Family matters

Colm Tóibín at this year’s Shanghai Book Fair. Photo: Courtesy of 99 Reader Club

When asked to look at the camera, and not with a “pretend” smile, Colm Tóibín was happy to oblige.

“Oh good, good! It’s stupid to just pretend to smile for the camera, and it’s hard to smile unless there is something to laugh about.”

The famous Irish writer is in the city for the ongoing 8th Shanghai Book Fair, his third time in the city. His collection of short stories from 2006, Mothers and Sons, has just been published in Chinese by the People’s Literature Press. Among the nine stories in the book is his own personal favorite folk story The Long Winter.

Teaching posts

Born in 1955, Tóibín hails from Enniscorthy in County Wexford in Ireland. Although he still lives in the Republic, he spends about three months a year in the US, giving lessons in literature and creative writing at Princeton University. In the near future he will also take up a teaching post at Columbia University in New York. To date, he has published six novels, two books of short stories, one play, and one book of essays, as well as writing introductions to other authors’ works. Tóibín has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize for The Blackwater Lightship and The Master, with the latter also winning the 2006 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His novel Brooklyn received the 2009 Costa Novel Award.

From a young age, Tóibín found himself interested in writing and started to write poetry, but deemed he “was no good” at the time. “It took me a long time to work out how to use my writing talent,” he told the Global Times.

Undeterred he kept going until he was 20, and then started writing short stories at the age of 23 for the next two years. “But they were no good, either,” he added.

During this period Tóibín sent his works off to many publishers, but the solicitous young writer was usually turned down. “Well, I felt I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t do poetry, I couldn’t write stories, so I became a journalist instead. It was something I was also very interested in,” he said.

Tóibín worked as a journalist for 15 years from 1979, covering his adopted city, Dublin, extensively; everything from politics to television and theater.

“Journalism is very good if you want to become a novelist. It gives you a relationship to the reader in that when you write, you have the idea that ‘this is for the reader.’ It’s not private – it’s a form of communication,” he said.

“Eventually you find the form that suits you. For me, the novel was the form I could work best with. It’s like being a runner: some people run marathons, while others are better at short distances. After I wrote five novels, I found I had confidence in writing short stories again.”

Source: Global Times

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Reply