An Evening for Maeve

Author Maeve Binchy
Author Maeve Binchy

By Patricia Harty, Editor-in-Chief, April 5, 2013

Friends, writers, publishers and fans gathered at Glucksman Ireland House for an evening of remembering Maeve Binchy.

Random House and Maeve Binchy’s publisher/editor, Carole Baron hosted a tribute to the Irish writer on Thursday evening, April 4 at Glucksman Ireland House at NYU.

It was a fun night, full of laughter and stories – a fitting celebration of the life of the author who was loved and admired at home and abroad, and whose novels, translated into 37 languages, sold over 90 million copies worldwide.

The townhouse that is the center of Irish Studies at NYU was filled to bursting with people who knew Maeve, or felt that they knew her through the funny, down-to-earth novels that made her famous. Guests included the famed Irish director Pat O’Connor and his wife, the actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Pat directed Circle of Friends, the movie inspired by Maeve’s novel of the same name.

At the time of the film’s release, Maeve told Irish America she was “thrilled” with the movie, which starred Minnie Driver and Chris O’Donnell. “I had a great sense of deja vu watching the film. They went to such trouble to get everything right, from the seams in the girls’ stockings to the things in the shop windows, and also the innocent way we went on.”

Carole Baron, who has published and edited many best-selling authors, including Maeve, kicked off the evening. She talked with enthusiasm and humor about working with Maeve and especially the fun she had traveling with Maeve and visiting her in Dublin.  Stopped by a Customs Officer at Dublin airport Carole found herself telling him she was on her way to meet Maeve Binchy. Just the mention of Maeve’s name brought about a change in attitude. “How is Maeve doing?” he enquired. “I haven’t seen her in ages.”

Pete Hamill talked about being in Ireland when Maeve died and how every paper carried the story on the front pages, describing her as “the best loved writer of her generation.”  In a video shown at the event, Irish writers such as Joseph O’Connor and Cecila Ahearn paid tribute and talked of Maeve’s generosity.

Mary Pat Kelly, a good friend of Maeve, who couldn’t be at the event sent a message.

“In 1983 Maeve gave me the secret of being a writer– a deadline. She gave me one for my first novel Special Intentions– July 4, 1984. She’d send me periodic postcards reminding me. At 11:55 pm on July 4, I finished. It took another 10 years before Special Intentions was published but she was there at the Dublin Film Center for the launch.

“She was so generous to all. She told me once that success isn’t a pie to be divided but a fire. Every lump of coal makes it burn brighter, warmer – as she did!!”

Susan Moldow, who had edited several of Maeve’s early books, and Kathy Zuckerman, director of publicity at Random House, read pieces from “The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club.

The idea for the book came from a course that ran for 20 weeks at the National College of Ireland, and is comprised of letters written by Maeve to encourage aspiring writers.

As Carole Baron explained, Maeve refused to write a memoir as it would have had to involve her family, her brothers and sisters, and they had their own story. The “Writer’s Club” is the closest thing to a memoir that she left.

I read a piece from the book called “Sustaining Progress,” which offers sage advice about meeting deadlines, and how she would motivate herself through a series of threats and rewards, such as a large class of chardonnay if she got through a particularly touch chapter. The piece ended on a great note: “And however glum we might all feel, we must remember that this is where the losers give up. We will not be among them.”

As people spoke about Maeve, one felt her presence in the room.  The large portrait of her with her cats – two Maine coons – in the background, did evoke her presence.  And by way of video filmed shortly before her passing, she did take part in the evening, talking about her love of Ireland, and it contrasted to living in England.

In Ireland, Maeve explained, it’s good manners to talk with those around you when you are in a line for a bus, but in England, when she made such small talk, people looked at her as if she was about to stalk them and moved away.  In Ireland, when people had enough, they would say by way of good bye, “Well, I won’t be keeping you.”  She talked about how after moving back to her birth place in Dalkey, Co. Dublin after 14 years in England, she would meet neighbors who would say, “We haven’t seen you in a while,” failing to mention that she had ever left at all.

On this night, and because we have her work to comfort and sustain us, it’s was as if Maeve had never left us at all.

Binchy’s last book, A Week in Winter, has been number one on the New York Times bestseller list and continues to be one of her most popular novels with new and old readers.

Photos from the evening:

2 Responses to “An Evening for Maeve”

  1. Teri says:

    It was a lovely night! Even though most of us had never met Maeve Binchy in person, last night was like the best sort of an Irish wake where people gather to share stories about a departed loved one. The reminiscences from Carole and her fellow publishing veterans, along with the wonderful videos of the late author herself, made her seem accessible, friendlier and even more admirable for all her accomplishments. The notion that Maeve dragged herself to her desk for three hours early every morning to write her novels before heading to work at The Irish Times at 8:30 AM was very inspirational, as was her strategy of setting a fun goal, like a publication party, to get her through the task. The stories also showed how honest, resourceful and dedicated Maeve was, such as literally dashing back to the office after 9 PM one evening (in the days before she had a car) to head off a publishing disaster. Not much of a cook, Maeve had realized to her horror that a photo she had chosen to illustrate a story on cooking actually showed a heart operation — and this was decades before “Hannibal”! Despite the fact that she was the editor of the so-called “woman’s pages,” Maeve had chuckled when she realized, while standing in her front room one evening, that the pub/restaurant next door was actually closer than the kitchen located in the back of her house in Dalkey.
    Her honesty also served her well when early in her career at The Times, she had to quickly fill an 800-word hole on a page of the paper and shared her memories of her first stay in a hotel when she was 22. Maeve didn’t know whether she should make the bed or not, and made it halfway so the maid wouldn’t think she was lazy or worse … The essay generated a ton of feedback from her interested readers.

  2. I am truly sorry I never met Maeve Binchy. I would have liked to share with Maeve, the first book my daughter Kerin and I collaborated on entitled: “Never Underestimate the Strength of Women.”

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