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A Week In Winter: Maeve Binchy

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© 8 November 2012.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Interviews · Women's Fiction ).
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The announcement of renowned Irish writer Maeve Binchy’s death on July 30 of this year made news headlines worldwide. The outpouring of warm tributes, messages of sadness and condolence which flooded in, not just from her fans all over the world, but from the media, her peers and authors of all ages, reflected the special place that Binchy held in many hearts. Not only was she a weaver of magic whose stories touched the lives of millions, she was also a kind, wise and witty woman, whose generosity of spirit and good humour imbued her novels with a warmth and understanding of human nature that was unique. Her wry and realistic observations of life resonated with each one of her readers.
Her posthumous novel, A Week in Winter, is released on November 8, 2012, approved for publication by Binchy’s husband, the writer and broadcaster Gordon Snell. It is full of Binchy’s trademark warmth, humour and characters you want to spend time with:

The Sheedy sisters had lived in Stone House for as long as anyone could remember. Set high on the cliffs on the west coast of Ireland, overlooking the windswept Atlantic ocean, it was falling into disrepair – until one woman, with a past she needed to forget, breathed new life into the place. Now a hotel, with a big, warm kitchen and log fires, it provides a welcome few can resist.
Winnie is generally able to make the best of things, until she finds herself on the holiday from hell. John arrived on an impulse after he missed a flight at Shannon. And then there’s Henry and Nicola, burdened with a terrible secret, who are hoping the break at Stone House will help them find a way to face the future.’

Her stories were positive, rather than romantic: often a woman might not get the man she loved, and sometimes a marriage ended badly, but her characters always grew and learn from their experiences. As she herself said: “I don’t have ugly ducklings turning into swans in my stories. I have ugly ducklings turning into confident ducks.”

Her literary skill was enhanced by her talent of eavesdropping on interesting conversations around her and picking up tidbits to reproduce in her stories. “I listen to people talking,” she declared. “I listen to their conversations. I often get whole ideas for books [that way]. Very often, your dialogue can become stilted, unless you are a good listener.” She paid particular attention to the phrasing she overheard. “If you listen, you discover that people interrupt each other, and they half-finish and sentences trail away. It’s not like a Shakespearean soliloquy. If you’re listening with your sharp ears, you can hear it all.”
She was always exhilarated by newly-established authors and the chance to hear the fresh, young voices of Ireland. “Write as you talk,” she advised. “If you imagine that you’re talking to a friend, your writing will be much better.” In the Irish Independent two years ago, Binchy described why she felt Irish people were good writers: “We don’t like pauses and silences, we prefer talk and information and conversations that go on and on. So that means we are halfway there.”
She encouraged potential authors to enforce self-imposed deadlines to produce work. “There is a secret [to writing],” she told the BBC in a 2001 interview. “It’s not a nice secret. There’s secrets to lots of things. There’s secrets to having flawless skin and having a beautiful svelte body, and all of them have to do with endless exercise, cleansing and toning and nourishing and all that, but with writing the secret is to sit yourself down and do not stand up until you have five pages written, and do that again another day of the week. If you do ten pages every week, then you have 520 pages at the end of the year. And you don’t give yourself time off for Christmas or Easter or Labour Day or any bank holiday at all, because [twice] a week you’re self-employed and I think that’s the most important rule. That’s the only rule that works. ‘I’m not going to leave this room until I have five pages written.’”
Binchy is one of the world’s best-loved and most successful authors. Read all over the world and translated into thirty languages, her worldwide sales now exceed a staggering 40 million copies. All her most recent novels have been Sunday Times No. 1 bestsellers. There are now over eight million copies of Maeve Binchy Orion paperbacks in print. “It’s just a success. Now you have to write the next one,” she once told Irish Times journalist Douglas Kennedy when talking about her literary accomplishment.
Binchy was born in County Dublin and educated at the Holy Child Convent in Killiney and at University College Dublin. After a brief teaching career in various girls’ schools, she joined The Irish Times. Her first novel, Light a Penny Candle, was published in 1982, and she went on to write over twenty books, all of them bestsellers. Several have been adapted for cinema and television, most notably Circle of Friends and Tara Road.

Binchy received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Book Awards in 1999 and, in 2007, she joined an august band of writers – including Seamus Heaney and John Banville – when she was presented with the Irish PEN/AT Cross Literary Award to recognise a lifetime of literary achievement. In 2010, this was followed by the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bord Gáis Irish Book Awards, presented to Binchy by the then President of Ireland, Mary McAleese.

Binchy’s long-term agent, Christine Green, said: “Although Maeve’s health had been giving her problems for some time, her writing was completely unaffected and A Week in Winter is Maeve writing at the top of her game. We have lost a wonderful story-teller.”


A Week in Winter has been shortlisted in the Eason Popular Fiction Book of the Year category at the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards 2012, (you can vote for your favourite here: www.irishbookawards.ie) the winner to be announced at a gala dinner in Dublin on 22 November. Maeve Binchy was married to her husband, Gordon Snell, for thirty-five years.


For further information about Maeve Binchy, visit her website at www.maevebinchy.com and read our tribute to her from the people who knew her here.


(c) Marese O'Sullivan

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