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Niall Williams - Longlist author interview

Niall Williams - Longlist author interview

Niall Williams is the latest author in our longlist interviews. We talk to him about life, literature and his longlisted History of the Rain

What has it been like to be longlisted?

It has been as I imagine being struck by lightning. You're crossing the street. Your phone rings. You hear nothing after the word 'Booker.' You're aware of the blazing of the sunshine. You're aware the air is changed and that your hand is shaking. Or is it your whole arm? Is it in fact the ground? It would be a good idea to breathe. But just for now you've forgotten how. When at last you hang up the phone your first thought is: Did that just happen to me? Everything in the street seems the same. Nobody knows yet and you're in the astonishment of it, you try to walk on, feel normal, but there's just a hint of the scent of singe.

What are you working on next?

I am just finishing the screenplay adaptation of my novel Four Letters of Love.

 What are you reading at the moment?

The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

What is your favourite Man Booker-winning novel?

It's very difficult to pick a favourite. There have been many outstanding and inspiring winners. But the one I return to most often is The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.

Your novel features a dead poet's library, a record of his life and mental universe – how important to you are books as physical artefacts?

Enormously. If History of the Rain began in one moment it was the moment I opened the box of books my father had left me in his will. The books were not ones I would have chosen for myself. They were very much his books. History and biography. But in the unpacking of them, in the handling, and later in the quiet going through them, I had an extraordinary sense of him. I began to think of books as holders of spirit, not just the spirit of the writers, but of readers too. And at the same time it seemed to me that the idea of books as physical, sensual objects, as things with feel and smell and even sound, as bodies in a way, was something I wanted to explore. I suppose I was also aware of living at a time when the very idea of being left a box of books is something that may soon seem antique. Growing up, I was a child of libraries. I loved nothing more than being in that company of books and believe that experience was a central one in my wanting to try and become a writer.