From Saddles to Chuckles
By Chris Osborne
Armed with nine year's work as a local saddle maker, Paul McDonald explains how the Black Country provided the perfect comic inspiration for his series of novels.
Paul captures the ups and downs of living in Walsall through his story's hero Dave "Ichabod" McVane, an alcoholic reporter who seems to have lost his way in life.
"David is someone who lets his environment get on top of him," said Paul. "As a consequence he tries to escape, principally through alcohol. Although his friends thrive and live happy and normal lives."
With Booker Prize winner Clare Morrall
While many novelists are writing about exotic locations, Paul has always believed that the best stories are told in familiar surroundings, and where better than his home town of Walsall?
"The old adage is to write about what you know. It's very good advice. People are all too willing to set their novels in America and end up with stereotypes. The world on your doorstep can be just as interesting."
Paul went straight from school to work as a saddler. It was here he became familiar with the native Walsall humour.
"I left school at 16 without qualifications. Saddle making at the time was the key industry because there was nothing else to do.
Paul found humour in the tanneries
"There was a lot of humour, especially at the company I worked for. I picked up on that. A lot of the humour finds its way into the books. Some characters and events were based on reality."
While Walsall's reputation is not the most glamorous, Paul has seen the town flourish recently thanks to a greater diversity of people choosing the area as their home.
"Walsall has a reputation of being an 'ugly' town. If Walsall had any national profile at all it was of being very weary. I think it had the crown of 'ugliest town in Britain' at one time."
"Now it's a lot more interesting because of its cultural diversity. My memories of Walsall are very grey but it’s so much more colourful now."
Sister Dora in Walsall town centre
Paul's first two novels, Surviving Sting and Kiss Me Softly, Amy Turtle, see David McVane encounter many aspects of Walsall life while living in his Newhall Street flat.
Paul's life is very different however. As a lecturer in English Literature at Wolverhampton University, he strives to raise the profile of the Black Country's literary talent.
Historically Walsall's most famous writer is Jerome K. Jerome. His 1889 book Three Men In A Boat is regarded as a classic comedy.
"Walsall had a high profile literary society in the 19th and 20th century. Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens were said to have visited. Obviously Jerome K. Jerome was born in Walsall, although he left at the age of two."
"John Petty was a very interesting Walsall writer who wrote Five Fags a Day in the 1950s about his life as a scrap picker. He used to deny that he was from Walsall."
Birthplace of Jerome K. Jerome
"But recently there has been something of a renaissance. One of the best examples is Anthony Cartwright's The Afterglow which represents the Dudley dialect brilliantly."
Does Paul miss his days of tanning the leather?
"No. The job I have at the university is incredibly fulfilling. I enjoy working with students and helping them find their own writing voices."
Paul's newest novel 'Do I Love You?' is released in the spring, no doubt filled with what Paul believes is Walsall's greatest treasure: "Irrepressible comic energy."
last updated: 25/01/2008 at 12:31
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