Sunday 25 January 2015

Maeve Binchy, part 3 - Meeting Gordon, the love of her life

Gordon and Maeve in their Dalkey home
Gordon Snell and the Binchy family arrive at Dalkey Church with the remains of Maeve

Being over six feet tall and slightly overweight, Maeve Binchy had found it hard to find a man to share her life. But at last she met Gordon Snell, a BBC writer and presenter in London and her life changed. She had found true love ... and her real calling as one of the world's most successful writers.

After UCD, Maeve Binchy began her working life as a teacher and used the long summer holidays to travel. Her first summer away on a kibbutz in Israel had an unexpected bonus. When she arrived home in Dalkey there was a cheque waiting for her.

Her father had been so impressed by her letters home that he'd had them typed up and sent to the newspapers. The Irish Independent was the first to recognise her talent and gave Maeve her very first by-line, publishing her article under the title 'A Kibbutz Welcome'.

This led to regular travel writing for papers and five years later she decided to give up her safe job as a teacher and become a freelance journalist, full time.

Eventually, the Irish Times asked her to be their Women's Editor and her life in journalism really began. Both her parents had died by now and she had moved from the family home in Dalkey to a flat in Dublin.

It was the early 1970s, and as well as working for the paper, Maeve began doing pieces for RTÉ and the BBC, sometimes going over to the BBC studios in London. On one of these trips she was introduced to a freelance broadcaster by the name of Gordon Snell. They got on very well and whenever Maeve found herself in London thereafter, they'd meet.

Gordon was tall and, although seven years older than Maeve, was boyishly handsome. They gelled immediately, partly because they shared the same kind of humour.

She claimed not to have fancied him straight away, but liked being with him and trusted him. Trust was a key emotion in Maeve's repertoire. And trust was not something she associated with men, since she had been let down several times on her travels in her early 20s.

It was Gordon's openness that swung it for her. She observed that his face lit up whenever he saw someone he liked, and it lit up for her especially.

After all the disappointment with men, he was exactly what Maeve needed. They were good friends for a year or two, then romance slowly blossomed.

Her friends realised she was in love with him long before she did, and the romance went on and on, with Maeve and Gordon travelling back and forth between England and Ireland.

But how was she to get the affair on to a more permanent basis? Her work on the paper was everything to her. How could she give that up and take the risk of a far less certain future with Gordon in London?

That was solved when she applied for and got a job that came up in the paper's London office. It was a busy time, with the troubles and bombings in Britain. But one of her big successes was less depressing, her Inside London column in which her great skill at picking up on overheard conversations was first seen. These pieces were really short stories in disguise and by 1976 they had become a Binchy format, an anticipated ingredient of her writing. And it was this that led in the direction of fiction.

In fact it was Gordon who first mentioned writing fiction as something they could both do. Maeve was starting to feel the same way about journalism -- you wrote your piece, expending great creative energy in the process, and it was history the next day.

They had a rule about showing each other their work. They had to tell the absolute truth. But then there would be what they called 'sulking time', 10 minutes to decide whether the criticism would be taken on board or the original justified and kept.

Generally, they would stop around seven. They'd be firm about this too, close up shop, have a shower. They were blissfully happy together and in their work.

When they married quietly in London, Gordon was 44, Maeve 37. The honeymoon was in the mountains near Melbourne in Australia, at the home of friends.

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