If storytelling is an art, then Maeve Binchy is unquestionably one of today's master artists. After all, Binchy was born, educated, and lives in Ireland, a land well known for its great storytellers. Firmly grounded in the Irish storytelling tradition, Binchy has earned a sizeable following of enthusiastic fans for her 11 novels and 4 collections of short stories.
I had a very happy childhood, which is unsuitable if you're going to be an Irish writer," Maeve jokes. Perhaps that happy childhood is why Binchy did not publish her first novel until she was 43 years old. But there's no doubt that once she did she proved herself to be an immensely talented, multiple New York Times-bestselling author. her name.
Binchy was introduced into the joys of storytelling at an early age. Her mother, Maureen, and father, William, a prominent Dublin barrister, encouraged Binchy and her three siblings to be avid readers as well as to share stories at dinner and, as her brother William admits, nobody loved telling stories more than Maeve.
Growing up in the quiet seaside town of Dalkey, located about 10 miles south of Dublin, Binchy also found herself dreaming of escape. "I love Dalkey now," she says, "but when I was young, I thought it was somewhat like living in the desert." Her desire to escape led her first to the big city, to the University College in Dublin, where she studied history and French. After graduating in 1960, she taught Latin, French, and history in a Dublin grade school and was able to indulge her love of traveling during summer vacations. She proved so popular a teacher that parents of her students pooled their money to send her on a trip to Israel. Her father was so impressed by the letters she wrote describing Israeli life that he typed them up and sent them to the Irish Independent newspaper. That's how Maeve returned home to find, quite to her surprise, that she was now a published writer.
Using her newfound interest in journalism, she got a job on The Irish Times as the women's editor, an unlikely role for her, she jokingly acknowledges, given her hopeless lack of fashion sense. In the early 70s, she shifted to feature reporting, and moved to London. The move was motivated only in part by her career. Making the kind of bold life-altering decision that many of her characters are prone to, Binchy decided to take a chance and move to London to be with the man she'd fallen in love with during a previous visit—Gordon Snell, a BBC broadcaster, children's book author, and mystery novelist.
The risk, as it often does in her novels, paid off big time. Maeve married Gordon in 1977, and the two remain happily married to this day. In 1980, they bought a one-bedroom cottage back in Binchy's old hometown of Dalkey. Struggling to make mortgage payments on their new home, Binchy, who had published two collections of her newspaper work and one of short stories, decided to try to sell her first novel, which she'd managed to write in between her newspaper assignments. When her publisher told her that Light A Penny Candle would likely be a bestseller, Maeve remembers her sense of shock. "I had to sit down," she recalls. "I had never even had enough money to pay the telephone bill."
Maeve and her husband still live in that same Dalkey cottage, where they share an office, writing side by side. "All I ever wanted to do," she says, "is to write stories that people will enjoy and feel at home with." She has unquestionably succeeded with that goal. Light A Penny Candle was followed by such bestselling works as Circle of Friends, which was turned into a major motion picture starring Minnie Driver, and Tara Road, an Oprah Book Club selection. Binchy is consistently named one of the most popular writers in readers' polls in England and Ireland, outselling and rated higher than James Joyce. Of this success, Binchy comments with her typical good humor, "If you're going on a plane journey, you're more likely to take one of my stories than Finnegan's Wake."
In addition to her books, Binchy is also a playwright whose works have been staged at The Peacock Theatre of Dublin, and was the author of a hugely popular monthly column called "Maeve's Week," which appeared in The Irish Times for 32 years. A kind of combined gossip, humor, and advice column, it achieved cult status in Ireland and abroad.
Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).
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In our interview, Binchy shared some fun facts about herself with us:
"I am a big, confident, happy woman who had a loving childhood, a pleasant career, and a wonderful marriage. I feel very lucky."
"I have been lucky enough to travel a lot, meet great people in many lands. I have liked almost everyone I met along the way."
"I have always believed that life is too short for rows and disagreements. Even if I think I'm right, I would prefer to apologize and remain friends rather than win and be an enemy."
"I live in Ireland near the sea, only one mile from where I grew up -- that's good, since I've known many of my neighbours for between 50-60 years. Gordon and I play chess every day, and we are both equally bad. We play chatty over talkative bad Bridge with friends every week."
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In the fall of 2003, Maeve Binchy took some time out to talk with us about some of her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer -- and why?
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. When I was a teenager it made me yearn to tell stories.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee -- Praises justice and equality.
How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnson -- Such a strong anti-war book.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou -- A wonderful plea for tolerance.
Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier -- A vivid, painless history lesson.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie -- A great account of courage and survival.
Ulysses by James Joyce -- A great rambling tale of my own city of Dublin, 100 years ago.
The Big Picture by Douglas Kennedy -- A gripping and exciting thriller.
The Collected Short Stories of William Trevor -- A brilliant selection of little jewels.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell -- I read it every two years to remind me how well the story is put together.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens -- A great story of a hero who has flaws and weaknesses, but is eventually likeable.
What's your favorite film, and what makes it unforgettable to you?
On the Waterfront -- I was in love with Marlon Brando at 17.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
Traditional jazz and Irish music.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, to make people fear war.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Self help books -- mainly about clutter.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
A big mug of tea and a clock.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I got 35 rejection slips until I learned to write simply as I talk.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Never give up -- you are as good as anyone else.
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