Maeve Binchy proved as gracious and charming as her characters when she spoke about her book, Tara Road (Delacorte).
WRITER’S DIGEST: What’s a typical writing day like?
MAEVE BINCHY: We live in a very small place in Ireland called Dalkey, where I grew up. I’m married to a writer, Gordon Snell, and we regard writing like a job. We race up the stairs at 8 the morning when we have to be at our desks. We rush around the place and say “Gosh, we’ll be late!” I work from 8 until 2 five days a week
WD: How do you get started?
BINCHY: I regard my work as storytelling. People want to know what happens next, so I spend a lot of time plotting: by the end of Chapter 1, this has to happen, and then this must happen by the end of Chapter 2.
I think about a feeling first, or an emotionfriendship or betrayal or hypocrisy. Tara Road is about the shock of a betrayal and the strength that comes from friendship. And I always have to advance these things. I try to imagine what would happen if it happened to me, or my friends. I try to believe in characters as people, and I imagine what I would do if this happened to me, how would I react. This is a great writer’s tool: “What would I feel like if this would happen to me?” It helps you flesh out the book a bit.
You have to live in your mind or imagination in your writing, more than you do in your real life. I’m a matronly, mumsy woman, and if it was all about me and my cats, it would be boring for the readers, and that’s not the way novels are madethere’s no tension or drama.
WD: Tell us about Tara Road.
BINCHY: I hope people like it because there are two very strong women who do a home exchange, one in Connecticut and one in Ireland, and it’s really about coping and surviving. There’s something very strange and intimate about living with someone else’s possessions. When I did a home exchange I felt very protective about her, the woman who owned the house…. It’s an intimate relationship. I knew all about this woman and I had never met her.
WD: What’s the most difficult aspect of writing for you?
BINCHY: I have a frightful temptation to use a cast of thousands and to deal with the details of all the neighbors and friends, a huge wide tapestry. I have to remind myself, keep it focused. If you spend too much time on the small characters, we have a hard time remembering who the biggest characters are.
WD: Do you revise?
BINCHY: Hardly at all. I’ve been two things that helped me with writing: a journalist and a teacher. A journalist is used to being edited and that’s good training to be a novelist. I say, if you think it’s too wordy, then cut it. I believe in my editor and agent. I think writers should be prepared to listen to the professionals.
WD: Any advice for future novelists?
BINCHY: You have to keep at it and refuse to be upset by rejection. We all have rejection. I was rejected five times before I started, and there must be five publishers now who are sick and regretting that!
And the other thing is to write as you speak… I write as I speak and it’s very quick and breathless. And it worked. I thought it would only work in Ireland, but it works everywhere. You know when people put on an accent, it’s annoying. When someone speaks like themselves, it’s much nicer and you want to be friends with them. That’s what makes it good.
WD: What’s coming up next?
BINCHY: I write a big book every two years, I’ve been doing that for the last 18 years. I’ve started to think about the book after this. But if you talk about it you think you’ve written it and you haven’t and then the publisher’s coming looking.