Claudia Carroll: Reading Maeve is a bit like watching the Olympic gymnasts: you think, I could do that! But just try

Wed, Aug 1, 2012, 01:00

If I can share a special memory about Maeve, it’s from years back, when I was nervously about to publish my first book. I’d met her socially and told her I was petrified. Then she told one of her famous stories that’s always stuck with me.

Years before, she said, when she first published Light A Penny Candle, she was walking into the Times offices one day and was stopped by a lady on the street.

“You’re Maeve Binchy, aren’t you? I just read your book,” this lady told her.

“Well thank you,” Maeve replied, all delighted. “I hope you enjoyed it?”

“To be perfectly honest with you, no, not really,” came the withering reply. “Why was that,” the ever polite Maeve asked.

“Well, when I finished it, I thought, sure I could have written that myself.”

“Of course,” Maeve calmly told her, “but you didn’t, did you?” Because reading Maeve’s work is a bit like watching the Olympic gymnasts: you look on from your chair and think, I could do that! But just try. And you’ll see how hard it is and how effortlessly easy she made it all look.

She was also so incredibly generous with her time whenever new authors approached her, which of course they did regularly. In her own book about writing, she once said she was astonished by the sheer number of people who’d say to her, “I’ve love to write a book, if I had the time.” You’ll never have more time, was her very practical attitude. So just find the time from somewhere and get on with it. She herself said that when working full-time, she’d get up extra early in the morning and somehow find two hours to write, with the thoughts of the lovely launch party she was going to throw for herself the only thing that kept her going!

I first came to love her through reading her columns in the 1980s. She’d find the magic in the most ordinary of situations. I recall she wrote about eavesdropping on the Tube in London to two guys. One told the other he hadn’t been home last night and didn’t know how to face his girlfriend. “Say and do absolutely nothing,” advised the pal. Intrigued to know how this would play out, Maeve followed them off the Tube, up escalators and right the way to their office door to tune in for more, all the while pretending to be fumbling in her handbag. As far as she was concerned, there were stories everywhere – drama and wonderful characters all around us.

So goodbye, Maeve. I hope you’re up there in heaven, keeping the angels in stitches with all your funny stories and still continuing to weave your magic. RIP.