Paul Torday dead: 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen' author's race against time
Writer had kept his cancer diagnosis private
Paul Gallagher is a reporter for the Independent and Independent on Sunday having joined the group in 2012. He has previously worked for the European Voice, Daily Mirror and the Observer and been based in Brussels, Belfast, Tokyo and London.
Thursday 19 December 2013
Critics who always wondered why Paul Torday, whose first novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen became an international hit in 2007, managed to produce a book a year throughout his retirement finally had their answer with news of the author’s death aged 67.
The businessman turned literary heavyweight never publicly disclosed that he was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his debut was published to worldwide acclaim and his race to write what he called the “ultimate story” suddenly became more of a sprint.
His seven novels each explored a different theme ranging from alcoholism, romance, schizophrenia and racism, but Salmon Fishing in the Yemen remained his most famous selling half a million copies. The book gave hope to every aspiring author that they can produce a bestseller late in life. Published when he was 61, it was later turned into a film starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt in 2011 whose premiere Mr Torday was too ill to attend.
Another novel looks to set to transfer to the big screen with Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes acquiring the film rights to The Girl on the Landing. His most recent book, Light Shining in the Forest, a crime thriller about abducted children set in the north-east of England, was published earlier this year and he continued writing until he was no longer capable, leaving an unfinished eighth novel.
Mr Torday was in fact only 16 when he won his first literary award: a national poetry competition sponsored by the Daily Mail and he used the winnings to pay for his first foreign holiday. He continued to write poetry for the Little Word Machine magazine and even produced two novels in his 20s but hid them in a drawer rather than seek publication. His family were unaware of his efforts.
His time spent working in the oil and gas industry in the 1990s inspired his debut novel - he was at a business meeting in Oman when he had the idea of creating a Yemeni sheikh who wanted to introduce salmon fishing to his desert homeland. Six months after sending the manuscript to an agent Mr Torday, a keen fisherman himself, received the call to say the work had been the subject of furious bidding.
Kirsty Dunseath, publishing director at Weidenfeld and Nicolson Fiction, said: “In many ways Paul Torday invented his own genre - his extraordinary fiction was filled with warmth and a wry, humane wit.
“He was a gentle observer of the foibles of human nature and our social behaviour. He wanted to entertain but his novels were also infused with a deep social awareness, exploring issues such as political expediency, alcoholism, mental illness, class and our national heritage.
“He was a very gentle man, thoughtful and considered in everything he did and it was a privilege and a joy to have worked with him.”
Mr Torday died at home in Northumberland on Wednesday and leaves his wife Penelope, ex- wife Jane, sons Piers and Nicholas and stepsons Jonathan and Charles.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Huawei Mate S and Huawei Watch: new products take on iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch
- 2 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 3 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 4 Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
- 5 Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play 007, says James Bond author
This little boy loves books so much that he cries when his mother stops reading to him
Akram Khan: Choreographer says dance is 'as important as maths and being a doctor'
Idris Elba responds to comments he's 'too street' to play James Bond as 007 author apologises for controversial comment
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up