William Trevor

(born 1928)

'The most astute observer of the human condition currently writing in fiction'

The Observer

Early Life

William Trevor was born on May 24, 1928, in Mitchelstown, County Cork, in what was then the Irish Free State. As a result of his father’s work as a bank manager, which required him to move to various towns across Ireland, Trevor attended 13 schools including St. Columba's College, County Dublin – where he studied art under the notable artist and sculptor Oisin Kelly. His family was Protestant and Trevor has stated that feeling excluded from the new post-1923 Catholic Ireland helped the development of his later writing: "it began the process of being an outsider - which I think all writers have to be". After leaving school Trevor attended Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated with a degree in history in 1950.

Inspired by his early lessons with Kelly, Trevor took up sculpture, winning the Irish section of the Unknown Political Prisoner sculpture competition in 1953. Whilst working in a school in Northern Ireland, Trevor developed a reputation as a skilled sculptor, his work being included in the Irish Exhibition of Living Art and many gallery shows in both the UK and Ireland. In 1954 he emigrated to England, after the school he was working at was declared bankrupt. Trevor has said of move: "by then I had become a wanderer, and one way and another, I just stayed in England ... I hated leaving Ireland. I was very bitter at the time. But, had it not happened, I think I might never have written at all."

In 1958 Trevor published his first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, to little critical success. Two years later, he abandoned sculpting completely, feeling his work had become too abstract, and found a job writing copy for a London advertising agency. "This was absurd," he said. "They would give me four lines or so to write and four or five days to write it in. It was so boring. But they had given me this typewriter to work on, so I just started writing stories. I sometimes think all the people who were missing in my sculpture gushed out into the stories."

An uncannily insightful writer

In 1964, following the release of a number of his short stories he published The Old Boys which won the Hawthornden Prize for Literature. He won the prize again the next year with The Boarding House (1965) and was then able to give up copywriting and dedicate himself full time to fiction. Since then William Trevor books have won a host of awards: Mrs. Eckdorf in O'Neill's Hotel (1970) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, The Children of Dynmouth (1976) and Fools of Fortune (1983) both won the Whitbread Award.

Trevor has always considered himself primarily ‘a short story writer who likes writing novels’ and it is his shorter fiction where he has had the most impact. Angels at the Ritz and Other Stories (1975) was nominated for the Booker Prize and groundbreaking 1981 collection Beyond the Pale won the Giles Cooper Award and established him as the master of the form. He has amazed critics and readers with his uncanny ability to enter the mind of his characters, understanding their motivations and fears. Trevor himself has said of this “You could argue that you have some extraordinary insight, but actually it’s just a very hard-working imagination.”

Since 1965, Trevor has published over 40 novels, short story collections, plays, and collections of nonfiction. In 1977 he was awarded an honorary CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his services to literature and the 2001 Irish Literature Prize. Such is his stature in the literary world that his name tops the list of most likely nominees every year with the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is married to Jane Ryan, whom he met whilst a student at Trinity College.

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