« Desert Island Discs

Colm Toibin

2016-01-03 | 🔗
Kirsty Young's castaway is the writer Colm Toibin. Best-known for his novels "Brooklyn" - now made into a film - "Nora Webster" and "The Master," he has been nominated for the Booker Prize three times. Born in 1955 in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, the second youngest of five children, Colm's life changed suddenly when his father died after a long illness when he was twelve. He says he has been dealing with the trauma which resulted in his writing ever since. After attending St Peter's College in Wexford and University College Dublin, he spent three years in Barcelona teaching English before returning to Ireland. He worked as a journalist until his books began to get published. He once told a class he was teaching that "you have to be a terrible monster to write. I said, 'Someone might have told you something they shouldn't have told you, and you have to be prepared to use it because it will make a great story. You have to use it even though the person is identifiable. If you can't do it then writing isn't for you. You've no right to be here. If there is any way I can help you get into law school then I will. Your morality will be more useful in a courtroom.'" Producer: Christine Pawlowsky.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hello on kirsty young. Thank you for downloading this podcast of desert island discs from BBC radio for for rights reasons, the music choices are shorter than in the radio broadcasts for more information about the programme. Please visit bbc dotcom, dont uk slash radio for my castaway this week is the reiser com to being his novels, plays, in short stories, give voice to highly regarded works, dealing with identity loss, notions of famine. and the meaning of whom, these days, his own home, is often dublin on occasion, new york now in barcelona and at times a little place near an escort the time inside he style and where he grew up and where aged just twelve, he would begin
right as a release from speech one in five children. His father was a teacher, the glucose school, his mother, a published poet, the little fish part of their family, whom boasted to bookcases crammed with history volumes. Yes, interest in the past, didn't preclude engagement in the future. His grandfather became a political prisoner in the fight against british and his father was a member of the republican vienna foil party. It was shocked at his father, sudden death and the untreated and untouched grief that gave rise to that would many decades later fuel,
novel. That was fourteen years in the writing. He says, with rising. Thinking is often the enemy of rhythm. You start something because an image, a character a moment, a scene moves almost of its own accord into rhythm. It seems to want to become a sentence so calm at welcome. You have these homes dotted all over the place and waited wendy right best. I can write any for as long as there's a blank wall in front of me no great view and prevent comfortable chair, but I've been working. Alas, recently in wexford in the house, you mentioned in the place where we went every summer in the uniform father died as funny. Yet when I'm going down to the strand, the smile is, the same. Smile am harvested, feels clover ear, but even animals, because we were from the town such going.
It back into the past, which means I'm getting images, and even if not the rising directly about it, it's it's quite emotional, even being their productive rating. Is such a discipline. You you're, not somebody he'll, take along lunch. I think the big thing is ever do let's. You know you need a lot of sense,
hence in time on your own things happen of their own accord, but only if you give them, I suppose peace. If he and I make music can be helpful, but not by your working. Is it true that you once told a creative writing class that you have to be a monster to right yeah? I meant that you stop worrying about your grandmother's feelings, your mother's feelings, your girlfriend's visas are your own feelings. Your job is to get the thing down and if you have to use something that belongs to you or to somebody else right down, but don't be saying, oh I opened my auntie Mary finally dies. Ah the of direct, most wonderful story right now and tell your anti marry you just sorry, but you ve told a story that is really quite private and belongs to her, but now it's gonna be published as coming out next week. Have you had to do that was picking your own m? Yes, certainly with my mother she's very funny about her with an early story with a lot of children in the house, I should get all the knives and forks and put him in the middle of the table
Take what you needed, I put that into a story is an image of a mother who wasn't very tight in good with housekeeping, and you said why wasn't that awful? We put an end to the story. If I'd known that, I would have set the table properly. Every every every day. Tell me about your first piece of music in the generation of our fisheries issues have inherited stuff from their grandparents or their parents and have made it their own, and prime among these is the fiddler martin haze. His father would play the fiddle I'm going to pay the bill with any sort of beauty and a sort of magic, two eyes fiddle play, I'm just listen to this yeah, yeah
yeah yeah martin he's playing the locks march so calm to being. In me, ireland became the first country in the world. legalise same sex marriage through the popular vote. Shortly before that referendum, you had given a talk entitled the embrace of love in the event, sixty two percent of the people who voted voted in favour. But where were you when you had the result,
I was actually in here. Why and I was following it all day and of so proud of ireland. In a way that day, it was almost a very conservative campaign because the argument we were making was: what would you do with your son, your daughter, if they try to look on gay and it turns out at night you stay awake all night worrying. Is there anything I can say to them in the morning to make sure that it'll be ok and stay there, be embraced by the society rather, rejected I went on the radio- and I said you know, I represent ireland in various ways, but I dont have rights. You have come, I dont have those rights and why won't you give them to meet like what harm would do to you? If I have this right with you, it wasn't a rejection of anything. It was an embrace of things. We didn't emerge as an angry group demanding rights, we came as somebody's grandson, some his brother.
And so these lover you ve, won a huge fist of awards and famously three times nominated for the booker, but never won t give a stuff that you ve, never one. I am I mean it's a terribly funny navy, don't win, because you really think you're going to win. Then, when you don't, when they turn of all the lights on you, people to start applying what to say to you cause you're sort of the loser and no one really likes a loser, and there I didn't mind the last time so much. It was the second time with the master. I was a bit superman out for the few days, a bit surprised, and then I have a psychiatrist who said to me, you really bounce back all the time and you just bounce back. I clubs loving, to say to me because it's true, but was also enabling it also made me feel free to bounce. Back few days later, I was back working again, let forgotten all about it. So vile other people talk about losing a year or for you too, deep depression, Nada, hope, amethyst, didn't happen. It's fine! It's fun party fight,
and when I got a big head or something you know actually I would have enjoyed reading. I would have been able to handle perfectly someone. Music men come to be met so lets you. Your second was this. This is a really beautiful song, some by Mary, you gonna who again would have an harsher tradition and danny gore and is one of the great old irish love songs in the irish language. Still da. We please.
it shall army is the lawful dash d, Although bite you donald. the young donald somewhere by my raid and shown any gone off with donor loony on guitar, you written the novel of course, Brooklyn very well known and clean. It's been made into movie it's about life, as it was lived in
and in the early fifties. From the point of view the young woman on the brink of adulthood and and I'm wondering how you were born in the mid. Fifty fifty five I was I for you as a little boy. Well, my mother had two younger sisters who didn't marry entered a bit later and my two years siblings, but you, girls and my father- had a sister who didn't marry and celebrate the house filled with women and they could talk clothes for about an hour, even though it was simple, happy some winter coated, some nearly boughten didn't buy or do not, but where workers the problem they had with you. I remembered everything that nothing they said escaped
even a year later I mean I'm talking thirty years. I would know that wasn't that it was bad and where I know I was there, I was listening. So ito should always put children out of the room when your talk we got there become novelists later on and so that story of brooklyn they talked about a girl who had gone to brooklyn and come home and on the boat she taken off a wedding ring. Could he just didn't want to tell her she's married because would break your heart because it would mean that she would be going back forever and that state in my head for all years I was able to use it eventually and saw how did school feel for you, the christian brother school in an escort the June joint. No, I was no good in screw and am at anything now.
America do m mental arithmetic if they said multiplied, couldn't do now it in a four hundred and two by by seventy seven. I get quick with that, but nothing else. It is hard because my younger brother, especially was very clever for years younger and he could read before me. I think they did. They just hold ups, no good amber puzzled because it couldn't think what would you do with it? It's better family, like mine, you quoted do with a child, is no good like what what work would you be able to do in the future? My mother did one days pointed a shocked me and said it was immense, closed shop and sexual. Maybe you could work in there, but then I developed stammer and you couldn't really work in a shop if it is,
Emma so all the future is very plucked. If it. What if I ever thought about which I tried not to do really was very bleak Andy say, especially in a family like mine, your father was a schoolteacher nigeria, man with a degree and- and I mentioned, and the introduction of do. I think your mother had left school at fourteen. She was published poet. Yet did you better put yes and you did and cared about books and they really cared about studying getting on and getting a job and all those things really mattered in the house times you said piece of music come then, of course you become a teenager, and I mean we all of us have been through this, for you bring a record home, you get. You have your own pocket money. I one day suddenly was there in the town blue by John Mitchell. I bought it, brought it home and of course they couldn't believe that generation. This Johnny Mitchell get that woman of this woman could even saying- and I loved those melancholy, songs and blue all about lost love him. I didn't only about love and many, but anything
but last, who have seemed more real, somehow anything else, they knew it's the last time I saw Richard the last time I saw region was destroyed and sixty eight need to meet this thing. Sending cynical and boring someone in the sun can you laugh? He said you knew Yes, Gas is buried, murphy? Judy so the last time I saw richard you said, come to mean that you developed stammer. When you read what why did you develop a stem? Why am I didn't know at the time I nobody knew, but afterwards I realise, of course, at village at exactly when my father got sick,
for the first time and they had to go to dublin creative in operation and in that, in that time, when they had gone, I started not be to be able to say I will not worth anything with a hard continent, the worse one, on forty with my own name, because it has to hard confidence trick. I mean it was an eye because I couldn't do anything about it. It it made. Writing you know as such a relief your mother sent you and your brother to stay with an ounce coming with the best of intentions, one imagines just to protect. You may be from what was going on with your father's illness, but it was no one has to look after you know right. He wanted her in dublin and therefore myself, my younger brother simply had to be left out of somebody, and we arrived. You know in this house that wasn't our house, but it wasn't that as much as we just didn't know what was going on. I think,
the affected, both in his very deeply I find, with the novels that analysis going on grace and suddenly and have the character being abandoned by somebody find it. Oh, no, not gonna, hear it come. You know every time there's someone abandoned and it comes up, no matter what I do in short stories. It The interest me because of the emotion remains raw with me: dna in you, I suppose to come from experience and that no matter what train right, it won't work unless she gave him To this end was correct in saying in the introduction, as I had read that you started writing almost every day from the age of twelve yeah that my father died
I'd in airport. I was twelve and I would have written a poem a day or two. There was no one to share that with me. You couldn't go to school with your new porn at that time, but I did has I found a magazine and they seem to print poetry by teenagers and I sent them to the magazine and they printed a holler them under my uncle found the magazine with my name. My name is slightly unusual in ireland, so he brought him up at the house of the all set to do right with a pic long part about the arrival of spring complicated stuff feelings and on about thirteen or fourteen at this point that yeah yeah I did. I hope that you and what did your mother say every bit puzzled and fired, but also puzzle. You know, because suddenly the guy who couldn't do anything and school could do this as have somewhere music. Tell me about this, we're on you and what you know there are very few records at home at the beginning.
And then my mother started to apply records and there was a john sutherland command performance, and this is, I dreamt, I dwelt in marble halls which I've used when it's in the name of the heather blazing and of a son of my mother's funeral, says a sort of important sound for me and I'm a sucker for John sutherland still. I hope I am not alone in that
Michael, william boats. I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls from the bohemian girl performed by june sutherland there with the london symphony orchestra conducted by richard bombing so contravene you went to the university of them Then, after school you launched with one of your sisters, who was already at the university. Did it feel something of a relief after house that had been devastated by the death of your father yeah? I was m, intellectually, absolutely brilliant them with place to go? I just settle down and studied, and I made a lot of friends are still have I done how we manage to drink some. just so little money and there wasn't a day. I wasn't happy something worked for me for change. We even when did you find your confidence, because you you were exercising it intellectual muscle and solve its summer camp am I went to adapt as a boarding school for the last two years. It was a catholic boarding school. Some of it came from that where there is one teacher in particular, who just noticed that I could write and said to me, you can write, and so I did come up.
of school for the last two years, with an idea of myself that somehow or other I had a gift and the thing to do with our member, the latin teachers- enemy, don't abused this and even when he met me fears data that are you writing every day. If you dont use this it'll, be such a mistake. You you have something that Most people don't have, and so I arrived in dublin without any difficulty in and managed- and am I know one you about my stage I gave up stammering to whom did you first see I will be a writer or I want to be your eyes. Oh they see, the problem would have been competitive within code. There were a number of people who are better writers and me we were all right in poetry, but twenty say I thought you know, I'm not sure cassini, I'm not pull Muldoon yeah, I'm not even bowl, and an ardent produce was in the generation before man for some great ports that you really were aware by twenty, that it is
yours and so why it is that why you went to barcelona? Did you need to find a bit of space to do it? You away, haven't barcelona rim, someone said you could get work there. I just thought wow. Imagine you can just go. I had a very good time. There was tip. I was too busy to write anything said letters home. I always said it was those drugs, sex and rock and roll, but my interest in drugs and no instant rock and roll. The random was really an amazing time to be alive. Franco digested when I arrived place. Exploded is amazing, but democracy can do for nightlife. Were you eat? You consider great thing which is he said You ve, never known happiness to help approves style, I've, never known glee or ease in the world to be the thing that makes the difference. Is that why you were writing, then? Will you sort of too happy to write you? I was trying to find myself a lotta waste, but I do think something was within me that I hadn't dealt with. I hadn't dealt with my father.
I haven't done with all that loss so hours, almost one of them, walking wounded without knowing so a few people recognised it hit me said something in you that you're not ever talking about. Isn't there, let's have some music contravene. What are we gonna hear? Well, what
a programme always has with money- and there are no good with money- and I read you run out of money as a student, quite a lot and my friend katrina crow got a job before I did, and I remember going down and borrowing the money for the rent one week from her and on the way up, I went into record shop and I saw this: cutting farrier LP had to go back to katrina, sick and have more money cause. I need to pay the rent stable, as I bought a record on this record in included the song blow. The wind southerly cutting for you see
We see in the offing, Two, more, That was carefully inferior and blew the wind suddenly went to that. Take you to come to be new, looks far away their rear
yeah. I mean I was thinking about all that music, that the way in which you can really find and images in music ways in two prose sack holding a tune. As your writing hold, a sort of tom are sound and the music becomes part of the purity of you approves is often commented upon. When did you begin to start writing proves. Am I found when I came back for spain The idea of a novel came to me and at once it came to me. I started to work something or other in me, almost like a singer wants to sing, wanted to perform a wanted. What I was doing to be read, it took a long time to finish the book to learn how to find a publisher for it, but I believe
in very ambitious about his persevered. I had a very busy job. I was editor of the main art current affairs magazine. At that time. We were involved in a battle in ireland about trying to change attitudes, change minds about many matters, including say the violence in northern ireland, but also including the conservative nature of the society about sexuality and about even women's rights, but go home at the weekend. With my novel about painting and exiles. maintain our private life life of my own? How had your family, given that they were an irish catholic family and given that you'd been an altar boy in on you know all that? How did they react to your homosexuality? Oh you. We didn't talk about it. It was simply something that eventually became known and was not spoken about very much. My mother ass, my sister, an interesting question when point is happy which is very sweet, but you didn't ask me that, and we
talk about your mother died in two thousand and two, and it would be just two years later that you one, I think it's right since the world's most valuable, the three prize. It's the impact, dublin literary award, one hundred thousand euros, I think, is the price there. It was for the master, often when people reach those points where they are very widely recognised with a big big prize. The thing that they might miss is that their parents are not there.
see it was that important to you. She was there for the first time I was nominated for the booker prior, and she sent me a nose and is listed. Everyone in the town had stopped her to talk about it and it was a list going down attracted tar town. So you know she was alive for the publication of the hot, the first three or four novels. She took it interesting way of handling it. In that she would write me quite serious. Letters about the literary style should become interested in fiction herself ass. She grew older jews. Reading sold bello as she taught my nerves were too slow and shouldn't really want to say that to me, but you would say, is the sole belarus. How smart is meeting is reached Your novels could become of its march. I did not hear, but am I am ass, though she was proud and she made that clear, some or music then tell me that this we're on you in your six am, I think everyone went through a leonard Cohen phase and I went through their code
phase via an ice ban called Johnston's adds another example of how a teenager loves lost love before you, ve had love before you ve, been in love the notion of the melancholy nature of it all over somehow appeals to much more. So this is hey, that's no way to say goodbye to their currency. I see the city and at night
the johnson's and hey, that's no way to say good bye. You mentioned earlier contravene that close friends of yours would say you know you're not opening up about something there something there and you don't seem to want to talk about a part of you that was locked. When did it become unlocked? I was working as a journalist us as an editor, and we began to cover this very difficult story. He using a journalist who is older than me, the journalist, your levine. I've got your house quite a lot to work within the evening, just trying to get the story right and her husband, Iver brown is a psychiatrist. Ivory start to look at me and eventually, when evening said to me that something wrong. Is there something wrong immediately? Outran said otto: how do we put chased music or
This is your tell joke? Is it not look what you're doing you're, avoiding it? He just kept saying to me: you have to deal with it. I'm telling you I know by your body, language and everything you're doing, and so they europe me into a workshop and you I didn't what was going to be. Some people were actually experienced their birth. Some people were really victims of abuse and they were getting all of that. I just became this twelve year old. father, just that, and it came very quickly and wouldn't go away at anita was hard afterwards that it wasn't as though you woke up the next morning. I much happier are easier person, but the very recognition over at least, stopped me saying I was ok when I sort of wasn't so it was
the literal regression therapy regression therapy. The theory would be the what we do when something like that happens, especially the child. Is you block it? So what you have to do is you have to have the expense? Let it happen to you, which is very, very hard thing to do. I hear that the big worry was, if you do all this will ruin your novel. Will it actually destroy your need to rise, but what it does is the opposite. It almost it opens things up, so you have a clearer version of things. You're working on it doesn't effect of see your style as a writer, but I think it gives you
on the extra rather than taking something away you contact the novels got better the thursday, but I certainly I couldn't have gone on in my life. Without doing I dont know what would have happened and this novel that took fourteen years teresa mentioned in the introduction, nor webster is that why it to fourteen years, because it was those years of working out the truth of what had to be written yes and being and be accurate about the small things, but what it was like in the small house in a small town in these years after my father died as we slowly stop mentioning his name as we are:
pretended? We were fine? What that's bad luck that, although my father was filling our minds, we stop mentioning his name and what that does time, for some more music contravene. Tell me about this. I'm from an escort account erects within ten miles away, Wexford town, and we have one of the great international opera festivals, and when I was in boarding school, you could go to redress rehearsal of an opera and work Then I went to first was the pearl fishers here. Mice are sixteen with my leonard cohen, my joanie mitchell, and all that I'm suddenly, this music took me over. I remember coming that night in my school uniform getting chip sooner going back up to the school with something you had happened in me. In a way, if you ever want to win your teenage gets off ever dreadful music. There listen,
just try them on this direct from the profits.
the duet from being the pearl fishers, John Mccormick and medusa morocco, with the victor orchestra that was recorded in length ten! You written com to been that to your appalled by the idea like this of a philosophy of life. Somebody must have asked you what your philosophy of life was. What do you mean you're, appalled by it out? I think we don't know, and am you know this fact that all these philosophers. We could name them all. We still have no clue where we go. We die when we ve no proof of any thing. God we don't know about god. I mean really so even much better off, in my view, not to worry about that at all. But if you're a novelist readjusting tell a story get on with the business of what did he do next? What did she say?
then, who did she see coming in the door? But if you think oh, I must do at the large question of our being of existence in my novel. Well, that will kill a novel, really kill one you're, always working with small images, small details where the bottle was on the table for second, she slipped water or almost did seem almost as though you're making drawings are story boards. All the time should see things. Are you able to turn it off? the times when you're not story boarding in your hand, no, because the idea or a new way of seeing something can come to you in a second when you least expected, in other words you're having lunch with some of the present you ve just gone vacant. Do you know that I you know I was just thinking about something and I dont need to write it down and always remain
What about I've heard other writers say- and indeed you say this- that actually in the process of writing is not in any sense enjoyable. I know you know you you're trying to get his dagger pleadings up out of yourself and that this is sometimes very difficult material. I wonder what writing comedy is like, but doing what I do. The novels are melancholy and their personal, and so I'm trying to get it right. I'm not trying to amuse me Self, the swimming example is fun. Writing is not my eyes. I that's what I wanted us. Where is your fun? Oh, am my boyfriend lives in los angeles, and we go on a sunday to redondo beach and he's a really good and he's a body. Sovereignty can really do it, I'm just waiting around, but I just love the waves in the water and the sunshine That's pure pure pleasure. You know I mean I do actually take pleasure from an enormous number of things with being
the coroner writing the sentence is not one of those things but its necessary. If I didn't do it, it's an anchor in a way all the pleasure would mean nothing if this pain. If this working out the pain wasn't there- and I wasn't- fighting I wasn't doing it on the island on your own home. You be with your own company. Theoretically, I would have no trouble, and I would really worry, was going to read this video and then, if you don't. Right for yourself, but I mean I would enjoy the solitude and I would like the waves and the water, but the notion of not having a readership. Not this book, never coming out with DR me. Not eventually tell me about your final piece of music and would weaken friend. We were making the film brooklyn. There are two things I wanted. I wanted nick Hornby derived screenplay which he did and then
I wanted there's a moment in the book where all the old irish, all the men who built the tunnels and the bridges have noted on christmas day in brooklyn and come to the package has on their fat, turkey and a sort of broken down figures. But of course one the great singer, and he sings this song costs onto goin, and I wanted in particular, ere long and eventually he agreed and he sings the song on christmas day, sarka nineteen fifty two and all the men suddenly light up the car, so cool. believe so hooligans draw air lou, Ibn Chris ugly issue of young, law share in morocco? Is she
You know goose law, Tom sent a gull spa metion, soon oh she's law leonard seen cassandra going so I'm going to give you know at the bible, the complete works of shakespeare and you can take an additional book along with you can't win. What's it going to be to portray the lady by Henry James, I noticed something new in it all the time. I got him for that. from that book. It's yours, then, and I'm guessing fruit from when I asked you a moment ago how you would get on on this island. You started talking about rising sun thinking. I know what you're luxuries gonna be. What would he like what I'd like a pair of scissors. Oh, I thought you were gonna, say a pan and a piece of paper. No because you see or would it not have that? No, oh, oh, no sort of take back my predecessors! Oh oh hello! I need a pan. I want a pen, the won't run out of increasing, and I want some paper find that if you had to
They have one of these eight discs, which one would it be. It would be down alone, as because of the idea that over centuries people had been singing ass that had been saved up and handed down, and I would love that idea. Its use that come to being. Thank you Much for letting us here. Your desert island discs trade must thank you. you ve been there
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Transcript generated on 2022-06-18.