Maeve Binchy

We did this portrait of Maeve Binchy (1939-2012) years ago for Verbal Magazine, in our series ‘A Bluffer’s Guide To Irish Writers’ – something we’d love to pick up again!

Maeve Binchy has described her childhood in the rustic town of Dalkey as unsuitable for an Irish writer: it was a happy childhood. Books were read, stories were told, and nobody possessed the gift of blarney as wee Maeve did.

Had not her pupils pooled their pocket money to send her to Israel, hopefully out of gratitude, she might well have remained a school teacher. But her father sent her holiday letters to the Irish Independent, where they saw print, and an author was born.

She specialized in slice-of-life columns and settled into a cottage a mere stone’s throw from where she was raised. She and her husband wrote side by side, their happiness only marred by abject poverty. Luckily, the novel she’d written on the side turned out an instant hit and the wolf was kept from the cottage door for good.

She knows that hers is not an audience of scholars, but people who mark their page in a book by folding the corner. At heart, every American is Oirish, and when Tara Road was chosen for Oprah Winfrey’s book club by that Queen of Daytime Television, they clasped Maeve to their collective bosom.

She may be a world famous author, winner of numerous awards and be the Godmother of Irish chick lit, but Maeve remains unspoilt by her success. Doing the cottage up a bit has been her only authorly extravagance to date; for Maeve Binchy, there’s no place like home.

Bluffer’s Guide to Irish Writers: C.S. Lewis

This was done for Verbal Magazine, as part of an ongoing series. I really loved doing these caricatures, and we’d love to pick The Bluffer’s Guide to Irish Writers back up – there are so many Irish writers, past and present, household names and less well known as they should be. I could see it as a weekly newspaper column or as a book. 

Since this portrait appeared, about a decade ago, a small C.S. Lewis exhibition came (and sadly went, courtesy of the National Trust). Lovely Narnia statues and murals can be found in East Belfast, and a successful annual C.S. Lewis arts festival has been launched. East Belfast got a Titanic Museum too, close to where the ship was built. 

We’d like to think that our little piece had something to do with all of this; please grant us this small indulgence! 

RvS

You really can’t fault the keen fan for wanting to come to Belfast. “OMG! Narnia!” she drawled, “I can’t believe I’m here! His Birthplace!” She’d been on a plane for 8 hours, but hey – Narnia! Arriving at the Welcome Centre, she asked to see all the C.S. Lewis sights: “Where do I start?”

Where indeed? There’s the statue at the Holywood Arches Library, there’s a blue plaque where his birthplace once stood, there’s a painting covering a paramilitary mural, and there’s his childhood home – privately owned. “And where’s the museum?” she asked. Authors in other countries get museums; Lewis got a vague, embarrassed shrug.

Born in Belfast in 1898, Clive Staples Lewis worked as novelist, critic, academic and Christian apologist. His religion was more pragmatic than esoteric, his Christ a Christ for all, which may explain the failure to embrace him here – he’s not identifiably Protestant or Catholic, yet too Christian for secularists uncomfortable with the allegory within Narnia’s spectacle. So Lewis’s cultural value remains unchampioned – a slap in the face for one who promoted Irish culture in the snobbish academic world of Oxford.

Chiefly known for the Chronicles of Narnia, he wrote so much more, from Mere Christianity to the Space Trilogy, to the autobiographical Surprised By Joy – diverse works united by a passionate inquiry into the human soul.

Thwarted in her pursuit of C.S. Lewis, our tourist grabbed a lifeline and asked for directions to the Titanic Museum. Oh dear…