Questions and Answers on the Arts: Novelist Colm Tóibín on Van Morrison, Beethoven and Jack Nicholson


Irish novelist Colm Tóibín appears at the Belfast Book Festival

1. When did you first think about a career in writing and what were your first steps?

I never thought of it as a career, and it’s not really a career. When I was twelve, I started to write poems. I wrote too much too quickly, but it interested me more than my studies. I began to read poetry obsessively, copying poems that I liked. I came to TS Eliot early and liked the sound of the words before I understood a lot. When I was fifteen or sixteen I was reading Seamus Heaney and Sylvia Plath. In college, I put more work into poetry, but at twenty I quit. Then about five or six years later, I thought of a novel. And I started writing novels, not as a career, but one by one.

2. The best concerts you’ve attended?

The Rolling Stones at Slane 1982 – it was pure excitement.

Van Morrison in Belfast in the late 1980s – he made the songs more powerful and dramatic.

Wagner Die Walküre at the Metropolitan Opera in New York 1989 – it lasted six hours and I wanted it to last all night.

3. Fantastic wedding / anniversary group?

The Danish String Quartet. I have seen them play several times and have their CDs. I particularly like their Beethoven playing.

4. The record you would take to a desert island?

by Beethoven Missa solennis. It is very powerful, passionate and solemn, but also uplifting and beautiful.

5. What about the book you would take to a desert island?

In 1974, when I was nineteen, I picked up The portrait of a lady by Henry James and was fascinated by it. It was not a world that I recognized. It was a century earlier, an atmosphere full of richness and style. It is one of the pleasures of reading – you enter fully into a place that is not your own and you inhabit that place as right. I have read this book several times since, and on a desert island, I would like to read it again.

6. The three best films?

Chinese district, with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. A brilliant script, a wonderful musical score and cinematography. It’s a film about money and power; innocence and evil, made more exciting by the idea that Nicholson, despite his knowing tone, is the innocent.

Screams and whispers. This is one of the Bergman movies that I love – the others are Character, Autumn Sonata, The magic flute and Fanny and Alexandre. This film is darker than the others, more relentless in its images of illness and death. I love the use of the color red in the movie, but I also love the pace of the movie, the way the camera lingers and then moves forward.

Hester Street. This film, directed by Joan Micklin Silver, shows Carol Kane as a late 19th century Jewish immigrant in New York City. It’s lavishly shot, allowing the slowness and silence and lingering camera work on Kane’s face to make this film not only a great immigration film, but also how a smart woman handles the world. .

7. The worst movie you’ve seen?

Jaws 2. Surely enough problems have been caused by Jaws.

Colm Tóibín to discuss Queer Love: An Anthology of Irish Fiction at the Belfast Book Festival

8. Favorite authors?

Henry James, George Eliot and Jane Austen.

9. The sport you love the most and the best players?

I play tennis and watch tennis on TV. I like the current stars – Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

10. Ideal vacation destination?

Everywhere in the Mediterranean or in the Adriatic. But also everywhere in Catalonia, especially in the Catalan Pyrenees.

11. Do animals hate it?

The pomp, the bad manners and the passports. I think the world would be a better place if there was no passport and people could go wherever they wanted.

12. Which is your favorite:

Having dinner? Shrimp / lobster.

Dessert? Chocolate mousse.

To drink? Sparkling water.

14. Is there a God?

I do not think so.

10th novel by Colm Tóibín, The magician, will be released in September. He will appear at the Belfast Book Festival with Shannon Yee and Paul McVeigh to read and discuss Queer Love: Anthology of Irish Fiction Saturday June 12 at 8 p.m. Tickets


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