Colm Tóibín is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest living novelists. In this landmark documentary for RTÉ One, his childhood in County Wexford, which still continues to fire his creative imagination, as well as his contemporary writing life in Dublin is explored and celebrated.
Known across the world for his novel Brooklyn which was adapted for film and picked up three Academy Awards nominations in 2016, Tóibín himself has been nominated three times for one of the English speaking world’s most famous literary prizes, The Booker Prize. Each nomination was for a work different in style and tone from the others, evidence of Tóibín’s versatility as a writer which encompasses journalism, short stories, travelogues and reviews all combined with his teaching at Colombia University in New York.
The documentary, directed by Brendan J Byrne, and produced by Belfast-based independent production company BelowTheRadarTV meets Colm as he completes his latest novel The Magician based on the life of the German Nobel winner Thomas Mann, most famous for his short novel Death In Venice.
Colm has long been fascinated by Thomas Mann and in a journey to Venice, almost completely empty of tourists because of Covid, he shares both the origins of his new novel and the challenge of writing about a figure as complex, unknowable and influential as Mann.
In Dublin Colm discusses his path to becoming a writer after his time at UCD and time spent abroad in Barcelona at a critical moment for the birth of modern day Spain, experiences that shaped his debut novel The South. He admits the writing of this debut novel was “recovering what was lost when he left Spain” to return home to Ireland. Colm reveals how he writes and, in revisiting early drafts of some of his short stories, considers the importance of feeling in his work; “as a writer you have to feel it, nothing will happen unless you feel it.”
The documentary also captures Colm in his native county Wexford where the beach at Ballyconigar has, since childhood, held an irresistible draw. Walking that beach and distinctive shoreline conjures up memories of summer holidays as a boy, scenes that have made their way into several of his books most memorably The Blackwater Lightship.
This documentary profile of Tóibín, filmed in the late summer and early autumn of 2020 on a trip back to Ireland after a long period in the United States where he increasingly spends a lot of his time, concludes with Colm offering a hint of a future novel inspired by an image that came to him several years ago during the equal marriage referendum.