Introducing the Paul Torday Memorial Prize for the Best Debut Novel over 60

Last month Lynsey Rogers told us about the Next Chapter Award for writers over 40. This month Piers Torday tells about a new award for debut novelists over 60 in memory of his father. Piers’s children’s book, The Lost Magician, is published this month. Piers is a Trustee of the Pleasance Theatre and Artistic Associate at Wilton’s Music Hall.

In the autumn of 2005, my father Paul called me up. I was at work in London, and he was paying a surprise visit to the capital from his home in the northeast. He asked if he could stay the night and take me out to dinner. This made me nervous, not because I didn’t look forward to seeing my father, but he was not a man given to such unplanned and impulsive things as a trip to London. I felt news was coming my way, and at the end of dinner, it did.

At the age of 59, after a lifetime in business, he announced he had written a book. Not only that, but his trip to London was not impulsive, it was a carefully choreographed “beauty parade” where leading publishers lined up to woo him. In the end, he said, ordering champagne, he had sold it to Weidenfeld and Nicolson, for an eye watering amount of money. The book, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, went onto become an award winning, international best seller, translated into dozens of languages, and eventually a movie starring Ewan Macgregor and Emily Blunt. He went on to write a further seven novels, plus short stories and more.

If you have read any of them, it may surprise you to learn that my father did not come from a literary background, and that all my adult life I had never known him express the slightest interest in wanting to write.

But when my father died, five years ago, my brother Nick and I discovered he had in fact nursed literary ambitions from the start. He had won a poetry competition in the Daily Mail in his early twenties, with a poem I read out at his funeral. But family life and responsibilities, as they do for so many, put paid to that as he joined his family engineering business in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, to support his own young family.

When he was writing Salmon Fishing, he had just left what we assumed was either his last main job, or his last job, and was planning retirement. He wrote not just that book, but the three complete novels before it which were either rejected by him or publishers, in total secrecy. No one knew.

Then, about a year after Salmon Fishing came out he was diagnosed with stage 3 kidney cancer. In the last five years of his life he had wonderful festival invitations from all over the world and he was only able to go to a fraction for them – or he couldn’t enjoy them to the full because he was on treatment and in pain. That was his regret: he met a lot of people, having entered this literary life, but he wasn’t always able to build on those connections and forge those relationships because he physically wasn’t up to it.

But there was no doubt, as he entered his sixties, he had tapped into an incredibly rich creative vein, that I believe he would still be mining with great pleasure, had he not been taken from us when he was.

Even if people hadn’t read our father’s books, or just Salmon Fishing, his story of late in life creative fulfilment seemed to be widely known, and was celebrated in all his obituaries. We wanted to honour his literary legacy in a manner befitting its inception.

As someone fortunate enough to have not just benefited from a literary prize early on in my career, but also having served as judge on both the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Costa Book Awards, I had seen first-hand how such awards can confer vital attention and recognition on titles and authors. But there seemed to be a gap in the prize market. There was nothing to specifically reward those turning, like our father, to writing much later in life.

We wondered how many other undiscovered ‘Paul Tordays’ there might be out there. Had he not fallen ill so soon after his debut, who knows how long his second writing career might have lasted - impressive though it was. And is it not time, as more of us live longer, to start rewarding and praising such creativity in later life properly? We wanted, at the least, to encourage a conversation about age and life experience, and the opportunities that they offer for self-expression, personal development and fulfilment. So many writers, from Richard Adams to Mary Wellesley have begun their writing careers later in life, and many, such as Diana Athill or Neal Ascherson are flourishing in their eighties and nineties.

My brother and I felt that we needed to not just hear from older voices but to celebrate and encourage them. Not least given that a large percentage of the book-buying public is older, it would be good to have a literature that reflects their experience! This is not about exacerbating divisions between older and younger; this is a chance to begin a broader conversation between older and younger people.

So we encourage everyone from sixty and up to get writing! We’re going to announce some wonderful judges of similar vintage in due course, but for the meantime, here are the conditions and details of entry below.

https://www.societyofauthors.org/Prizes/Authors-Awards/Fiction/The-Paul-Torday-Prize

Piers Torday
September 2018

The Society of Authors is administering the award and entries are now open.
The deadline for entry is 15TH NOVEMBER 2018.
CONDITIONS OF ENTRY

1. The novel must have been first published in the UK and Republic of Ireland between 1 September 2016 and 31 August 2018 for the first award, and thereafter between 1 September and 31 August in the year preceding that year’s award.
2. The novel must be a full-length work by a living author.
3. The book must be in the English language and cannot be a translated work.
4. The novel must be the author’s first published full length fiction work but they can have had works published of other lengths or other genres in the past.
5. The author(s) must be aged 60 or over at the date of first print publication of the novel and living at the date of submission. In the event that the author is shortlisted, they will be asked to provide proof of age.
6. There are no residence or nationality restrictions.
7. We cannot accept books that are only available in e-format or that are only self-published or where the author has contributed or paid for the costs of publishing.
8. Submissions must be made by the print publisher.
9. The decision of the judges is final and they reserve the right not to award the Prize if, in their opinion, no works entered reach a sufficiently high standard. Judges may call in books if they so wish.

The prize will be awarded at the Society of Authors’ annual Authors’ Awards ceremony in July 2019. For any queries, please email prizes@societyofauthors.org.