May 28, 2009


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.®




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