Acclaimed Irish novelist Maeve Binchy died July 30 in Dublin after a brief illness. Binchy published her first novel, Light a Penny Candle, in 1982, after five publishers rejected it. She had a steady stream of success in the years afterwards, including Silver Wedding, Firefly Summer, Evening Class, Echoes, The Copper Beech, Circle of Friends and Tara Road; stories centered around such ordinary events as a wedding anniversary or the building of a hotel. They sold in their millions and were translated into more than 30 languages.
Binchy began her career as a journalist with The Irish Times in 1968, though she admitted later she never had the instinct to be a reporter. When her mother died suddenly of cancer at age 57, Binchy stayed home to look after her father. When he died three years later, she sold the family house and moved to Dublin. Aged 29 and unhappy, she developed a phobia about a mouse, drank a lot and had a painful affair with a married man.
In 1971, Maeve Binchy met the children’s writer Gordon Snell through friends. He was working for the BBC in London and she was, by then, women’s editor of The Irish Times. After a year flying to see each other during weekends, she asked for the job of the paper’s London correspondent and moved across the Irish Sea. Binchy and Snell married in 1977.
Binchy became lonely in London and began to write stories in the evenings to stay occupied. She began with two books of short stories, Central Line and Victoria Line, then tackled her first novel at the age of 42.
At the time, she and her husband were two months behind with the mortgage. But, Light a Penny Candle, a novel which follows the fortunes of two young girls growing up in Ireland in the aftermath of the Second World War, sold for £52,000 – the largest sum ever paid for a first novel – and their problems were solved.
“Nothing terrible has ever happened to me,” she told an interviewer. “I met and married the man I love in my thirties when I thought all that had passed me by. Success and money came in my forties, when I’d my head screwed on… I’ve never really searched for success, never felt there was some hole in my life that needed filling. I’ve only ever wanted more of the same.”