52 Quotes of Colm Toibin About Writing

” I am violently untidy. My desk is overcrowded. I write my first drafts in longhand in a long notebook using a plastic throwaway fountain pen. Then I work on a word processor using a different desk and a different room. “
” It may be enough to study history in all its nuance and ambiguity for its own sake. But there is no country free of the need to find new ways of reading the past as an inspiring way of thinking about everything else, including the present. “
” I have to write a first draft with a fountain pen before I type it up as a second. “
” I said that when I looked at photographs of the firefighters who went into the Twin Towers, their faces looked to me like Irish faces. I hadn’t yet learnt how careful outsiders have to be when talking about race in America, and I’d put my foot in it. Someone stood up and said aggressively, ‘What do you mean by Irish faces?’ “
” I think the whole business of people emigrating was that no one ever told them, although everyone knew, especially if it was to the United States, that it was forever, and the party before you left was called an ‘American wake,’ in the sense that they knew you wouldn’t come back. “
” The problem is once you’ve written the opening paragraph and worked out how the rest of the story will go in your head, there’s nothing in it for you. I write in longhand using disposable fountain pens on the right-hand side of the notebook for the first draft, then I rewrite some of the sentences and paragraphs on the left-hand side. “
” I went to live in Barcelona in 1975, when I was twenty. Even before I went there, I knew more about the Spanish Civil War than I did about the Irish Civil War. I liked Barcelona, and then I grew to like a place in the Catalan Pyrenees called the Pillars, especially an area between the village of Flavors and the high mountains around it. “
” All writing is a form of manipulation, of course, but you realize that a plain sentence can actually do so much. “
” When I was 19, I thought I wanted to be an English civil servant. It was the most exotic thing at the time – can you imagine, in the middle of the IRA bombing campaigns? I saw an ad inviting Irish applicants for an induction course, so I signed up. “
” The novel space is a pure space. I’m nobody once I go into that room. I’m not gay, I’m not bald, I’m not Irish. I’m not anybody. I’m nobody. I’m the guy telling the story, and the only person that matters is the person reading that story, the target. It’s to get that person to feel what I’m trying to dramatize. “
” In my 20s, as I began to travel in Europe, I found comfort in religious paintings. Even though my own belief in Catholic dogma had been shaken and weakened, I found that the beauty and the richness of the art still held me. “
” The old Victorian laws against homosexuality were still on the statute books until the early 1990s. As a gay man living in Ireland, I and people like me found it easy to feel less than citizens. “
” You create a world away from home and make new rooms for yourself. But when you arrive back home in your old rooms, the world you’ve made for yourself ceases to be real. Everything seems to crumble. Anyone who’s been sent away to boarding school can understand that. “
” The best thing about New York is working late into the night. At 1 in the morning on a Saturday, to be still working, there’s an immense satisfaction in being enclosed by it. “
” Between the ages of 8 and 12 it was difficult to know what my father was saying, and he moved very slowly, and then he died. “
” I still have a stammer that I can control by not opening a sentence with a hard consonant, or by concentrating for a moment, breathing softly down. Growing up, the ‘Our Father’ was lovely, made for me, the ‘Hail Mary’ was gorgeous, and ‘Glory Be to the Father’ was an absolute nightmare. “
” Writer’s block! It doesn’t exist. You just long for ideas to go away so you have an idea of peace. “
” I feel just fine about ignoring or bypassing the rights of people I have known and loved to be rendered faithfully, or to be left in peace, and out of novels. “
” I lived in the Republic of Ireland. I wrote a book about the North but as an outsider. The hatreds there were not mine. I never felt them. I liked how open in most ways Catalan nationalism was, compared to Irish nationalism. I disliked the violence and cruelty in Ireland. “
” Life has a funny way of becoming ordinary as soon as it can. “
” Three of my novels and a good number of my short stories are told from the point of view of men. I was brought up in a house of women. “
” The Roman Catholic Church and its rituals were so much part of life that, although my parents would often question a small matter of dogma and none of us seemed more religious than anyone else, no one ever questioned the rituals or the basic tenets of belief. “
” In Ireland, novels and plays still have a strange force. The writing of fiction and the creation of theatrical images can affect life there more powerfully and stealthily than speeches, or even legislation. Imagined worlds can lodge deeply in the private sphere, dislodging much else, especially when the public sphere is fragile. “
” I wrote every day between the ages of 12 and 20 when I stopped because I went to Barcelona, where life was too exciting to write. “
” John McGovern taught me that it’s OK to write repeatedly about the same things. “
” Look at Austen. In her novels, you get a dance, followed by an encounter, followed by a letter, then a period of solitude. No flashbacks and no backstory. Let’s have no more back story! “
” Between the time I was 16 until I was about 20, the books I read were by people like Thomas Mann, James Baldwin, Thom Gunn, Elizabeth Bishop. All gay, of course, although I swear I didn’t know that at the time. Yet all of them, it turned out, had had a parent who died during their childhood. Sexuality is nothing compared to that. “
” When a book comes from the publisher and you see it for the first timeā€¦ Of course it’s not remotely like seeing a baby for the first time, but I can remember with each book what room I was in when I opened it. That would be excitement, though, I think. Not pride. “
” I suppose one should have an integrated personality, but I’ve never really seen the point. “
” Solitude is good in the evening. Dublin is a quiet city when you get to a certain age, when your friends settle down and have kids. Nothing much happens here. “
” Suffering is too strong a word, but writing is serious work. I pull the stuff up from me – it’s not as if it’s a pleasure. “
” People love talking about writers as storytellers, but I hate being called that: it suggests I got it from my grandmother or something, when my writing really comes out of silence. If a storyteller came up to me, I’d run away. “
” I work very deliberately, with a plan. But sometimes I come to a point that I planned as the end and it needs softening. Ending a novel is almost like putting a child to sleep – it can’t be done abruptly. “
” Writing tends to be very deliberate. A novelist could probably run a military campaign with some success. They could certainly run a country. “
” I never listen to music when I am writing. It would be impossible. I listen to Bach in the mornings, mostly choral music; also some Handel, mostly songs and arias; I like Schubert’s and Beethoven’s chamber music and Sibelius’ symphonies; for opera, I listen to Mozart and in recent years Wagner. “
” My first novel was turned down by about twenty publishers over a period of two and a half years. Because my name is Irish and would not be familiar to English editors, one of them said: ‘If she writes anything else, do let us know.’ Slowly, very slowly, the books began to sell and be noticed. “
” It is important to find a publisher and equally important not to be noticed until your third or fourth book. “
” I think fiction lends itself to messiness rather than the ideal, and plays well with the ironies surrounding what happens versus what should happen. “
” ‘One Minus One’ and ‘Barcelona, 1975’ are more or less autobiographical. “
” I think you can get a sort of intensity and an edginess offering nine stories in a book. Competing versions of things. “
” The sentences I write have their roots in song and poetry, and take their bearings from music and painting, as much as from the need to impart mere information, or mirror anything. I am not a realist writer, even if I seem like one. “
” People’s interest in glamour and clothes and nylon stockings and all those things were, when I was a little boy, the sort of world that I listened to. “
” Describe character using dialogue. Describe character using what the characters see or do or think, but not what they had done or where they had been. “
” I think that was one of the things that happened, especially in Ireland, that you left in order to improve yourself, and you couldn’t write home and tell people, ‘Look, I’m really lonely,’ because you’d realize how much those letters were going to matter, that you needed to put good news or uplifting news into them. “
” I did think of becoming a priest quite late on, when other boys were thinking of knocking over fences and going out with girls. I would have made a very good bishop: nice housekeeper, nice clothes – god, the clothes. “
” Everyone who’s in America spends the first few years not experiencing it. The person is frightened by the newness of the place and doesn’t see things. Her emotional universe becomes the entire universe. And then when she thinks of home, her distance in space can seem like a distance in time. “
” I was first in Sydney in 1993, and have been a few times since then. For someone who didn’t know Australia, it came as a shock how intelligent, interesting and funny the people were. If I lived there I might see it differently, but as a visitor it was a lot of fun. “
” It really matters to writers to find and treasure readers, all the more when they’re on the other side of the world. “
” Anyone who works in the arts knows, if you’re writing a novel or a play or anything, you have to be ready for someone to say, ‘Your time is up.’ “
” The next time I write a play – in order to get audience trust for a particular sort of tragic line, I’ll try to bring the audience a good distance before that. Part of that is allowing comic moments to occur. I had been afraid of that – that once the audience started laughing in the play, they would never stop. “
” I live in words. I like looking at things, but I don’t have a strong visual imagination. “
” I write with a sort of grim determination to deal with things that are hidden and difficult, and this means, I think, that pleasure is out of the question. I would associate this with narcissism anyway, and I would disapprove of it. “