Bestselling author and long-standing friend of the Book People, Maeve Binchy has sadly died aged 72. Following a short illness, she is said to have died peacefully in hospital with her husband, the writer Gordon Snell.

A keen traveller, it was Binchy’s ‘long rambling letters home from’ from far-flung places that eventually lead to her career as a writer. After attending University College Dublin, Maeve worked as a teacher at various schools in Dublin before she began her day job as a journalist for the Irish Times.

She had written short stories in her spare time, but it was her first novel, Light a Penny Candle, that brought her fame in 1982. Her exceptionally successful debut novel tells the story of shy and genteel Elizabeth White who is evacuated from Blitz-battered London and sent to stay with the boisterous O’Connors in Kilgarret, Ireland. Writing with warmth, wit and great compassion, Binchy tells a magnificent story of the lives and loves of two women, bound together in a friendship that nothing could tear asunder – not even the man who threatened to come between them forever.

Maeve Binchy’s novels are marked by her depiction of small town Irish life and present a realistic portrayal of the lives of young Irish women growing up in the relatively restrictive society of Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s. Although best known for her novels, she wrote a play, Deeply Regretted By, and continued to write short story collections such as This Year It Will Be Different and The Return Journey. Her last novel, Minding Frankie, was published in 2010 – the same year she received a lifetime achievement award from the Irish Book Awards.

As the news of her death broke last night and early today, broadcasters, fellow novelists, friends and fans have flooded the international media with tributes. This morning on Radio 4 Jilly Cooper said Binchy was ‘a natural storyteller … She was so kind and funny and captivating, and was a brilliant writer’.

Thriller writer Harlan Coben tweeted: ‘I’m so sad to hear about the death of the wonderful, funny, talented, generous, endearing Maeve Binchy.’

Other tributes included Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin: ‘Maeve Binchy was a gregarious, larger than life, ebullient recorder of human foibles and wonderment,’ and Cathy Kelly: ‘The world is truly a darker place without the golden light of lovely Maeve Binchy. We’ll all miss her genius.’

In 2000, Binchy was ranked third in the World Book Day poll of favourite authors – ahead of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Stephen King. Described in the Irish Times as ‘one of the best-loved Irish writers of her generation’, she will be much missed across the globe.