Last night on the news I learned of the death of Maeve Binchy. In one of my scrapbooks I have a postcard I received from her in response to a fan letter I sent her. In my view, her two best books are Light a Penny Candle and Circle of Friends. I read somewhere that when she was working as a journalist she used to get up very early in the morning to write fiction before going to the newspaper office. She kept her work in progress, her typewriter and any other materials she might need on a tea trolley tucked away under the stairs. When she wheeled it out before dawn she had everything she needed close at hand and didn't have to waste time getting organized. I also read that she wrote fiction for years without getting published, and got to the point where she could hardly bring herself to lick the stamp to put on the manuscript she was sending out, because it all seemed so futile. Then she got published, and her career blossomed.
She was Irish and universal. In all of her novels one got a sense of her warm humanitarian outlook.
On the news last night she was compared to Jane Austen, and indeed, although her style was quite different from Austen's, they both explored the hearts and minds of women. Both had a sense of what constitutes fairness and decency. Both wrote positive endings.
Then this morning on TV I saw that American novelist Gore Vidal died at 84. Upstairs in my bookcase are Burr; 1876 and Washington D.C., his well-known trilogy of American history novels, and also, Lincoln. I admired him for his wit and his use of social history along with political "official" history.
These two novelists were very different in their themes and styles, but both were good at their craft. In my view, an aspiring writer shouldn't just like one genre, or one author, or "literary" fiction as opposed to "popular" fiction, but should read and see the merits in a lot of different things. I urge budding writers to sample both Binchy and Vidal. I will miss both of them. Although I never met either, they were friends, inspirations, and part of my life. Never ask for whom the bell tolls.