The Gentle Soul: Maeve Binchy
Updated: Jul 11
I have always been fascinated by Maeve (pronounced mayve) Binchy. As an early reader, I came across a book titled “Circle of Friends.” I had no idea at the time that this novel would catapult me into a long-lasting love of this Irish woman who could write universal themes with wit, candor, and warmth.
With Circle of Friends, even as a girl living in Miami, I identified with the pudgy, smart protagonist, who longed for the cutest boy at school to notice her—except this was an Irish girl, at an Irish college, with Irish familial sensibilities. Still, I felt like I knew Benny as if she was my own friend.
This was the gift Maeve possessed. And then the movie came out and it was one of the first books-to-screen adaptations I remember swooning over. I mean, it was no Twilight, but it was my Twilight because it was the first time I experienced that longing for my life to play out in a fantastical way. It instilled hope in my own person because Benny learns to truly love herself.
Maeve Binchy had a long career as a prolific writer and sadly she passed away in 2012. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but she died relatively young but lived a decorated writers’ life. She was married to Gordon Snell, a fellow writer, up until the day she died and he was her number one champion.
As I dug into her past, I came across a dark patch in her life as published articles focused on Maeve's lack of being an actual mother. How could a woman who did not have children write about the struggles and joy of motherhood?
It insulted some mothers that Maeve would even deign to write about motherhood in most of her stories. Minding Frankie is an interesting story where Maeve took the “it takes a village to raise a child” literally since the titular character, Frankie, is a boy who is cared for by the entire small town. And surprisingly, the protagonist is a man.
It's obvious she was a woman born with a vivid and striking imagination, who adored people, was astute in observing their quirks and idiosyncrasies, and captured it all in her stories for us to be entertained and ponder the nuances of the human condition.
She was a beautiful writer and I regret never having met her while she was alive. Her husband, Gordon Snell—who is also a writer—keeps her memory alive and was the editor of a posthumously-published book titled Maeve’s Times.
Gordon Snell and Maeve Binchy had a lovely, romantic relationship and every single one of their books is dedicated to each other. In Nights of Rain and Stars, Maeve dedicated the following: “For dear good Gordon, who has been such a supportive and kind person that no one would believe it if I would write him into a book. Thank you with all of my heart.”
Gordon says that he hasn’t dedicated his book to anyone since Maeve’s passing. And why would he as no one can replace the magnanimous personality that was Maeve Binchy.
If you're a writer, here is a snippet from her website, which is run by Maeve's sister.
Writing is a bit like going on a diet; you should either tell everyone or tell no one. If you tell everyone then you can never be seen feeding your face in public without appearing weak-willed. So that’s a way of reinforcing your decision, and some people find it helpful. It does mean that you’re somehow obliged to lose the ten kilos you had promised aloud, or indeed finish the book. Or you could go the other route, and tell nobody, just hug your secret to yourself. Get thin by stealth, write the book, secretly burst on an unsuspecting world with your new shape or finished manuscript. But whichever way you do it you will need discipline and some kind of plan.
Time doesn’t appear from nowhere, you have to make it and that means giving up something else. Regularly. Like sleep for example, or drinking or playing poker, or watching television, or window shopping or just lounging about with your family. You don’t have to give these things up completely but you do have to release five hours a week. So think now where you are going to find them. In my case, I gave up a bit of sleep. I had a full-time job in London, a lot of commuting, a heavy social life, a fair bit of travel so it seemed a good idea to get up at five am. three times a week. I hated it. Of course, I hated it. Who would like sitting at a dining table half-crazed and trying to type when the rest of the world was sleeping peacefully? Who could enjoy trying to swallow another mug of black coffee in an attempt to open the eyes and focus on what had to be done? In my case what had to be done were 10 pages a week and it took 50 weeks. I could not find those five or six hours at any other time of the day. If I left it to the evening I would be too tired, the weekends held too much temptation, I hadn’t the courage to give up the day job, so the dawn seemed the best choice out of a bad bunch.
Now you may be a night owl, or you may have Thursdays off, or you may have quiet weekends so no doubt you will choose something more suitable for your lifestyle. But you will also have a whole different set of excuses to mine. Like you may have children. So you have to work around them. They must sleep some of the time. You may have an unsupportive partner who claims that you are no fun if you are stuck into this book-writing thing. I think you could point out that there are 168 hours in the week and that you will be great fun for 163 of them. If you want to find those five hours you will.
A few hints
Keep all your writing things together, computer, laptop, paper, printer, notes research whatever. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a study or even a spare room. So what I used to do was to keep everything on a trolley under the stairs and drag it out when it was needed, that way I avoided all the time-wasting business of assembling it each time.
Mark into your diary each week which hours you will spend on writing and how many pages you expect to get done, If you write down that you will do pages 34 to 44 then you have no escape and it will stop you sitting there staring at the wall.
Accept no interruptions during your five hours, no phone calls, no answering doors, no requests from children to come and play. These are delightful distractions which you will feel that a Good Proper person should give in to, but you must be ruthless. There are ways round everything including asking five friends or neighbours to keep an eye on children or elderly relatives for one hour each.
Listen carefully to all the good advice this evening on ‘Getting Started’.
And even more important follow it to the letter! GOOD LUCK!