Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Talking with William Trevor: 'It All Comes Naturally Now'

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Talking with William Trevor: 'It All Comes Naturally Now'

Article excerpt

Fourteen novels, eleven collections of short stories, several novellas, plays and books of memoirs, together with numerous prizes and awards, speak for a life devoted to the craft of fiction. But Mr Trevor is a professional writer who likes to keep a low profile and would rather listen and write than talk about his work. Although extremely gentle and patient in his role of interviewee, he confesses that his craft is instinctive and that he is unable to discuss or analyse whatever meanings, intentions or implications critics and readers may find in his fiction. In a note, he informed me that he did not like and avoided giving interviews but that he was willing to converse with me. What follows is an edited transcription of two telephone conversations with Mr Trevor, held in November and December 2005.

Thanks for your kindness, Mr Trevor, in accepting my request. As I told you in my letter, my interest lies in ethical questions, personal relationships and the human condition as it appears in your work.

I'm also interested in what you are interested in.

Because, well, some critical studies of your fiction tend to take your novels and many short stories, especially the ones set in Ireland, as allegories of Irish history, of Anglo-Irish relationships or of the legacy of colonialism. (1) And this in spite of the fact that you have said that you are not a metaphorical writer (Aronson 1999: 42) and that your intention is not that of writing allegorically.

I think that really I'm a storyteller. The point is that the way a story or novel strikes critics and readers in general after I've written is really up to them. They may find allegory or anything else that I haven't put in and that wasn't my aim at all. But, if they find anything in what I write which I haven't intended, it doesn't matter. That is what writing is all about. It's all about creating something which is then picked up, as it were, by other people. The most important thing for me is to communicate, with, well, at least one person.

Sometimes your stories have a performative aspect. That is, they make the reader think. And not only that, but, at least in my case, many situations, attitudes or actions in you fiction reflect episodes that I find familiar, that I have lived as well. And, while reading, I feel in some way that I'm going through those experiences again.

Yes. That's very good of you to say that because they should make you think and when they do, they work. When they don't, they don't work so well. I don't do anything more than write about people. If by chance, if on the way, I illuminate human nature in some way, well that's perfect.

There is, as an example, a story I read a while ago, "Mrs Silly" (1992) (2) where there is this boy at school ashamed of his mother. And I remembered being 13 or 14 and not wanting to be seen with my mother, being ashamed of her. So the story made me relive those times and feelings and reflect on them.

It's quite a common thing, I think, in children, the feeling of shame. I write about things because I want to find out more about them. I write almost entirely from a sense of curiosity. I'm a very curious person, and since I want to know the answers, the only way I can do it is to actually write a story, and at the end of the story I know a little bit more about, for instance, the way in which mothers or fathers embarrass children. That boy's attitude in "Mrs Silly" may not matter: it's not something that is deep, it's not the end of the world. But at the time of course it seems the end of the world to him. That is what the excitement of that story is.

Of course, later on you overcome that feeling, but that boy in that story is fully ashamed of his mother and then experiences a sense of guilt acknowledging his feelings for his mother. It's not so easy to pin down the reason why you may feel ashamed of your parents.

Yes, yes. All you've said is kind of grist to the storyteller's mill, really, because guilt is a marvellous subject to write about. …

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