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Liz Wainwright, BA Modern Languages 1965-1969

Author and Writer

Liz Wainwright, BA Modern Languages 1965-1969

"50 years on, you realise how lucky you’ve been and what a great opportunity you had in the 1960s. Like many young people from a hard-up working class background in 1965 I was the first in my family to go to university – only made possible by being given a full local authority grant for my fees and maintenance."

"Talking of luck, I must also mention that statistically at Bradford that year there were ten male students for every woman – well, that’s how we liked to think about it in the swinging 1960s! – but I married the first 17 year old student I danced with at the first student Saturday night dance.

After graduating, my first job, thanks to experience gained during my student year abroad in 1968 at the Ernst Klett Verlag in Stuttgart, was as Editor of the Schools Council Project in English for Immigrants at Leeds University. This led me back into schools and into teaching, which I loved, and eventually I became head of French at a large comprehensive school in Leeds.

After having two children I continued teaching, but part-time, and then decided also to pursue the dream of becoming a writer. After writing stories for ‘Jackie’ teenage magazine I went to a weekend course on writing for television, got an agent and was commissioned to write plays for BBC Radio 4.

Several of my Radio Plays are inspired by my experiences in France – thanks to the Bradford Modern Languages Dept pioneering industry based work-placements abroad for their students .

The first six months of my year abroad was spent as a trainee translator/interpreter at an engineering firm in the centre of Paris. Don’t forget that in 1967 going on an aeroplane was only for ‘jet–setters’ and, for teenagers from my background, going to Paris was a Hollywood dream come true.

From that experience came ‘Madame’ a radio play which was also sold to the BBC World Service and broadcast internationally. It’s a kind of Mafia murder mystery but also a study in envy, the envy of an old ‘concierge’ in an apartment block in Paris, like the one I lived in as a student in the 1960s.

At home many years later, with a blank sheet of paper in my typewriter, a voice came into my head and took over the story. The voice became Madame Bernay, the resentful old concierge dressed in black, guarding the entrance of a block of apartments.

As a writer, I don’t usually base my characters on any individual. However, there is one exception, Mlle. Rozier – the subject of Madame Bernay’s envy. Mlle Rozier is definitely inspired by a very unpleasant woman who worked in that Paris translation department. She was rumoured to have been the mistress of a Mafia chief during the Second World War.

Writing it in my head in French I then translated it in my head into English - retaining the French speech patterns etc. I was thrilled when the actors told me they were amazed that they felt they were speaking French – with no TV ’Allo ’Allo’ French accents involved!

Another play which was set in France, and which starred Lynda Bellingham, is forming the basis of my new novel, with parts of the story set in America and Nice. I’ve also recently published a series of novels, set between the 1960s and 1997, ‘The Lynda Collins Trilogy’.

Like me, Lynda comes from a hard-up Northern working class background, a run-down pub based on the one I used to live in. However, she’s denied the opportunity to go to university – she’s not as lucky as I was. She shares my 1960s dreams, though, and she also eventually does go to Paris!"

Liz Wainwright

Published November, 2015