I've been listening back to an interview I did with the late Maeve Binchy today, which we're playing in part on "Arts Extra" tonight. It was recorded in 2010, to coincide with the publication of what would be her last novel "Minding Frankie". She took the telephone call in her house, and was as warm and welcoming as ever. She missed the touring, having opted out of the promotional touring circuit around a new book in 2000. "I loved the tours....it made all the writing worthwhile". She was full of laughter remembering Northern Irish book signings to which fans would bring soda farls, potato cakes and even bulbs (for flowers!). They would call her a "good wee girl for coming here". It was a long time she said since anyone called her a "wee girl". Her garden, she said, still had flowers growing from some of those book signing bulbs!
And I suppose that's what we all loved about her. Not just planting fans' bulbs, but the fact that she wrote like she was our friend. A born storyteller, she said to me that she wrote exactly how she would speak, "wait till I tell you....I always feel I am writing to a friend".
She was open about the agonies she would have about a new book, wondering is anyone going to read it, just as nervous she said after twenty as she was about her first, "afraid this is the one which is going to lose you everyone". Even as she was speaking, I am thinking, but this is Maeve Binchy, surely her publishers must be doing cartwheels every time they see a new book appear. But somewhere deep inside her, she was still that wannabe writer whose first book was rejected 5 times by publishing houses before finally being accepted.
Some of her last words in my final interview with her make me smile. " You know I'm 70 this year, but inside I still feel 23, I always imagined as you got old, your mind got narrow and you started disapproving of things. I don't disapprove of anything".
She was a one off.