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.
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Michelle Watt's father says TV presenter killed herself because she was in constant pain
- 2 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 3 'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
- 4 North Korean defector flees to Finland 'with evidence of chemical testing on humans'
- 5 Greek debt crisis: The photograph that conveys the despair of Greece's elderly
Bad luck, One Direction: Paul McCartney doubts success of The Beatles will ever be matched again
This is surely the best way to watch Jaws
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
The last decade has produced just four UK festival headline acts
What if Nicolas Cage played every character in Game of Thrones?
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture