Biography reveals true nature of Irish writer
Sarah Pitt talks to Maeve Binchy biographer Piers Dudgeon.
When biographer Piers Dudgeon begins his talk about Maeve Binchy at the Appledore Book Festival this afternoon, he will be given a helping hand by the late author herself.
Piers, known for his biographies of strong women who also happened to be prolific bestselling authors, will play a recording of the larger-than-life Irish novelist, holding the floor at a books event.
"She was a great entertainer," says Piers. "I'm hoping to use Maeve talking for five minutes, telling a very very funny story.
Buy one get one free on main course and specials excludes fillet steaks and beef wellingtons
Must book to qualify and present voucher on arrival 01209860332
Contact: 01209 700617
Valid until: Wednesday, December 11 2013
"The great trouble with having biographers at festivals is that actually people would prefer to meet the subject, so I've decided to bring her along!"
The recording will surely appeal to the fans of Maeve's heartwarming bestsellers, which deal in love, betrayal and the close, often complicated friendships between women. Indeed, in Maeve's books the three are often linked.
Her first novel, Light A Penny Candle, which evoked the warm community feel of her youth, growing up in a close middle class family near Dublin, shot to the top of the bestseller lists when it was published in 1982.
She went on to write many more, including Circle of Friends, Victoria Line, Evening Class and Tara Road. She was still writing at the time of her death, last July, at the age of 73, by this time a wealthy woman but still as down to earth as ever.
Maeve and her husband Gordon Snell, a fellow writer and her tireless champion and support, were by then living back in Maeve's childhood home town at Dalkey, on the coast south of Dublin.
It was here that Piers went to meet Maeve, back in 2000, after writing to her to tell her he was interested in writing her biography.
"She had just announced her retirement from writing, which she never took, except from the Irish Times, where she had worked as a journalist for almost 30 years," recalls Pier.
"We had a great day together and discussed the whole thing. She wrote in this little room at the top of the house in Dalkey, up this spiral staircase.
"She sat in front of me, legs apart with her hands on her knees and went for it. We talked and talked and talked, wine flowing. She drank like a fish, and it never affected her.
"She didn't want to do a biography in her lifetime, and so I respected her wishes and only wrote it after her death last year.
"She said to me that she didn't think that there was much of a story there, as she was a middle class Irish girl. But what I discovered was that there was a hell of a story, a very personal one."
His exhaustive research took him from his home in North Yorkshire to Dublin, where as well as going through the 30 boxes in the Binchy Archive at Maeve's alma mater University College Dublin, he also looked up and talked to childhood and student friends.
From them, he made the surprise discovery that, as a pupil at the Holy Child convent in Killiney – where the nuns sound a cheery lot – Maeve had been shy and lacking in confidence, being both tall and overweight.
As a teenager, she was troubled that no boys asked her to dance, making her doubt her mother Maureen's assertion that she was beautiful. Then one day, as a student, she decided she was no longer going to let this get to her. From that day on she became, at least outwardly, the gregarious, confident bon viveur of her adult life.
"The day she decided to forget what everyone thought about her changed her overnight," says Piers. "Her classmates at university can still remember that change."
Maeve also rejected the Catholic church of her childhood, and, heading to London and the swinging 60s, suffered a string of unhappy affairs.
Her relatively late marriage to fellow writer Gordon, though, was happy. They wrote side by side every day, and he was always there to pick up the pieces if there was a bad review.
"He really understood her and understood how sensitive she really was," says Piers, "He gave her the support she needed."
Piers Dudgeon talks about his book, Maeve Binchy the biography (Robson Press, £20) at St Mary's Hall in Appledore this afternoon from 4-5pm. Tickets, at £7, can be reserved on 01237 424949.