nudge list April 2016: Writing Against the Clock: The Death of an Owl by Paul Torday

Article published on March 25, 2016.

When Paul Torday published his first novel, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, in 2007, he found himself launched on a remarkable late-life career as a bestselling novelist, although he never gave up the day-job as a successful industrialist.

Six novels followed in rapid succession, each receiving modest critical acclaim, as is generally the case with follow-ups to celebrated debuts. This extraordinary pace of output was later explained in 2013 when Torday died of cancer, aged 67. He was, to put it bluntly, writing in a race against the clock; indeed, he had first been diagnosed soon after the publication of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Perhaps, having struck it rich with his first novel, he was in a hurry to demonstrate that he had much more to give, which speaks volumes for his talent, energy and courage.

Paul TordayAt the time of his death he left yet another novel two-thirds of the way finished; indeed he had hoped to finish it, but when it became clear that he could not, he arranged for his son, Piers, an award-winning children’s writer, to finish the novel after his death. The Death of An Owl carries all the hallmarks of Paul Torday’s dynamic story-telling prowess. The protagonist is Andrew Langford, frontrunner in the Conservative Party Leadership contest who is driving home along a dark country lane when a barn owl flies into his windscreen. It’s a simple accident, but there is a catch; barn owls are a protected species, and it is a crime to kill one. If Andrew acknowledges that he has killed the owl, he risks setting off a chain of events that could jeopardise his political career, particularly since he has recently been appointed to a select committee concerned with the Wildlife and Countryside Act. So Andrew is faced with a stark choice: tell a small lie for the sake of his career, or risk the consequences of telling the truth.

The Death of An Owl, the collaborative effort of a supremely talented father and son, brings a wonderful and touching finale to a stellar writing career.

Bert Wright, Editor – The Nudge List

The Death of an Owl by Paul Torday is published by W&N as a £14.99 hbk on 14th April.

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