Interview with Maeve Binchy

February, 2009
Maeve Binchy Irish writer Maeve Binchy stumbled upon her career by accident. As a young teacher traveling in Israel, she wrote a stirring letter home to her parents. Her father typed it up and sent it to The Irish Independent, which published the dispatch and launched what would become a career spanning several decades. Still going strong at 68, despite a brush with heart failure in 2002, Binchy has penned countless bestselling novels about small-town Ireland. Perhaps best known for Circle of Friends and Tara Road (a former Oprah's Book Club selection), Binchy talked with Goodreads about her new book, Heart and Soul, and why you should never invite more than four Irish people to a dinner party.

Goodreads: Heart and Soul is set in a heart clinic. Why did you choose this setting and how does it influence the story?

Maeve Binchy: I set Heart and Soul in a heart clinic because I attend one myself as a patient. I have always found it a place of hope and optimism, where they teach you how to manage your heart disease and not to be afraid of it. When I was young, if anyone had a heart attack, we thought it was goodbye. But not nowadays. It semed like a good place to set a story, a place where people were slowly getting courage to live their lives to the full. And I wanted to make it cheerful and postive and funny, which is what we all need.

GR: Your books capture the culture of Ireland. Although Ireland has not escaped the recent economic downturn, how has Ireland's rapid growth—finally joining the ranks of the world's wealthiest countries following centuries of poverty—influenced your storytelling?

MB: Ireland has changed a great deal in my lifetime. People became much more wealthy after we joined the European Union. The influence of the Catholic Church changed; once we feared the clergy and were in awe of them, and now it is much more communal. Once no foreigners came to work here, because there wasn't enough work for ourselves, but now it's multicultural, and you can hear twenty languages being spoken all around you. It has been a great help to the country and given us all more confidence.

When I started writing I used to concentrate on the '50s and '60s, but I needed to try to become more modern and catch up on today's Ireland. So I started to watch the young Irish people and talk to them as if they were a different tribe, which in many ways they are! I discovered that they are not so different from my generation. They have more freedom, more responsibility, and more courage than we had, but they also have areas of uncertainty and unrequited love as we all did.

GR: Your novels often explore the concept of love. Can you name a few of your favorite literary love stories?

MB: I think most people read a love story long before they ever know what true love is like. So we remember the great passions that we read about when we were young. I loved the story of Antony and Cleopatra, and how Antony allowed himself to dally with the Queen of Egypt when he should have been back in Rome watching his back. I liked the frenetic troubled romances in F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the changing patterns of Scarlett O'Hara's love life in Gone with the Wind.

GR: The newest book centers on Clara, the doctor in charge of the clinic, but the book also follows quite an ensemble of characters with intertwining stories. How does your work within the discipline of short story writing contribute to your work within the novel genre?

MB: I like to concentrate on the bit part players, the supporting cast as well as the main characters. So it's often interesting to pause and follow somebody home to a different life while still connecting them to the main story. Then when that person appears again it's like meeting an old friend. Because I do write short stories, I suppose I find it easy to slip into someone's life for a short time and then leave.

GR: New characters are joined by a few from past books, including Nora from Evening Class, Maud and Simon from Scarlet Feather, and Quentins itself (if I can call a restaurant a character). How did you decide which characters to bring back to life?

MB: I decided to bring back characters whose lives were not finished and tidied up. I was even wondering myself would Vonnie ever find her long-lost son? Would Signora be happy when she married Aidan? How would the twins Maud and Simon turn out when they stopped being twelve-year-olds? I so enjoyed meeting them all again, and I think the readers like it too.

GR: Irish culture is known for its storytelling, both in the oral and written tradition. Do you also enjoy telling stories out loud? Are you the life of the dinner party?

MB: The Irish do love telling stories, and we are suspicious of people who don't have long, complicated conversations. There used to be a rule in etiquette books that you should invite four talkers and four listeners to a dinner party. That doesn't work in Ireland, because nobody knows four listeners. I do talk a lot at dinner parties. I hope not too much, but then I love other people to talk as well. I am edgy and anxious when people just nod and smile instead of having views on every subject under the sun.

GR: What are you working on next?

MB: I am working at the moment on writing a three-page outline for another novel. I must make it interesting enough for the publishers to like it and give me the go-ahead. It should be in the same style as the books I have already written, but not visit the same topics and repeat myself.

GR: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?

MB: A typical day is breakfast (grapefruit and Irish soda bread and tea,) then upstairs to a big, bright workroom. We have one long desk: my husband (Gordon Snell) is at one end, and I am at the other. He writes his children's books, and I do my stories. We both try to be at our desks by 8:30 AM, and we work until 1:00 PM. This includes answering mail and filing. We have a secretary one day a week. Then when work is over, we have lunch and play a game of chess. We play seven days a week and have been doing so for over thirty years, and we are still hopeless at it, but love it to bits.

GR: With two writers in one household, do you and your husband give each other feedback or work separately?

MB: We always read each other our work in the afternoon. The rules are that we must be honest. No false praise. We allow the other ten minutes sulking time if we don't like what we heard, but then we have to accept or reject the criticism. No one is allowed to brood over it!

GR: What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?

MB: I have just begun Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, which seems terrific. My favourite authors are Ann Tyler, Harlan Coben, Lee Child, and David Baldacci.

Comments (showing 1-16)




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message 16: by Marian (new)

Marian Maeve Binchy is my favorite comfort read. I hope she might do another novel about Ireland in the '50's & 60's. When I started to read Ann Tyler, she reminded me of Maeve Binchy.


message 15: by Lee (new)

Lee I too have always loved Maeve's novels and loved the ones set in the 50's and 60's. I was there in Glandore in 93' which was on the cusp of change but we could really get a sense of rural life in West Cork. Keep up your wonderful writing. You are a joy to read !!


message 14: by Jan (new)

Jan I was thrilled to see this interview with Maeve Binchy. I am first on the waiting list at the library for Heart & Soul. I hope I can get it today. I have read everyone of her books, but my favorite is still the first one I read "The Circle of Friends".


message 13: by Bramble (new)

Bramble I always look to see if there is a new Maeve Binchy book out and am thrilled that there is! In the depths of gray and gloomy winter we get to have a much welcome dose of Irish hospitality via Heart & Soul. Stay well Maeve and keep sending us great stories!


message 12: by J (new)

J Maeve Binchy is one of my favorite authors and the comment by Bramble is exactly what I would have said.
I was able to visit Ireland in 2007 and saw the new prosperity and economic boom they are in. I was still able to see the charm of the quieter towns as well.
I would love to ask Maeve if there is a restaurant that was her model for Quentins. I'd love to visit that, and also the restaurant Colm and Ria own on Tara Road.
I am also looking forward to reading some of the authors Maeve listed as her favorites.


message 11: by Ed (new)

Ed Loved this interview with Maeve Binchy. Any tid bits I can read about her I will soak up as she is one of my very favorite authors. I read and collect all her books. I especially liked reading about her day with her husband, Gordon, and how they spend their day together. I too helped my author husband, Ed Zaruk, who recently published his first book, Altar and Throne. It was a great experience. I do hope Maeve Binchy can continue to write and give us such entertaining books to read for a long time to come.


message 10: by Zainab (new)

Zainab Thank you thank you thank you for this interview with Binchy!!! She is one of my all time favourite authors. When I moved to the States and my husband was doing his PhD, her books were a source of joy and company during those long lonely nights!!!! I love her books, and enjoy reading them again and again :-) Even though her books are usually set in Ireland, I still feel that many of her themes resonate are common to many different towns around the world. Please keep writing Maeve, we look forward to the next book (and I can't wait to read Heart & Soul :-)


message 9: by Jan (new)

Jan I just picked up "Heart & Soul" at the library. I can't wait to start it, but have a book to finish first!


message 8: by Jackie (new)

Jackie I've always liked Maeve Binchy, but I have to say I really connected with her writing when she started writing more in the current time than the 50s-60s. She always tells a great story. It's been a few years--I'm gonna have to pick up this new one I think!


message 7: by Jean (last edited Feb 21, 2009 01:21PM) (new)

Jean Krier I love Maeve Binchy and am reading Scarlet Feather now. I'm glad to see that Maud and Simon will have a future and can't wait to visit them in "Heart & Soul". It's interesting to learn that some of her favorite authors are my favorites as well especially Lee Child and Harlan Coben.


message 6: by Colleen (new)

Colleen When I saw there was an interview with Maeve Binchy in the Goodreads newsletter, I immmediately went to it. I enjoyed hearing about her and her husband's writing routine. I've just started "Heart and Soul" and it is as good or better as her other novels. I also enjoy meeting old friends from past books in her newer books. In fact, I'm going to have to go back an reread a couple of books just to refresh my memory on some of the characters. Through Goodreads I have introduced my sister to Maeve Binchy and she is also enjoying them.


message 5: by Jan (new)

Jan I have almost finished "Heart & soul" and I agree that it is great. I too want to go back and reread about some of the characters. How fun it is to encounter old friends and situations in the new book. What a treasure Mauve Binchy is. I also want to meet all these people in real life, ha, ha.


message 4: by Jan (new)

Jan Okay, so I just finished reading "Heart & soul" I loved it. I hope Maeve keeps them coming for many more years!


message 3: by Marianne (new)

Marianne I have loved Maeve Binchy's work for many years and always look forward to her nest novel. Her books are in my personal library.

I am also a writer, although not nearly as accomplished as she. She inspires me to reach beyond my grasp.

Thank you Maeve Binchy. I love your portrayal of Irish life!


message 2: by Jane (new)

Jane Meagher So sad to hear tonight of the passing of Maeve Binchy one of my favourite story writers RIP


message 1: by Rosanne (new)

Rosanne Catalano I will be reading the last novel she wrote, "A Week in Winter," and other novels I, unfortunately, did not have time to read until now! I too am a writer but I am also a publisher of a literary magazine who loved her books although I am not as well known as Maeve Binchy was. Am saddened about her death in 2012...


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