Colm Tóibín

Irish novelist and writer

Colm Tóibín (Irish pronunciation: [ˈkɔl̪ˠəmˠ t̪ˠoːˈbʲiːnʲ] Kol-um toe-BEEN; born May 30, 1955) is an Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic and poet. He is currently Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University and succeeded Martin Amis as professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester. In 2011, he was named one of Britain's Top 300 Intellectuals by The Observer, despite being Irish.

If a storyteller came up to me, I'd run away.


  • I wanted to be a poet as a child and I have a wall in my study dedicated to poetry books, all in alphabetical order, that reminds me daily of my failure.
  • The only time I've ever learned anything from a review was when John Lanchester wrote a piece in the Guardian about my second novel, The Heather Blazing. He said that, together with the previous novel, it represented a diptych about the aftermath of Irish independence. I simply hadn't known that – and I loved the grandeur of the word "diptych". I went around quite snooty for a few days, thinking: "I wrote a diptych."
  • I was the worst barman who ever lived. My pints of Guinness were unholy.
  • I have a rule that I don't drink in New York because I don't want to wake up with a hangover and not be able to work.
  • When I was a professor at the University of Austin in Texas, it had such a luxurious swimming–pool that one end had a raised ledge in the water specifically so you could drag a deckchair in and lie on it and read. But the problem is that the students are all so young and the thing with Americans is that when they're fit, they are so fit. So you feel like someone's granny pottering about in the slow lane.
  • I went to a friend who's a girl and asked her, 'What's it like to have sex for the first time, if you're Irish – so you're modest, and it's the 1950s – so you've never seen it in a film?' I listened carefully to what she said, and I put it in the book. It was an important element, the detail was richly memorable for the person, it had to be in the book.
  • Aged 15 or 16, I found some of the priests sexually attractive, they had a way about them . . . a sexual allure which is a difficult thing to talk about because it's usually meant to be the opposite way round. Boys like me, aged 15 -- if one of them had . . . yeah, it would have been absolutely no problem for me aged 15. It didn't happen, but it wouldn't have been a problem.
  • The room is like a cave, and has books I love in it. The main door was closed up and a smaller opening was made under the stairs. (I went away while all this was happening.) The furniture is locked in, and part of me is locked in too, or I hope it is, although I often made a bid to escape. I have left instructions that I would like to be buried here when I die or a bit before, the cave bricked up.
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