Colm Toibin, novelist: 'I feel like poor old Catherine Sloper in Washington Square - kind maybe, but not wise, mysterious, or handsome'


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The Independent Culture

Where are you now and what can you see?

I am in Budapest, and I can see right into the apartment opposite where a woman is working with books and paper at a window. It is winter here and I like the scarce light and how early in the afternoon darkness falls. I lived here in 1990, and I often walk around looking at the things that have changed and the things that haven't.

What are you currently reading?

All That Is by James Salter, plus two books of poems by Irish poets – Body and Soul by Anthony Cronin and Update by Dennis O'Driscoll.

Choose a favourite author and say why you admire her/him

I like Jane Austen for her irony, the drama in her novels, her succinct wit. But I also like George Eliot for her earnestness and seriousness, the lack of a tight structure in her books, and her deep intelligence.

Describe the room where you usually write

It is full of books, but I never look up when I am writing. It has a window looking on to the backs of buildings in the centre of Dublin. There are about four wall-to-floor shelves of poetry. When I am stuck sometimes, I cross the room and find a poem, any poem, and that gets me started again.

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Daniel Deronda (he is kind, and wise, and mysterious, and very handsome). But on other days I feel more like poor old Catherine Sloper in Washington Square – kind maybe, but not wise, and not mysterious, and not handsome.

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Hero is a strong word. I am not sure what it means. I don't think I have any.

Colm Tóibín's latest novel, 'Nora Webster' (Viking), is shortlisted for the 2014 Costa Novel Award