The Daily Telegraph recently told its readers that "the greats of Irish literature - including Samuel Beckett, Brendan Beham, W.B. Yeats, and Oscar Wilde - have been outsold in their homeland by the popular novelist Maeve Binchy." Were you surprised to learn this news, and how has this success affected your lifestyle?
I take this news very lightly indeed! Of course, it is monstrously flattering and my ego is as big as anyone else's, but you have to be in some way realistic!
I want my books to draw the readers into the tale that is being unfolded. I do not write poetry, I do not have a particular literary style, I am not experimental, nor have I explored a new form of literature. I tell a story and I want to share it with my readers. In today's world, where audiences want to lose themselves for a while, there does seem to be a place for the stories I write, I am delighted to say.
In terms of changing my life, my popularity hasn't very much. I was 43 years old when I became a bestselling author. I was already happy then, married to a man I love, the writer Gordon Snell. We had a very good life with not quite enough money to pay the bills. But we didn't buy a new house, we just did up the old one and made it more comfortable, and it's wonderful not to have to worry about providing for our old age any more.
Contemporary Irish literature has become an American phenomenon in recent years. Why do you think it's so popular in this country?
I think the Irish are lucky in that we never had the Victorian concept of waiting until you have something to say before you say it! We value good talkers much more than good listeners, and we love telling stories. This fluent delight in telling what happened is easily translated into writing down our thoughts. Many people in the United States have some Irish roots or at least live near or work with someone who tells tales of an Irish childhood, their own or their ancestors'. So there is something familiar about an Irish home life even to those who never experienced it.
Your books tend to explore events in small-town life. Why have you chosen this as your focus?
I usually write about events in a small town, or in this case a small neighborhood of a capital city, for a very specific reason. It's easier to keep control of your characters!
You see, if they each lived in a different place, you would have to keep inventing reasons that they meet each other all the time. Much simpler to herd them all together. I thought I had invented this device myself, but apparently the ancient Greek writers knew all about it and called it the "Unity of Space!"
Are the characters in your book based on real people?
No, my father was a lawyer and he always advised me strongly against this. He said we would be paying the litigation for years. I sometimes steal little aspects of people's personalities and add them to totally fictitious characters. When other people think I'm not looking, I eavesdrop and lip-read to learn how they live.