Beyond the relaxed image she was utterly professional
Maeve worked harder than virtually anyone else I knew in the ‘Irish Times’ newsroom
THE FIRST thing you noticed about Maeve’s desk was the flowers. The old Irish Times newsroom overlooking Fleet Street was not a beautiful place. It had little natural light. Smooth surfaces had a permanent patina of ink molecules, nicotine and city dust. Desks were littered with battered dictionaries, newspaper clippings and unwashed coffee cups.
But Maeve’s desk in the one sunlit corner of the room was an enclave of order and colour. She was tourism correspondent then. The flowers often came from friends or contacts. Sometimes she brought them herself.
Her travel brochures, reference books and files were always neatly stacked on the shelves behind her. Pens, pencils and copy paper were arranged in orderly formation on the desk.
She was the first person I saw when I turned in for my first day as a trainee journalist in October 1969. I was there early, before the news editor. In a flower-sheltered corner, this woman was firing questions down a telephone. When the call was finished she made another and then another and so on.
In time I learned that a key part of Maeve Binchy’s modus operandi was to use the early quiet hours of the morning to get her telephone business out of the way, leaving time to engage with colleagues, to review work in hand or to write.
In later years, when fame and success had come, Maeve sometimes liked to portray herself as falling fortuitously into one blessed place after another. She poked fun at herself, describing near catastrophes from which she escaped by sheer luck.
Nothing could be further from the truth. She was utterly organised and professional. She worked harder than virtually anyone else I knew in that newsroom. She strategised and scheduled. She had an extraordinary capacity to contour every day to maximise her productivity.
These were years in which the daily round of Dublin journalism consisted mainly of receptions and hospitality events. Senior newsroom journalists seldom lunched alone or briefly.
When the exodus would start, usually after the news conference at about 12.30pm, Maeve would be out the door with the others. But at 3 o’clock, with too many suspiciously empty chairs around the newsroom, Maeve would be back at her desk, hammering away on the typewriter. I don’t believe she ever missed a deadline.
In her later writing years, she followed the same principles. There was a schedule for the day with a fixed time for writing. There had to be time for reading too. And there were fixed time zones for relaxation or for seeing friends.
I have the sense that without those qualities of discipline and industry, Maeve might never have been the success she became. But combined with her deep, generous humanity, her wit and her adroit, adaptable intellect, they carried her to the heights of world celebrity and acclaim.