I sat next to Niall Williams at the long table in the upper room of the inn. Howth Bay waited beyond the wall-sized window and the room was quiet, but for sniffling. I’d been late to the “talk.” I’m always late—to almost everything. (Blame it on genetics). But on that day, being late mattered. Because the only seat left was, yes, right next to him.

He looked nothing like my father. He was balding, wore a different sort of spectacles—ones that made him seem studious, careful, but so loving. Or maybe it was his voice: the halting quality that gave the impression he wasn’t quite sure of what he was saying but damn, he wanted it to be true. Like when he said, “writing is about only two things: faith, and it’s brother, doubt.” He didn’t look at me when he said this, he looked forward down the length of the long-stretching table and maybe even beyond it to the horizon, where Howth Bay merged into the Irish Sea and to the boats tracking across it, visible but invisible, journeying. So, I suppose, I fell in love with Niall Williams right then.

At dinner that evening, (courtesy of the program I was traveling with), he looked at me truly, straight-on. Again, I was sitting next to him. I don’t know what I said—perhaps something about doubt, about myself (and doubt), and how inextricably those two words are linked. He said something, I remember, about necessity. The fact that we have no choice in the matter: we must write.


And I remembered, too, what he’d said earlier about the slowness of writing, the importance of each and every word. Don’t rush it, but you can’t staunch the flow.