Paul Wright interview: Fantasy world is Paul's reality

PAUL WRIGHT was painting his house on a sunny August day when the idea for a comic fantasy novel came to him. He threw down his brushes and dashed inside to scribble notes. Over the next few days, the quirky characters and plot involving a sinister hairdresser and a murder mystery weekend came to him.

Six years later, the Evening News sub-editor's first novel has finally hit the shelves after a publisher laughed out loud at the manuscript. And now Cacknacker's Fury has been nominated for the prestigious Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, the UK's only award for comic fiction.

Paul, from Davidson's Mains, says it was a dream come true after writing for 20 years. He had struggled to keep faith in his work after receiving numerous rejection letters. Now a previously written novel, The Big Store, has also been accepted and is due to be published next year.

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"I think I always had confidence that what I was writing was worthy of print," he says. "But my book didn't really fit into any category, so it can be difficult to find a publisher."

His novel is certainly original. It begins with his hero, Sol – an endearing, intelligent but socially awkward misfit – becoming entangled in increasingly bizarre adventures. He discovers that his hairdresser, Parlando, has odd machinery in his basement, which he seems to use for disposing of the bodies of his clients in gruesome ways.

He has barely escaped from the hairdresser when he finds himself in the chair of a new dentist – who happens to be blind. After a series of coincidences, Sol ends up at a country house where a murder mystery weekend is taking place. As he gets to know the other guests, the game suddenly takes a sinister turn.

Paul says: "I've always been interested in the area where the normal drops into the surreal. It's nice to invent your own world and live in it. The characters end up taking on a life of their own, and you can't force them to do anything.

"Sol isn't based on anyone but I can recognise aspects of him in me. He's quite an isolated character but he learns to come out of himself and basically connect with the world. He's in touch with his intellect, and has got that sort of mind where he can solve crosswords easily.

"It's a sort of fantasy, and it's meant to be light and entertaining. It's deliberately set in no particular place, although there are similarities with the countryside in Hampshire. There are some stereotypically country folk you don't find in Scotland."

Paul says the main idea flashed into his head while he was painting in 2003. He imagined many of the scenes separately, before piecing them together into a novel. He wrote numerous drafts, before eventually sending it to a publisher. The name of the eponymous Cacknacker, a tyrannical headmaster, is based on a little-known word for a South Sea islander.

He says: "Things often strike me as bizarre in everyday life. Then it all goes into the cooking pot and gets mashed around and comes out.

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"One scene I saw in my head was three people in a kitchen cooking eels. I wrote it down with dialogue, then I thought 'how would this situation come about?'

"I'm quite observant – I pick up on mannerisms and parts of conversations. My advice is to cherish your ideas and write them down. Sometimes you can look back on them a few years later, and see they're worth something.

"I let close friends read it first, and I always listen to what they say. The publisher was very good at suggesting changes but, at the end of the day, it's your creative product."

Paul admits he was only "average" at English at school. He spent his childhood travelling between places as different as Hampshire and Malaya, as his father was in the Army. He moved to Scotland in 1973 to study sciences at Stirling University.

He moved to Edinburgh in 1977, which he now considers his home. He met his wife Beverley, a jazz singer, here and they now have a 15-year-old son. "I consider myself a Scot by adoption," he says.

He now works part-time as a sub, devoting the rest of his time to writing. He says: "Full-time writer is a lonely job. I like working two or three days a week – it keeps me in touch with the real world."

He is now concentrating on revising his next book, as well as writing new material. "I was a bit surprised to be nominated for the award. I think the competition is quite stiff," he says. "I've got the ambition to write at least one book that will outlive me."

Cacknacker's Fury by Paul Wright is published by Black Ace Books, priced 16.95.