From the Archive: Niall Williams

Editor’s Choice: An interview with Niall Williams from August 1991

Niall Williams in 1991: “one of the select breed of highly successful Irish writers of whom many sophisticated readers in Ireland have scarcely heard”

Niall Williams in 1991: “one of the select breed of highly successful Irish writers of whom many sophisticated readers in Ireland have scarcely heard”

Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 11:54

Niall Williams’s eighth novel, History of the Rain, is reviewed by George O’Brien in The Irish Times this Saturday. Born in Dublin in 1958, he moved to New York in 1980 then back to Co Clare on April 1st, 1985, with his wife Christine. His first plasy, The Murphy Initiative, was staged by the Abbey Theatre in 1991 and his first novel, Four Letters of Love, followed in 1997. He was first interviewed in The Irish Times on August 10th, 1991, by Harry Browne, under the heading, Polar Attractions


NIALL Williams is one of the select breed of highly successful Irish writers of whom many sophisticated readers in Ireland have scarcely heard.

That’s because the young author’s success to date has been almost exclusively with foreign audiences, to whom he and his Irish-American wife, Christine Breen, have told the story of their years living the simple life in a west Clare cottage . They’ve written three best-selling books, which have been excerpted in Reader’s Digest and translated into three languages.

With his first play, “The Murphy Initiative”, currently in preview at the Abbey under Paul Mercier’s direction, Williams’s name is set to become more familiar on home shores. He owes this coming-out to his recent “discovery” by the theatre’s artistic director, Garry Hynes, in a sequence of events which should encourage aspiring playwrights to keep a close eye on the columns of this newspaper.

“There was an advertisement in The Irish Times for the National Writers Workship, 1990-91 session,” Williams explains. “It was to be held in Galway, to be in playwriting, and Garry Hynes was to be the moderator.” Having for several years been a fan of Ms Hynes’s work at Galway’s Druid Theatre, he was immediately attracted. By way of application he submitted a play he and Christine had been working on; he was accepted.

Eight participants regularly mulled over each other’s work, performed for them by actors, for about two months. “I started writing the play in the last fortnight. The first act of ‘The Murphy Initiative’ was performed on the final afternoon of the workshop in January, to general praise. Garry made me an offer very soon thereafter; the Abbey optioned the play and I then had to write it.” Was all that a bit intimidating? “ I was terrified . I still am terrified.”

But how did this middle-class Dubliner come to be sweating over a typewriter in Clare? This may seem common enough these days, but the route is not so direct as one might guess – and its first leg was the yet more common transatlantic one. Williams met his wife to be when they were both studying for Masters degrees at UCD; in 1980 he joined her in her native New York suburbs.

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