Tuesday 23 January 2018

Our most successful writer who always had a kind word

Maeve in 1982
Maeve with fellow writer Sarah Webb
Maeve with her husband, the children's author Gordon Snell

John Spain Books Editor

Maeve Binchy was the mammy of all the Irish chicklit writers who have become world names in popular fiction in the last two decades.

Long before Patricia Scanlan, Cathy Kelly, Marian Keyes or Cecelia Ahern conquered the literary world, Maeve Binchy -- or Queen Maeve as she was known among her sister writers -- was already a huge international success.

She sold more books than anyone else, not just in Ireland and the UK, but in the US, Australia, and many other countries.

People around the globe who only vaguely knew where Ireland was learned all about us from reading Maeve.

And it was always a flattering, heart-warming, human picture she painted, with lots of humour and sparkling dialogue, leavened with a sharp but kindly insight into the human condition. It was a combination that made her appeal universal.

She was, of course, Ireland's best-selling writer and to date has sold somewhere between 45 and 50 million books. Not even Marian or Cecelia can match that.

In spite of her huge success and her crippling arthritis, she remained unfailingly generous to all the new wave of Irish women writers who followed her.


She was never too busy, always willing to offer encouragement and advice.

As a result, among her peers she was much appreciated and even loved.

She "retired" a few years ago, but the books kept coming. Her 17th novel, 'A Week in Winter', has been completed and will be published this October.

She has also written numerous collections of short stories and other books over the years since her debut novel 'Light A Penny Candle' hit the shelves in 1982 and became an instant bestseller.

Barbara Bush, wife of US president George W, was a big admirer. And she was known to thousands of Leaving Cert students through 'Circle of Friends' which now appears regularly on the prescribed reading list.

Maeve was born in Dublin in 1940, the eldest of four children, to a lawyer and a nurse.

She grew up in Dalkey and went to school in Killiney and then to UCD, where she did history.

After college she became a school teacher and also wrote travel articles. These stories led to her being offered a job in journalism. Her first book was a collection of her 'Irish Times' articles

She met her husband, the children's author and television presenter Gordon Snell, in London.

Ms Binchy won many international literary prizes over the years. In 2010, President Mary McAleese presented her with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Irish Book Awards.

In 2010, she wrote a special article for aspirant writers which appeared in the Irish Independent. In it she explained her idea on why people here are such good writers: "We're lucky, we're Irish. We don't like pauses and silences, we prefer talk and information and conversations that go on and on. So that means we're half way there. We have an advantage before we even start."

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