It was such a deceptively simple, Maeve-like way of explaining something. We talked about manuscripts being rejected by publishers and how writers had to believe in their work and persevere. “It’s like you’ll never be rejected if you don’t go to a dance, but you won’t come to the dance either,” Maeve Binchy told me.
he danced as a writer – as Maeve danced – and others now dance in her wake for paving the way for generations of Irish writers.
I never forgot that advice when interviewing her as a young journalist in London, when her novels made headlines and were enthralled by millions of readers worldwide, including then-US First Lady Barbara Bush.
It was a time when worldwide attention for Irish writers was by no means commonplace, but Maeve’s storytelling delivered international bestseller after international bestseller.
It hasn’t won as many awards as it should have deserved – the downside of popularity – but even excellent popular novels seldom get the critical acclaim they deserve. Maeve had the last laugh, though. 40 years have passed since her first novel, Light a penny candlewas published, and her work remains popular to this day.
This year marks another, sadder anniversary, as Maeve passed away 10 years ago. But her legacy lives on. In fact, I’ve always considered her the headgirl of Irish writing.
Something else that is memorable about our first meeting in 1990s London when we both worked there is the way she asked me more questions than I asked her – she was endlessly fascinated by people and their stories .
She also knew her craft: amidst the flood of anecdotes and questions, she provided me with plenty of material for the article to be written. Back in the office, people – well, women, I suppose – were wondering how she was. Contagious, I said. way too. Further encounters with her over the years did not change this first impression.
“Don’t go fishing where the fish don’t bite” is an expression that always makes me laugh – not from Maeve, although you can be sure she would have loved it. There’s common sense in this epigram—it’s always worth paying attention to places where your work or ideas just don’t catch.
For writers, that’s usually their local community. As the Bible reminds us, no one is a prophet in his own country. It is human nature to overlook or take for granted those with whom we are familiar.
But every once in a while, a neighborhood celebrates local talent in its own backyard — John B. Keane and Listowel spring to mind, as does Benedict Kiely and Omagh, and the same goes for Maeve and Dalkey.
This weekend, the Echoes Festival honoring this most beloved writer is taking place at Dalkey Castle and the Heritage Centre, where writers, journalists, filmmakers and others will gather under Maeve’s banner.
She achieved worldwide success – even checked by name Coronation Streetwhen one of the characters said she was going to bed to settle down with a Maeve Binchy – but her home area of Dalkey in south Co Dublin embraced her and continues to pay attention to a writer who was a seanachie for her fingertips.
Great figures can be showered with praise from around the world – and with her books translated into 37 languages, Maeve has been appreciated far beyond these shores – but human nature is such that nothing compares to local recognition are.
Paul Howard, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Nuala O’Connor, Emily Hourican, Dean Ruxton, Sarah Binchy and – in full disclosure – myself will be speaking about books, our own and theirs, at Echoes tomorrow.
Lenny Abrahamson, Roddy Doyle and Elaine Murphy will speak with Sinéad Crowley about adapting novels for screen or stage. Visit echoes.ie for more information on these and other events
There will no doubt be stories. Once she sent me a postcard of gold roses tipped with pink, thanking me for something where there was no need. Not just any old rose, but Rosa Gordon Snell, who bred and named it in honor of her husband, who was a thorough gentleman and BBC radio producer when they met. She arranged it as a birthday surprise. In time, these roses would be placed on her coffin.
I can still hear the laughter at the Church of the Assumption in Dalkey at that 2012 funeral when the priestess said she had made a generous donation to the church, warning that the money was being spent on anything but sacred images and statues could become. It was typical Maeve.
Normally people in Ireland have to be dead before we say anything positive about them, but she achieved national treasure status while she was alive and her work is admired and appreciated to this day. Indeed, a new generation of readers is discovering her storytelling with its characteristic bounce, humor and warmth.
It was wise of her to continue Irish times Columns, even as her novel-writing took off, because it kept her in touch with appointments and the world beyond her desk, as well as with close friends in Dublin and London newspaper offices.
She understood the value of long-lasting friendships and named one of her novels: circle of friendsaccording to the concept.
Her stories were accessible, laced with wit and spark, inviting readers who were hesitant to open other books that looked more intimidating. They were brimming with mismatched loves and ugly ducklings who never quite became swans but found a way forward while being particularly attuned to the hopes and fears of young people on the cusp of adulthood. And no one was stingy like Maeve.
Her work was typically set in Ireland and featured local communities she knew well and was interested in. She had a keen eye for human frailties and weaknesses, but welcomed them with affection. Above all, she was merciful.
Often it was as if the reader were eavesdropping on conversations, an art she admitted to perfecting and which most writers and journalists are worth their salt.
Maeve brought joy to readers, worked hard at her craft, and deserved her success. She was kind to other writers and generous enough to be pleased rather than threatened when others made it to print.
I often walk past her humble home, and it always feels like she’s still inside, working on a story. Living or dead, she has woven herself into the fabric of Dalkey and Irish literary life.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/maeve-binchys-homespun-wisdom-and-brilliance-as-a-storyteller-will-echo-through-the-ages-42027823.html Maeve Binchy’s simple wisdom and brilliance as a storyteller will echo through the ages