The award-winning Irish writer Colm Tóibín here shares his meticulous approach to writing, and how a novel can begin with – and build on – just one perfectly shaped sentence: “It moves into rhythm when you least expect it.”
“You could be on your holidays, or you could be on a Friday night about to go out, and suddenly would come a sentence. And the sentence would have the full weight of a novel in it – it’s like a melody.” When you have the inspirational sentence, it’s all about slow, careful work, where you put things into the book, while focusing on creating “a sort of melody that’s working in the prose, that isn’t monotonous or doesn’t draw the reader’s attention to it.” In order to avoid that it seems literary or forced, you have to constantly make decisions and excisions: “Working becomes a form of erasure as much as a form of addition.”
Colm Tóibín (b. 1955) is an Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic and poet. Among his novels are ‘The Heather Blazing’ (1992), ‘The Story of the Night’ (1996), ‘The Blackwater Lightship’ (1999), ‘The Master’ (2004), ‘Mothers and Sons’ (2006), ‘Brooklyn’ (2009), ‘The Empty Family’ (2010) and ‘Nora Webster’ (2014). He is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the 2004 Lambda Literary Award (for ‘The Master’), the 2006 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (for ‘The Master), 2009 Costa Novel Award (for ‘Brooklyn’) and the 2011 Irish PEN Award for contribution to Irish literature. Tóibín has also been shortlisted for the Booker Prize several times. He works as a professor at the Humanities at Columbia University in the U.S. For more about him see: http://www.colmtoibin.com/
Colm Tóibín was interviewed by Tonny Vorm in connection to the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark in August 2015.