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Watching Colm Toibin - Free Thinking's Books at Breakfast

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Rosalind Porter Rosalind Porter | 15:02 UK Time, Saturday, 3 November 2012

Philip Dodd and Colm Toibin

Philip Dodd (left) and Colm Toibin. Photo: BBC

This live streaming webcast was an absolutely brilliant programme.  It immediately reminded me of the old style culture programmes one would get on TV years ago with the inimitable Huw Weldon’s ‘Monitor’:  One interviewer – in this case Night Waves’ Philip Dodd and one single subject – the Irish writer Colm Toibin. No frills, no fills, simply two people in discussion.  

There’s no doubt that this interview will make a fine radio programme when it is broadcast on BBC Radio on 6th December at 10pm, but the additional bonus of watching on the live stream was observing the mannerisms of Colm Toibin:  After completing the answer to a question or when he obviously felt that an issue had been analysed enough, he’d look quickly down at the floor, an emphatic gesture that signalled that segment was over, so let’s move on.  His passion for words and opinions was mirrored in the intensity of his facial expressions, something which the excellent cameraman quickly focussed on.  In a way it was like watching a musician or actor on stage, yet there could be no doubting his sincerity. 

Often when authors read their own work out loud, it has the unfortunate impression of an adult version of ‘Listen with Mother’ yet with Colm Toibin the impression was more of a dramatic soliloquy or the skilled recitation of a poem.  Toibin’s prose has a constant ebb and flow with such a great empathy for the sounds of words - he personally mentioned his love of words like ‘misfits’ and ‘malcontents’ – a skill best described in my view as an innate musicality. Combined with the passion of his speaking one could sense the live audience and indeed Philip Dodd being almost enchanted by the lyricism and pure power of the prose passages.  I loved the description of Colm Toibin’s local Irish countryside near Wexford and even more the almost beatific look the author had on his face whilst describing and discussing it. 

I found myself envying the students he teaches in New York; there could be no doubt that Mr Toibin is an inspiring teacher; he’s also an inspiring communicator and this was a most evocative hour in his company.  Unmissable.

Rosalind Porter is a Radio 3 Listener Blogger

  • Visit the Free Thinking website and watch the video streams
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