Geneva Literary Aid Society

That was the GLAS Hour with… Colm Tóibín

The GLAS Hour presented viewers with a world exclusive last Wednesday when our guest Colm Tóibín read an extract from his work in progress, The Magician in which he promises to do for the life of Thomas Mann what he did so successfully for Henry James in The Master.

Watch the interview in full here.

It was a fascinating hour with a writer who has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize on three occasions and continues to be one of the most hard-working people in literature. It opened with his heart-felt tribute to the poet Eavan Boland who died suddenly at home in Dublin last Monday.

Colm reminded us also of the role she played in the election of Mary Robinson as Ireland’s first female president helping to “soften her tone” for the electorate. Who says poets can’t influence public life?

His conversation was full of insights into the work of Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats and James Joyce as he re-visited his last book Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know about the lives of their fathers. Recounting his own experience of living in Dublin, he also evoked the peculiar charms of a dingy street like Westland Row and its significance in the life and work of these literary giants.

No subject was off limits as questions poured in from our online audience. He launched straight into Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You when asked if he had stood on a table in the Groucho Club in London and sang the entire Blue Album to celebrate being nominated for the Booker Prize for the first time:

Just before our love got lost, you said
“I am as constant as a northern star, ” and I said
“Constantly in the darkness
Where’s that at?
If you want me, I’ll be in the bar”

Molly (12) asked him when he first knew he wanted to be a writer. He described how he would retreat to his bedroom in Enniscorthy when he was twelve and write bad poetry for the evening instead of doing his home-work. Poetry is the one genre he admits cheerfully to failing at. Molly’s mother let us know she was not very pleased with the answer.

These online sessions are proving not only be very enjoyable to the GLAS community under lockdown here in Geneva, more used to live events, but a way of re-connecting with people whose lives have taken them elsewhere. We had people listening in from Ireland, Uganda, Israel, Turkey, the US, New Zealand and Australia to mention a few.

The events are free but we encourage anyone who can afford it to make a donation to the Edith Wilkins Foundation for Street Children in Darjeeling where the kids are under lockdown. By helping others, you help yourself!

Bank details here:
Edith Wilkins Foundation
IBAN IE48AIBK 93434821439006