In preparation for writing a book Maeve would first detail her characters on large cardboard sheets.
She regarded them as real creations, not to be discarded just because they had served her purpose in one story. Like [James] Joyce, when required she had no hesitation in letting them wander into a second novel. For Quentins, for example, she welcomed Brenda Brennan and Ria and Danny Lynch from Tara Road, Cathy and Tom Feather, Maud and Simon Mitchell from Scarlet Feather, and Nora the Signora and Aidan Dunne from Evening Class in the new novel. Readers would comment on just how pleased they were to see them again.
Maeve was a consummate planner. Each novel, each project, had its own file, notebooks, timelines, headings, lists. First she would sit down and write out the story in maybe six or seven pages to confirm in her mind exactly where it was going. These would be sent to the publisher and, assuming they liked them, the project would go live.
In order to give the novel a clear sense of place she would often draw a map of the village where the action occurred. As soon as a character was introduced it would be given a house on the map, marked with the character’s name. Hotels, pubs, shops would go on it too, as the whole village took shape. Then there were time charts, which logged the duration of the writing and how many words Maeve needed to write each day; two to four pages (about 800 to 1,600 words) a day was the norm.
The working partnership with [her husband] Gordon was extremely helpful. "The discipline of another writer sitting beside you makes you
work," Maeve said. They’d work for four hours in the morning.
Gordon would often put on a pair of silent headphones to cut out all sound. Maeve could answer the phone and think nothing of the interruption, but when she was writing she was gone to the world, total focus, total concentration.
At the end of each day they continued to read each other what they had written. But they were not at all competitive, even now that Maeve’s career had taken off globally. Both being writers, they knew that some days go better than others. On a bad writing day, when things just didn’t go well, they were a tremendous support to one another.
Maeve Binchy: The Biography by Piers Dudgeon is published by Robson Press.