Saturday 24 March 2018

Niall Williams: When I was 21, I wish I’d known...

Author Niall Williams
Author Niall Williams

Author Niall Williams on mistakes, generosity, hair loss and never giving up.

... what it means to sustain a creative life for 30 years. I had no idea.

When you're 18, 19, 20 and you start to write full of passion and intensity, ideas are coming to you and you think you can do something really wonderful but to sustain it every day and keep doing it… that's a thing you can't possibly know when you were 21. How incredibly difficult it is to stay open to people, to humanity, to human difference, to human beauty, ideas, senses, just to be open. Our natural instinct is to close, to stay within habits and things we are comfortable with. That's a significant challenge.

... You will make mistakes, and you will regret them.

You'll face suffering, and doubt, and sometimes despair, but you'll find joy greater than you can imagine now.

... You'll meet remarkable people and you'll be astonished by their generosity of spirit.

You'll be surprised at all stages of your life by the kindness of others. You'll try and keep yourself open and loving.

...That there will be prompts.

When I was 21 David Marcus had just published my first short story in the Irish Press. It was called Love. It gave me a bit of confidence. Lots of wonderful people were published there, and I still recall getting the envelope with the cheque in it and going to get the paper on that day. It was a huge prompt. Occasionally you get these prompts. You're all the time on the verge of giving up, of saying, 'I'm rubbish, I can't do this.' And then you get a prompt. Every time you have to keep trying, you get these little nudges. That's where I am now. If that story hadn't been published I'm not sure where I would have gone. Being longlisted for the The Man Booker Prize has been another prompt.

... That you lose your hair but it's really average hair so I don't worry about losing it.

I was extremely dissatisfied with myself. Some of those things endure. I was shy and awkward, still, I was unable to mix in UCD when I was 21,maybe that's why I ended up doing a masters. I was not the slightest bit comfortable. I was too tall, always stooping. When I went to America and found in Chris's family all the men were physically comfortable with themselves. That was a very freeing thing.

... That I would live in the west.

I didn't like living in Dublin when I was young and I always dreamed I would live in the west. It was where the real Ireland was. But I didn't know how to have a garden and grow vegetables. I was learning things that didn't come naturally to a suburban Dublin boy.

... You'll keep trying to write one good book,.

And it'll be harder than you think right now and many times you'll think you're an idiot, and sometimes you will be. But keep trying. Keep trying. It will be all right in the end. It will be okay. That's the important thing. All of the anxiety - will you find someone? Will you have children? - all you need to say is, relax, it'll be okay.


History Of The Rain by Niall Williams is published by Bloomsbury and is longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014.

Health & Living

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life