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I’ve just seen the news Maeve Binchy has passed away and so am posting this interview I did with her for the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly a while ago. Such an amazing storyteller and an inspiring woman:
When much-loved Irish author Maeve Binchy turned 60 she decided it was time to retire. Her health hadn’t been so good and anyway she thought that was what everyone was supposed to do when they hit that age. It’s been a busy retirement so far though. Since Maeve announced there would be no more books she’s written five novels.
“People said they still wanted the stories,” Maeve explains to me over the phone from her home in the seaside town of Dalkey near Dublin. “And I was flattered and delighted so shamefacedly went back to my laptop and started writing again.”
Maeve’s health still gives her trouble. “I have a bit of heart failure and some breathing problems,” she says. “And I don’t walk very well as I have arthritis in my back. That means I can’t do publicity tours and meet the readers anymore which is a shame. But really I’m very lucky. I have the life I want and a lovely husband and lots of great friends. My late father always used to say. ‘How are you is a greeting not a question’. I’ve always believed this and rarely ever mention aches and pains.”
The author of bestselling books like Circle of Friends and Light A Penny Candle, Maeve still likes to write every day. Early each morning she and her husband of 33 years, children’s author Gordon Snell, go to their upstairs study and work together side by side at a long desk.
“I try to write about 800 words a day,” explains Maeve. “And then at about 1.30pm we’ll often go and have lunch with friends at the pub next door. Then we’ll play a game of extremely bad chess or sit and talk all afternoon.”
Maeve only began writing in the first place because she was lonely. In her thirties she went to London in pursuit of Gordon, who she “fancied deeply”, and worked there as a correspondent for The Irish Times. “As a journalist in Dublin I’d known lots of people and there’d always been 20 things to do after work but in London there wasn’t much to do except catch the bus home,” she explains. “So there was time every evening to write.”
To begin with Maeve received lots of rejections. “It was because I was writing much too formally to show off. So I tried to write the way I spoke and success came.”
Maeve believes Irish people in general have a talent for storytelling because they’re such wonderful talkers. “It’s never a compliment in Ireland to be called a good listener, we prefer talkers and people who can tell us a tale,” she says. “As a child I was the eldest and quite petted and spoilt. I was always encouraged to tell long, rambling stories.”
An avid thriller reader herself, she often gets through two novels a week, and loves the work of authors like Lee Child and Harlan Coben. “I’d like to be able to write a thriller,” she says. “But I wouldn’t be able to build up the suspense. And I couldn’t write a bonkbuster with lots of sex in it because I’d giggle the whole time. I wouldn’t be embarrassed – I haven’t got that awful Irish guilt and shame – but I still wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Maeve’s stories are all about ordinary people coping with the ups and downs of life. Her latest Minding Frankie is the uplifting tale of an unconventional Dublin family – a group of friends and neighbours who come together to help raise a motherless baby. Characters from previous novels appear throughout the story and, by the time you’ve finished it, you feel as though the people and places Maeve describes really do exist.
“The Tourist Board tells me that often Americans will ask them how to find Quentins, the Dublin restaurant that appears in my stories,” she says. “But of course there isn’t any such place.”
Even though she’s had such huge success Maeve still gets nervous when a new book comes out. “I’m always afraid this might be the one people don’t like,” she admits. “Still I’m lucky to get so many nice letters from readers who enjoy them. I think my books are successful because they’re about things we all know; we’ve all felt loved, betrayed, jealous, delighted unsure, optimistic, contented…at different times of our lives. People recognise themselves in my stories.”
Maeve is already mulling over ideas for her next book and, although she’s now 70, there’s no more talk of retirement. “Financially I could retire but while I still enjoy it and am healthy enough and can get the words together I’ll keep writing,” she says. “If I was tired I’d stop but my mind is full of ideas and I love telling stories.”