Bestselling author Maeve Binchy was today dubbed a “trailblazer” for a generation of female writers, as tributes poured in following her death last night.
The Irish novelist, who sold 40 million books around the world, died in Dublin at the age of 72 following a short illness.
Susan Lamb, the head of Orion Fiction, worked with Binchy since her first novel in 1982. She said: “She was the most brilliant person to work with, she got everything straight away.”
They met in the late 1970s when Binchy was the London correspondent of the Irish Times. “I don’t think fame, fortune and success changed Maeve one jot,” Lamb said. “Maeve was really clever. She was a people watcher and was very witty.”
Binchy wrote 16 novels in all, several of which were turned into movies including Circle of Friends. She also wrote four collections of short stories, a play and a novella.
Lamb said: “I think she opened up that rush of women writers particularly in Ireland. She was the predecessors of Cecelia Ahern, Marian Keynes and others. Without Maeve I’m not sure they would have existed. She was a trailblazer.”
Carolyn Mays, publishing director of Hodder & Stoughton, said: “I loved her books as a reader, and admired her. I felt she was the beginning of that charming, warm, slightly quirky Irish fiction that we were later deluged with.”
She said the books worked because the “you want to spend time with the characters. They are struggling to do the best they can often can. She paved the way for women writers. I’m sure she was the beginning of a new kind of acceptable commercial women’s fiction.”
Authors lined up to pay tribute to Binchy including Cathy Kelly, who said the world was a “darker place” following Binchy’s death. “We’ll all miss her genius.”
Marian Keyes tweeted about her sadness at the news. “She was so full of life, so funny, so interested in people, so kind and so good to all of us writers who came after her. She was a beautiful, generous person and a beautiful generous writer.”
Binchy was born in Dalkey, County Dublin and studied at University College Dublin. She started as a teacher before joining the Irish Times as a reporter. She moved to London with the paper where she met her husband Gordon Snell.
Her first novel, Light a Penny Candle, was rejected five times before it was published, then going on to become a bestseller. She said later the initial rejections had been a “slap in the face”.
Binchy had planned to quit writing novels at the turn of the century, but following a popular outcry, she released another book two years later. At the time her health began to suffer.
Minding Frankie, her latest novel, was published in 2010, although A Week in Winter will be published posthumously. Author and actress Claudia Carroll said: “Maeve Binchy was the mother of women’s commercial fiction. A true lady whose kindness and generosity of spirit will be much missed.”
Enda Kenny, the Irish Prime Minister, mourned the loss of a “national treasure” while President Michael Higgins said: “She was an outstanding novelist, short story writer and columnist, who engaged millions of people all around the world with her fluent and accessible style.”