William Trevor was born William Trevor Cox on May 24, 1928, in Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland. His parents, William Cox and Gertie Davis, married in Dublin during a period of civil war. By the time of his birth, the war had abated, and his parents had moved from the city. His father, a bank official, was required by his position to relocate frequently. As a result, Trevor’s early education was sporadic. At one time, he was tutored by a young girl; at another, he was the only Irish Protestant enrolled in a Catholic convent school. The daily life and Catholic customs in small Irish towns that he came to know as a youngster provided many of the images and much of the content of his later work. As a young boy living in Tipperary, he developed a love for films and enjoyed reading detective fiction. Both of these genres influenced his style.
Trevor attended boarding school in Dublin at age twelve. He studied sculpture under Oisin Kelly at St. Columba’s College. Later he attended Trinity College, Dublin, graduating with a B.A. in history. There he met Jane Ryan, whom he would marry in 1951. They moved to County Armagh, Northern Ireland, where both worked as teachers. He continued in sculpture, winning a competition in 1952. He and his wife emigrated to England, where he continued as an artist, holding a one-man show in Bath in 1958 and another in Dublin in 1959. By the end of the decade, his sculpture had become abstract, and he was no longer happy with it. He turned to writing, publishing his first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, under the name William Trevor in 1958.
After the couple’s first child was born, Trevor sought a more lucrative position in advertising while continuing to write short stories. Encouraged by an editor at Bodley, he wrote another novel. When the novel, The Old Boys, won the Hawthornden Prize in 1965, Trevor left his position in advertising and turned to writing full time.