MAEVE BINCHY IS CAUSING COUNTLESS headaches for the Irish tourist board. Readers of her nine books call the agency and explain that they want directions to, say, Mountfern, the village described in Firefly Summer. The tourist board must patiently explain that Mountfern will be on a map just about the same time cartographers locate Brigadoon.
Binchy, 52, who has often been compared to her compatriot Edna O'Brien, is delighted that readers take her fictional geography so seriously. Of course, the Irish village is terrain she knows well. The eldest of four children, she grew up in Dalkey, a bucolic suburb of Dublin, and after 15 years in London has returned there with her husband, Gordon Snell, an author of children's books.
"The village is an easy setting," says Binchy. "You don't have to explain how people meet. When you're writing of the city you have to contrive meetings. I always find that wearying because you spend an awful lot of time planning the situation rather than writing about how the characters feel as they're walking to the meeting."
Binchy, who's giving herself "a bit of a holiday"—a voyage around the world—before beginning her next book, is perfectly happy with the notion that readers find her novels a safe haven. "If there's a message in my books," she says, "it's that once the characters take charge they get happy, and maybe that's a reassuring idea. I wouldn't like to be thought of as patting people on the head, but I wouldn't be at all offended by people who think my books are comforting."