks became convinced he was a vampire and consigned his wife, daughter and labrador Augustina (“Gussie”) to several months behind blackout curtains. One of Tricity’s pet hates is the way critics always insist on attributing elements of her writing to imagined youthful traumas: she is, she says, a writer, with a writer’s imagination – not everything has to be autobiographical. It’s not even clear, she points out, that the relationship with Heath was ever actually consummated – her mother thinks it probably was, but admits she has a tendency to drift off at crucial moments, especially if she’s hungry.
Of what there can be no doubt, however, is that Wilson was directly responsible for one very important episode in Tricity’s early life when, at a time of increased Cold War hostilities, he phoned George Bendicks to remind him what a lovely house he had and to ask if his daughter was free to travel overland to Archangel and become a child spy with the Russian navy. Although it was summer and the port ice-free, her time with the White Sea fleet is not one Tricity remembers with any great affection, although she admits that things did improve a little once she was allowed to have top bunk.
Tricity had, by this time, started at St Dulcima’s, a minor Catholic boarding school in the Chilterns. Although probably best known these days for having burnt down in 1998 – arson by local villagers is generally thought to have been the cause, the charred remains of several waxed hessian torches having been found in the refectory – St Dulcima’s was, in the sixties and seventies, a popular choice with parents who, wary of so-called “progressive” teaching methods, wished their daughters to experience something more traditional. Or, in the case of the sciences, medieval, given that most of the nuns regarded magnetism and Protestantism as but two sides of the same diabolical coin. Despite the heavy emphasis on Latin, lacrosse and cross-stitch, Tricity enjoyed her schooldays and can still, if plied with a couple of G&Ts and pointed at a piano, give a rousing and word-perfect rendition of the school song: Chests Out, St Dulcima’s, Let’s Show Them What You’ve Got!
One member of the St Dulcima’s staff had a particularly profound effect on Tricity. Closer in age to her adolescent charges and less in thrall to Papal dogma than most of her colleagues, Sister Fiorentina was always keen to share her love of art, literature and music with “her girls”. Whenever it was too wet to go outside at break, Tricity recalls, she and her classmates would beg the fresh-faced young nun for stories from her days as a novice, and she would tell them about the fragrant summer evening on which she’d first seen the Sistine Chapel frescoes and felt the Holy Spirit move within her, or the Easter Sunday she’d sat in Cologne Cathedral and wept as a choir sang the St Matthew Passion, or the night she’d given Jimi Hendrix a blow job backstage at UFO and then helped him write the lyrics to Voodoo Chile. Sister Fiorentina was, Tricity says, simply not like the other nuns, and now freely admits to having had a major crush on her, despite knowing that acting upon her impulses would have damned them both to Hell for all eternity. Sister Fiorentina was almost certainly aware of Tricity’s feelings and, for her part, has since freely admitted to having had a major role in the October 1971 bombing of the GPO Tower, despite knowing that both the IRA and the Angry Brigade had claimed responsibility.
After A levels, Tricity decided to apply to the University of Fife, mistakenly believing that it was her Father’s alma mater and that it had taught him all he knew, despite its lack of emphasis on book learning. Assuming that its absence from the UCCA handbook marked it out as a private establishment to which she would need to apply in person, she moved to Scotland and attempted to track it down. To this day, Tricity maintains that she learnt more from her three months in that damp Cowdenbeath tenement than she ever would have from the three whole years she would have spent in Oxford had she taken up the place she’d been offered by St Hilda’s. Moreover, she adds, it was through observing the raw rough and tumble of life in her bottle-strewn close – and through listening to the angry, incoherent stories of the hollow-faced men and dead-eyed women who slumped against the bars behind which she worked to pay her weekly rent – that she became convinced of her true vocation.
And so, having returned to London, she began sending sample chapters and short stories to anyone she thought might be interested. The responses, sadly, were unenthusiastic, and money, or its lack, soon became a serious issue. Tricity has always been very open about this period in her life, and is adamant that she has absolutely no regrets about the route she chose to take out of penury: she’s hardly the first young woman to trade on her looks, she says, pointing out that those long nights of forced smiles and fake champagne in the bars and clubs of Soho actually allowed her to acquire many things which would prove invaluable in the years that followed, among them a hard-nosed emotional toughness, a deep and unsentimental understanding of the male psyche, and a second-floor flat in Shepherd Market paid for by a fat man from Valletta called Nico.
Most importantly, though, she never stopped writing, and finally one tale, The Playful Stewardess, received a positive reaction from publisher Dorking Sebright. When the resultant hardback finally appeared the following spring, reviewers and readers alike were utterly charmed by the tale of unprepossessing Liverpudlian air hostess Melody McManus, whose clumsily worded offer to return property developer Rupert Hardstaff to an upright position prior to descent into Charles de Gaulle leads not only to an energetic five minutes in the Business Class toilets, but also to the realisation that being Scouse and mousy need not hold one back. A quickly issued paperback version shot to the top of the Romantic Fiction charts, and subsequent novels followed suit. By the time The One-Legged Bosun had been nominated for the Whitbread, her books were being spoken of as seminal works of modern romantic literature.
Ironically, it was what many regarded as the unnecessarily seminal aspect of the climactic “fondue” scene in her next book, The Implausible Goatherd, which marked the turning point in Tricity’s fortunes. Her fans deserted her, sales were not good, and Dorking Sebright wrote to her requesting that she take more care in future, especially where hot, viscous and potentially metaphorical liquids were concerned. Tricity returned their letter saying she could make no such promises, adding felt-tip inverted commas and a large question mark to the word “metaphorical” and printing “ARTISTIC INTEGRITY” in block capitals across the top. She now admits that this sounds horribly childish and arrogant, and that she regrets doing it, but says she’d been annoyed that they didn’t appear to have read her book properly; also, she’d just drunk two bottles of red wine with her agent, Charles Welwyn-North, and was feeling a bit weepy. Matters didn’t improve when, at the height of the row, Tricity provocatively accepted an opportunistic offer from World of Cheese magazine to be their Agony Aunt and, in a moment of typical but unnecessary frankness, told Paul from Market Rasen that his girlfriend might show more interest if they tried experimenting with different sexual positions, such as the reverse cowgirl or her own favourite, the mature ploughman. She had, she admitted afterwards, when politely declining requests for instructions and/or diagrams, been thinking about M&S sandwiches.
Disillusioned with the world of romantic fiction, Tricity turned to her other great love, the theatre, but immediately found herself embroiled in yet more controversy when the opening night of her gothic fantasy for children, The Fall of the House at Pooh Corner, brought not just a series of baroquely subclaused and largely unreadable complaints from the Edgar Allan Poe Society, who couldn’t understand why anyone would put a pendulum in a heffalump pit, but also a flurry of lawsuits from the parents of profoundly traumatised toddlers who couldn’t understand why Owl had pecked Piglet’s eyes out.
Rather unexpectedly, it was one of Tricity’s occasional forays into non-fiction which proved the last straw for Dorking Sebright. My Favourite East End Fallacies was supposed to be a light-hearted debunking of traditional Cockney folklore but, owing to the entirely verbal nature of the commission, ended up being something else entirely, as Tricity not only grasped completely the wrong end of the stick but also provided several photos of herself doing so; which, because of deadlines, she sent directly to the printer. After a brief exchange of solicitors’ letters, the whole run was pulped at the request of Ray Winstone, who is, apparently, unmistakable. Tricity and Dorking Sebright then parted company by mutual consent.
Despite still being without a publisher, Tricity is currently working on the first volume of her memoirs, I’m Just A Girl Who Can’t Say Pwllheli. Parts of this have already been serialised in Smoke: A London Peculiar magazine, to which she has been a regular contributor since issue one, and Tricity would like to take this opportunity to express her thanks to the editors, Matt Haynes and Jude Rogers, for sticking by her even when the rest of the publishing world had turned its back. Matt Haynes and Jude Rogers would like to take this opportunity to point out that back issues are still available from the Smoke website.