Maeve Binchy died Monday night, with her beloved husband, Gordon, and her sister, Joan, at her side. She was 72 years old and left us too soon. Journalist, novelist, short story writer, and a born storyteller, she was also a generous friend.
I met Maeve at the Frankfurt Book Fair thirty years ago, on the eve of the publication of her first book, Light a Penny Candle. Viking had just sold the paperback rights to Dell, and I would be the proud publisher. We were both a long way from home, and I told her how I had read her book on a bus going from New York to the East End, sobbing, with everyone on the bus looking at me like I was nuts. In the way of many great storytellers, Maeve was still telling this story last year, but in her version, the driver stopped the bus and wanted to know if anything was wrong, and there was much sympathy from everyone around me as I cried that someone in the book died and they thought it was a friend of mine.
Since that first read, I have helped introduce her to her legions of American fans. For the publication of Circle of Friends (before it was a movie), I invited Maeve to come to the U.S. She was hurting from a hip problem, and she lectured me on VALUE, saying she couldn't possibly come to the U.S. if she couldn't tour, and we would be spending “all that money,” and she wouldn't be able to do all the things I would want her to do to promote the book. She couldn't give me “VALUE.” I explained that it was up to me to decide where the “value” would be, and I would take care of her. She kept her bargain, and I kept mine. She came to New York and held court in her hotel room, giving interviews as the pro she was. The book was her first New York Times bestseller.