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Obituary: Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy

Obituary by Jack Foley

BEST-selling Irish author Maeve Binchy has died at the age of 72 after a short illness.

The prolific writer, whose work includes The Lilac Bus and Circle of Friends, sold more than 40 million books and saw her work translated into 37 languages..

Born in Dalkey, Co Dublin on May 28, 1940, Binchy was the eldest child of four.

Educated at University College Dublin, she worked as a teacher before moving into journalism and writing for The Irish Times and, finally, finding fame and fortune as a writer of novels and short stories.

She published her first novel, Light a Penny Candle, in 1982, having written the book in her spare time while working as a journalist.

But she had to wait to find success, having received five rejections prior to being published. Describing those knock-backs as “a slap in the face” at the time, Binchy nevertheless persevered and sent the novel to a sixth publisher, who immediately recognised her talent.

Once asked what the secret to her success as an author was, Binchy replied that she always tried to write in the way that she spoke.

“You’re much more believable if you talk in your own voice,” she observed.

In 2000, Binchy was ranked third in the World Book Day poll of favourite authors, ahead of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and she received a lifetime achievement award from the Irish Book Awards in 2010, the same year that her last novel, Minding Frankie, was published.

Yet her work was so popular that some of it found its way onto the screen, with both Tara Road and Circle of Friends being adapted for the screen.

In her personal life, Binchy married Gordon Snell, a children’s author, with whom she lived in Dalkey, not far from where she grew up, until her death.

Her passing, which was announced by Vincent Browne on Irish television late on July 30, 2012, is being widely mourned as Binchy is recognised as one of Ireland’s best-loved and most recognisable writers.

Among those to pay tribute to her legacy was Irish President Michael D Higgins who said he was “deeply saddened” by the author’s death.

“She was an outstanding novelist, short story writer and columnist who engaged millions of people all around the world with her fluent and accessible style,” he said. “She was a great storyteller and we enjoyed her capacity to engage, entertain and surprise us.”

On Twitter, meanwhile, Ian Rankin wrote: “Maeve Binchy was a gregarious, larger than life, ebullient recorder of human foibles and wonderment.”

While Marian Keyes tweeted: “I’m so so sad to hear that Maeve Binchy has died. She was so full of life, so funny, so interested in people, so kind and so good to all of us writers, who came after her. She was a beautiful generous person and a beautiful generous writer.”