Blog: Gordon Snell

Having advised on the adaption of his late wife Maeve Binchy's novel for a stage production at the Lowry, the writer remembers their working days at either end of a long desk in the study

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As writers, my wife Maeve Binchy and I always felt we were lucky: we had an instant audience for our work. We used to work together at our laptops at each end of a long desk in the study upstairs in our house in Dalkey, in Dublin. When the writing day was finished, we would read each other what we had written that day.

There was one cardinal rule: the listener had to be totally honest in their reaction. Mostly, the reaction was good, but occasionally there might be a criticism – a character was too good to be true, a verse didn’t scan… No one could be expected to take criticism with delight, so you just had to take it on board. But then there was a further rule: you were allowed 10 minutes of what we called “sulking time”, to go away and ponder the comment – and then you had to come back and say either that you thought the words were fine as they stood or that maybe the criticism had something in it, and you would have another go.

We adjourned to the pub next door, complete with crackers and paper hats, and had an office party for two

It made for a peaceful, quarrel-free working life, though our working styles were very different. I had to concentrate, without interruptions, whereas Maeve was able to stop to answer the phone, chat away and then go straight back to the work. She always felt her work as a journalist helped. In her time, a newspaper office like the Irish Times was a noisy place full of clatter and chatter and the sounds of typeriters and telephones – an exciting, stimulating scene. Nowadays journalists operate in a calmer environment, hunched over computer keyboards and gazing at screens – calmer, but to the older journalists, less fun.

Even when there are two of you, writers feel they have to leave the desk occasionally and get out into the “real world”. We decided one Christmas that everyone seemed to be having office parties – why shouldn’t we? So one day we adjourned to the pub next door, complete with crackers and paper hats, and had an office party for two at a table in the corner. It must have been a curious though festive sight.

Other outings took us to readings or book signings: big events in Maeve’s case. She was always delighted to meet readers, and chat about the friends or relatives they were getting books signed for. Her publisher on one occasion whispered in her ear: “Would you stop asking them all about their Auntie Annie – the queue is stretching out of the door!”

My own gatherings were much smaller, in libraries or classrooms. Children are splendidly honest audiences. If they are not held by the story, they will lapse into chatter or yawns. So if you do hold their attention, it’s very rewarding. It can be disconcerting too. I arrived early at a library reading and a boy sitting waiting said: “Are you the author?” I said I was, and he looked disappointed. I asked if anything was wrong.

“I thought you’d have hair!” he replied. Hairless or not, I must have won him round. After the reading, he asked me to sign his book.

Minding Frankie is the Lowry, Salford, 19-23 June. Book tickets here 

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