Life Lessons from Maeve Binchy

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

When I attended my first critique group, one of the writers commented: “Your stories remind me of Maeve Binchy’s books. Have you read them?”

Read them!?

I have devoured the sixteen novels and four collections of short stories written during her lifetime. I’m especially fond of Book #17, A Week in Winter, released six months after her untimely death in 2012.

Like many of her fans, I mourn the fact that there will not be another Maeve Binchy novel. I will also miss Maeve’s wonderful advice.

Here are my favorite life lessons from Maeve Binchy:

Be supportive

Maeve was blessed with parents who thought “all their geese were swans.” As an overweight child who did not excel athletically, Maeve appreciated the warmth and positive feedback she received. Later, she met and married Gordon Snell, a writer who also believed that Maeve could do anything.

In her novels, Maeve extended this positive reinforcement to her characters. She once explained: “I don’t have ugly ducklings turning into swans in my stories. I have ugly ducklings turning into confident ducks.”

Accept all gifts

In the early 1960s, Maeve worked in a Jewish school in Dublin where she taught French to Lithuanian children. At the end of the academic year, the parents gave her a trip to Israel as a present. At the time, Maeve had no spending money, but she went on the trip anyway and worked in a kibbutz—plucking chickens and picking oranges.

To reassure her parents, she regularly describing her adventures. Impressed with her writing, her father cut off the “Dear Daddy” bits and sent the letters to The Irish Times. Equally impressed, the editor published her letters as travel articles and later hired her as a columnist.

Visualize

When Maeve began writing stories and novels, she was still working as a journalist. She woke up each day at five-thirty and worked for three hours at the typewriter before going to work. To motivate herself on those dark mornings, she started to visualize the launch party for her first book. She imagined large crowds of people gathering and paying her compliments.

After several rejections, her first novel (Light a Penny Candle ) was accepted, but the publisher had no intention of hosting a launch party. Maeve didn’t miss a beat. She spent two hundred pounds, one-fifth of her advance, and organized her own party in a room over a pub, complete with wine and crisps. She invited family, friends, booksellers, and the publisher “who cringed with the shame of it all.” In the end, it was such a good experience that Maeve sat down and wrote another book.

Share

Success is not a pie where everyone who gets a slice has somehow diminished what’s left for everyone else. Maeve believed that success was “more like a cairn, a heap of stones where the more each person gets, the more it adds to the general body of work out there.” She urged aspiring writers to “borrow” the techniques of successful writers and present them in their own unique voices.

And, most important of all, keep at it.

A Week in Winter

week3This is the last time Maeve Binchy will enchant us with her writing.

Set in a bed and breakfast on the Irish coast, A Week in Winter follows the lives of innkeeper Chicky Starr, her niece Orla, family friend Rigger and a group of strangers who find their way to Stone House. Binchy has given each character a separate chapter, allowing the reader to discover their back stories.

Each evening, I found myself curling up with a different character and reading with anticipation as Binchy applied her familiar formula. She once said, “I don’t have ugly ducklings turning into swans in my stories. I have ugly ducklings turning into confident ducks.”

I was most fascinated by Chicky Starr. After surviving a disastrous love affair, she concocted a fantasy about her life in New York and kept the fantasy alive for two decades. When she returned to Stoneybridge, she purchased a dilapidated estate and, against all odds, turned it into a successful small hotel.

The colorful cast of characters include the following…

Thirty-four-year-old Winnie has found her soul mate but must deal with his overbearing mother.

Corry, an aging movie star, must learn how to embrace and share his fame.

Two married doctors, Henry and Nicola, are still grieving several unfortunate deaths while yearning for a child.

Anders, a Swiss accountant, has abandoned his passion for music and the only woman he ever loved to please his father.

Nell Howe, a retired school principal, faces a bleak and lonely life.

Freda, the librarian, must learn to accept and value her psychic abilities.

The Walls, a married couple, struggle with their second-place win: a week at Stone House.

An impressive collection of linked short stories that can be easily described as a Maeve Binchy’s final tribute to Irish family life. Excellent reading, especially on cold, blustery January days.