Thursday

May 28, 2009

Lyrical

by Joseph Millar

The spaniel next door yaps at the sparrows,
he yaps at the crows and the mailman,
yaps at the compost pile and the sunflower,
yaps at the rain and the sky. He yaps
at the steps leading down to the creek
where the flax plants bloom high as my waist
and blue flowers force their way up
though small stones the color of night. He
yaps at the garbage truck's back-up beeper,
iron bell song of the priest and bridegroom,
song of the lone ship, song of the train,
song of the big waves rolling and breaking
over the western reefs. He yaps at the rosebush,
yaps at the fence, song of the sidewalk cracked
in half, the wine bottle resting against the curb,
the neighbor who doesn't come home.

"Lyrical" by Joseph Millar, from Fortune. © Eastern Washington University Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Irish novelist Maeve Binchy, (books by this author) born in Dalkey, Ireland (1940). She's the author of 15 novels, nearly all of which have been best sellers. In 2000, Brits ranked Binchy as their sixth-favorite writer of all time, putting her ahead of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and William Shakespeare. When an interviewer told her about this, Binchy replied: "A lot of my sales are at airports. You are not likely to buy King Lear for a pleasant read on a 2 1/2-hour journey."

Binchy said that she had the misfortune — for a writer —of a pleasant childhood. She recalled: "My memory of my home was that it was very happy, and that there was more fun and life there than there was anywhere else. My mother could do all kinds of things, like take a bone out of your throat if it got stuck and you were choking, or clean out a turkey on Christmas Eve when it arrived far from oven-ready. She could take out splinters and cure headaches …. "

Binchy was educated at an all-girls school, Convent of the Holy Child, run by English nuns. After college, she went to work as a teacher, too, first at an all-girls Catholic school where she taught Latin and later at a Jewish school in Dublin, where she taught French. She was a really popular teacher, and she loved to travel. One year, the parents of her Dublin students pooled their money to pay for her passage to Israel. Binchy spent the summer working on a kibbutz.

When she was traveling, she would keep in touch with her parents by writing "marvellous long rambling letters home, editing out the bits they didn't need to know, bits about falling in love with highly unsuitable foreigners. In fact my parents were so impressed with these eager letters from abroad they got them typed and sent them to a newspaper and that's how I became a writer."

She eventually managed to get a job with The Irish Times as women's editor, a job for which, she insists, she was "singularly unsuited." "I was the most unlikely women's editor in the world. No interest in fashion, no interest in cooking." But she would continue writing a column for the newspaper for 30 years.

She married Gordon Snell, a children's book author, in 1977. They were living in London so that they could be near their editors, but Binchy longed to return to her native Dalkey. Then, they realized, with the invention of modern technology — namely the fax — they didn't need to live so close to their editors. So they moved to Ireland and bought a cottage a few blocks away from the house she grew up in. But then she and her husband began to have difficulty making their mortgage payments. Binchy decided that she needed to write a novel. She was already working at The Irish Times, so she got up every morning at 5 a.m. and put in a few hours of writing on the novel before she went in to work at the newspaper. It paid off: Her first novel, Light a Penny Candle (1982), soon brought in $170,000. They kept their Dalkey home, and she had become a best-selling novelist.

The six-foot Binchy and her husband still live in the cottage in Dalkey, a seaside town 10 miles south of Dublin, which now houses luxurious dwellings of many of Ireland's superstars. Binchy and her author husband added to their one-bedroom cottage a second-floor study, which they sit in together and write side-by-side. She said: "In all our years together we've only twice had rows. One was in the Los Angeles airport, about men not asking directions, and the other was about the law of copyright — we were in a Greek restaurant, and we were asked to leave."

Her novel Circle of Friends (1990) was made into a movie in 1995, starring Minnie Driver and Chris O'Donnell. Her 1998 novel, Tara Road, was chosen as an Oprah's Book Club selection (1999), and that year, its paperback was outsold in Britain only by Harry Potter. In 2000, Binchy announced that she was retiring from The Irish Times column and would no longer be going on book tours. But since she announced her semi-retirement, Binchy has written four more best-selling novels: Quentins (2002), Nights of Rain and Stars (2004), Whitethorn Woods (2006), and Heart and Soul (2008).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »