Chris Binchy

Maeve Binchy's nephew claims that being a writer is a lot like being a chef 

Chris Binchy jokes that people ask him for autographs all the time – his aunt’s. Binchy is the nephew of award-winning Irish novelist Maeve Binchy. It can’t have been easy starting a writing career in her shadow but 40-year old Binchy is confident that his work can stand on his own merits.

‘Nobody has said anything to my face, but I’ve seen comments that suggest my success is down to my bloodline,’ he says easily. ‘If people have a bad time with your book they can get angry. But, although my aunt has always been supportive I went out and got my own agent and [my aunt and I] have had different publishers.’

The publisher for Binchy’s latest novel, Five Days Apart is Harper Collins. The central premise is about a romance but Binchy hesitates to slot it into that genre. ‘It’s about a love triangle with two life-long friends, one shy and the other a player, who both fall for the same girl. But it’s more about this transitional stage that the characters are in, the changing nature of their friendship. Even when you get older you can look back and remember the intensity of those teenage experiences.’

Binchy admits he uses ‘a ton’ of his own experience in his writing but bursts out laughing at the suggestion that his first novel, The Very Man, the plot of which follows a degenerate alcoholic's downward spiral, was autobiographical. ‘Who told you about that?’ he mock-demands. One quick explanation later and he agrees that parts of The Very Man are indeed autobiographical.

‘I had written a lot of short stories,’ Binchy explains, adding mournfully that short stories don’t sell. ‘But, even though I had read plenty of them, I wasn’t sure how to go about structuring a novel. So I fell back on a lot of biographical detail.’

Luckily Binchy had a wealth of that to fall back on. Before becoming a writer Binchy had a ‘cushy number, although you do have to work’ as a restaurant reviewer, worked as an embassy researcher and was a chef.

His experience in a kitchen helped him shape both the world and the underlying themes in The Very Man. For him the flush, self-regarding Dublin in that novel can be compared to a restaurant. ‘Front of house is air-conditioned, perfumed and glitzy, but behind the scenes it’s greasy, 35 degrees and full of sweaty, angry people.’

Other than writing Binchy says being a chef was his favorite job and points out that cooking and writing have a lot of common. Both are creative, although it doesn’t always feel like it, and if the end product is good enough no one can tell how much effort went into making it. But he doesn’t regret leaving that world behind.

‘In my 20s and 30s I wasn’t sure what I wanted and I did a lot of things I wasn’t necessarily good at,' Binchy admits. ‘But I always came back to writing.’

Maybe it won't be long until people are asking Maeve Binchy to get them her nephew's autograph.

See John Lynch and Chris Binchy in a Q&A session at the Crescent Arts Centre on October 19 as part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's. Check out What's On for information on all Belfast Festival events.