Circle of Friends“Standing on Maeve Binchy’s shoulders, what a place to be!”

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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Emer McLysaght makes no apologies for fangirling all over the movie Circle of Friends, which was released 25 years ago this year. Adapted from the Maeve Binchy novel of the same name, it starred Minnie Driver and Chris O’Donnell. The co-author of the Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling books spoke to Oliver Callan on The Ryan Tubridy Show about her love of Circle of Friends, Maeve Binchy’s literary legacy and how so-called “women’s fiction” is finally getting the status it deserves. Emer also drops in tantalising hints about “a little Aisling surprise”, which she says is on the way soon.

Looking back at the way Maeve Binchy’s tale was tweaked for the big screen, Emer says the film ends on a more sugary note than the book does. That aside, she’s a fan of both and thinks both are attractive to millennial readers, as she discovered while preparing a recent opinion piece on Circle of Friends for the Irish Independent. A Twitter call-out for younger readers attracted a huge response:

“I got so many messages. They said they related to this idea of, you know, moving down home and going up to the ‘Big Smoke’. Really universal. They related to Benny’s body issues, you know, she was ‘beef to the heels’. And they related to some of the social issues that she brought up: the talk of abortion.”

Emer says she and her ‘Aisling’ co-writer Sarah Breen are massive fans of Maeve Binchy’s work and give her much credit for paving the way for them as writers:

“Sarah and I are always, like, ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’. Standing on Maeve Binchy’s shoulders, what a place to be! She really set us up.”

Maeve Binchy’s work sold by the million, but wasn’t given its due as ‘literature’, Emer thinks. She say she and her co-author Sarah Breen also experienced a desire by publishers to slot their work into a certain category:

“When Sarah and I started writing books and we were told by publishers, ‘Oh, so you fall into the category of commercial fiction or women’s fiction’. And I was like, ‘I didn’t really realise that was a category. Is there a men’s fiction? No, of course not’. Because God forbid a man might pick up a book meant for a woman.”

The mood in publishing is changing now, when it comes to popular fiction written by women, Emer says:

“There is definitely pushback. There’s definitely a blurring of this line between kind of high and low culture.”

With a film in the works and a fourth Aisling book on the way next year, Emer and her co-writer are kept busy, but they will be making time for something Aisling-related in the next little while:

“We’ll be announcing it in the next couple of weeks, there’ll be a little Aisling surprise.”

If you want to do a deeper dive into the history of Circle of Friends, there’s loads of great content in the RTÉ archives, like The Late Late Show interview with the stars, and a short video featuring writer Maeve Binchy, stars Minnie Driver and Chris O’Donnell, as well as glimpses of fresh-faced Aidan Gillen and Alan Cumming, who also starred in Circle of Friends here . You’ll have to watch the full movie to spot a very youthful Ryan Tubridy who appears briefly as an extra.

To hear the voice of Maeve Binchy herself talking about the movie version of Circle of Friends and more from Emer about what Aisling might or might not have done in lockdown, listen back to the full interview with Oliver Callan here.

Meave Binchy’s work along with Emer Mc Lysaght and Sarah Breen’s Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling series,  are widely available in bookstores and libraries around the country.

Ruth Kennedy

© The Listener 2020

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