One Minute With: Colm Tóibín, novelist, essayist and literary critic

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The Independent Culture

Where are you now and what can you see?

I am in Wexford in the south-east of Ireland. I can see the grass in front of the house being blown around in the wind, and then the sea which is calm today. The sun comes and goes; in the distance there is a ship going from Rosslare to Fishguard.

What are you currently reading?

I am working on a few pieces so I am reading for work - the letters between Thomas and Heinrich Mann; and 'The Ambassadors' by Henry James; and the collected poems of Elizabeth Bishop.

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

I am not sure about favourite - but maybe Hemingway (for his style), Henry James (for his style), George Herbert (for his style), George Eliot (for her wisdom), Jane Austen (for her perfection).

Describe the room where you usually write

If I'm alone here, I work in the main room which is big and high and modern and overlooks the sea and is painted white. There is a sofa and two tables and fireplace. But I can work anywhere.

What distracts you from writing?

Teaching. But teaching also feeds into writing. Not much else. Maybe travelling.

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Daniel Deronda.

What are your readers like when you meet them?

Oh dear, I can't make generalisations. They seem very polite. It is always hard to know what people are thinking. That is why we have novels, so we can guess, or imagine.

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Kathleen Ferrier. I like her singing voice, her immense seriousness, how she used her talent. Maybe I like her in Mahler best, but also Brahms. In another life, I would like to be a contralto.

Colm Tóibín's 'The Empty Family: Stories' is published by Penguin