Pupil of the storyteller tradition

TARA ROAD by Maeve Binchy Delacorte Press 502pp. $24.95

I write as I talk," says novelist Maeve Binchy. Seated in a wing-backed chair, sunshine highlighting her face and hair, she talks of her beginnings and new novel "Tara Road."

"I couldn't write as other writers: I do very little rewriting. I see myself as part of the great seannachi'e [oral] tradition, you know, tell me a story, tell me a story. I adore Dickens and reread him again and again."

The eldest daughter of a prominent Dublin lawyer, Maeve Binchy grew up in Dalkey, 11 miles from the capital.

"We liked to think of Dalkey as a village, but it was almost a suburb really. It was so near Dublin that it had all the pleasures and ugliness of a suburb. We went in and out to work by train.

"I love it now, but when I was young, I thought it was somewhat like living in the Kalahari Desert. I wanted to escape. ... And so I always wanted to live in London, a city of 10-1/2 million, where I was really very lonely.

"In life, as adolescents, there's a feeling that we're never satisfied; we want to escape. We want to go back. But in my case, I've been lucky. I've been able to re-create my life again.

"As children, my two sisters and brother and I used to plan that we'd see the world. We've all married very different kinds of people and we're all back living in Dalkey again. So you never know how life's going to turn out."

Widely considered the leading Irish female writer of her generation, Ms. Binchy came to fiction writing after careers in teaching and as a feature writer for The Irish Times. Her humorous column "Maeve's Week" is written from Dublin, Toronto, and most recently Auckland, New Zealand.

The Peacock Theatre in Dublin staged her plays "End of Term" and "Half Promised Land." Her television play "Deeply Regretted By" won the Best Script Award at the Prague Film Festival.

"Plays are very powerful," she concedes, "but the novel is my medium."

"Women always talk about feelings when they get together. It's difficult to convey that on stage. So the novel is my form. I can give the feelings of my characters through interior monologue."

"Even though I don't base books on real people, I base feelings on real feelings," says Binchy. In "Tara Road," "what I'm trying to say in this novel is that a person has to play out the hand that they're dealt and become their own person." In a sense, this is the message of all her novels.

"Tara Road" is the second of Binchy's novels to be set in the present. "I can never thank Pat O'Connor enough because his film 'Circle of Friends' brought me a whole new set of readers. Before that my books were popular mostly with middle-aged people. Now younger people read my books."

She and her husband, the poet Gordon Snell, share a spacious study with lots of natural light.

"We work from 7:15 a.m. to 2 p.m. We're often there in the pink light of dawn. We like to think that as office workers we'd keep these hours. I write all my characters down on large cardboard sheets. I refer to them every so often and think I must bring this character back again."

They criticize each other's daily work. "Gordon reads me one of his poems," she says. "I show him the 1,500 or so words I've written that morning."

Following a brief vacation in Israel, Binchy is now visiting the United States to promote the publication of "Tara Road." After a seven-city tour she will begin work on her 12th novel to be published next year.

*Anthony Kirby is a freelance writer living in Montreal, Quebec.

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