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Author Maeve Binchy
"It's about life as I see it"
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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
Award relief for 'anxious' Binchy
Maeve Binchy
Binchy wrote her first novel at the age of 43
Irish writer Maeve Binchy has told BBC News Online she still suffers from anxiety about her work.

She was speaking after she won the WHSmith Book Award for fiction for her book Scarlet Feather, and said that the award would help with such attacks.

"I will have it on a shelf in my study and when the writing isn't going too well I'm going to think about it," said the author of Circle of Friends, Tara Road and a host of other best-sellers.

"I'll think, well I can't actually be that bad if I got that award, loads of people didn't get it."

Binchy took the fiction award ahead of Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood and favourite Joanna Trollope at the awards on Thursday.

Philip Roth
US writer Philip Roth won the overall literary award
These are the only book awards voted for by the public, who voted for the prize after a panel of judges drew up shortlists.

'Slap in the face'

Binchy's modesty is extraordinary given that she is translated into 37 languages and finished number three in the World Book Day 2000 poll of favourite authors.

She finished ahead of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Stephen King.

But as Binchy herself points out she was no overnight success.

She wrote her first novel at the age of 43, writing in her spare time from her day job as a journalist at The Irish Times.

She described the five rejections she received for her first novel Light A Penny Candle as "a slap in the face".

But she agrees that you have to be resilient and though she almost did not send the book to the sixth publisher, she is very glad she did.

"It's like if you don't go to a dance you can never be rejected but you'll never get to dance either," she says.

A fellow WHSmith prize-winner who began writing in her spare time - famously in the local cafe as her flat did not have heating - is JK Rowling.

Rowling won the Children's Book of the Year award with her Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver beat Nigella Lawson to the prize in Homes and Leisure
The overall Literary Award went to Philip Roth for the concluding volume in his post war American trilogy, The Human Stain.


Binchy's first literary secret is to write about what you know - she admits that her friends find their way into her novel as do overheard conversations.

Her second "secret" is to write the way she speaks - she hates when people either speak or write in "fake" voices.

"I don't say I was proceeding down a thoroughfare, I say I walked down the road.

"I don't say I passed a hallowed institute of learning I say I passed a school."

"You don't wear all your jewellery at once - you're much more believeable if you talk in your own voice," jokes the former English teacher.

Binchy recently announced her retirement from writing novels, but those who love her books said that she has been working instead on short stories.

The stories are linked by the restaurant that features in her last three novels, Scarlet Feather, Tara Road and Evening Class - Quentin's.

Minnie Driver
Actress Minnie Driver played Benny in Circle of Friends
Strong characterisation will be the key and she describes just one of them called Blouse Brennan.

"When he was at school he was a bit simple and instead of saying shirt he said blouse," she says with affection.

This is not an author that is going to loose her head over awards or success or the fact that people adore her writing.

No 'happy endings'

Though she is sometimes maligned as a writer of "soft" fiction, her work does address difficult issues like abortion, divorce and mental health problems.

She does not, she says, offer "simple happy endings".

Her idea for a follow up for Circle of Friends - which was filmed with Minnie Driver, Chris O'Donnell and Saffron Burrows - is darker than you might expect, given the sentimentality of the film.

"One of the old nuns in the town would say to Benny: 'Would you do me one favour, I had a child before I became a nun and I want you to find him,'" explains Binchy.

"Benny would find him and he would turn out to be an absolute bastard."

The full list of WHSmith Book Award winners:

Children's Book of the Year - JK Rowling for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

New Talent - Zadie Smith for White Teeth

Fiction - Maeve Binchy for Scarlet Feather

Biography and Autobiography - David Starkey for Elizabeth

General Knowledge - Simon Schama for A History of Britain

Home and Leisure - Jamie Oliver for The Return of the Naked Chef

Business - Cynthia Crossen for The Rich and How They Got That Way

Travel - Bill Bryson for Down Under

Literary Award - Philip Roth for The Human Stain

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