A. Colin Wright’s first novel, Sardinian Silver, was a finalist in the 2009 Indie Awards. It received an honorary mention in the fiction category of the San Francisco Book Festival and was one of two runners-up in the fiction category of the New York Book Festival. It has recently won a Pinnacle Books Award for the best fiction.
Shelagh: Please tell us a little about yourself, Colin.
Colin: I was born in Chelmsford, Essex, England. After serving as a linguist in the British Royal Air Force (learning Russian), I attended Cambridge University, where I earned M.A and Ph.D degrees. In 1962 I lived for six months in Sassari, Sardinia, followed the next year by a longer period in Reggio Calabria. I speak five languages reasonably fluently, and can stumble along in two more. In 1964, after a year’s study at the Herzen Pedagogical Institute in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), I was appointed professor of Russian at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. I remained at Queen’s until retirement in 1999 and still reside in Kingston. I am married and have two grown sons.
Shelagh: When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?
Colin: At a relatively early age, I read a book on English history from the local children’s library. I decided to dramatize the kings of England, using paper cut-outs as puppets. The project didn’t get very far, but I still have a few pages of elementary dialogue, such as William II dying by an arrow in the New Forest, with him falling off his horse and saying “Oh blow!”
I was also fascinated by sailing ships and wrote the following at the age of six:
By A.C. Wright
IT IS TROOY BOAT BOOK
Aorgust 28th 1944
The St. Maria was made on janyouvery 8th 1931. Made by W. Higham. The St. Maria was the ferst saling ship that was made by W. Higham.
The St. Maria has got two booms like all ships have. One is a sall boom and the other is an orderry boom that is rearly calld the latean boom.
The St. Maria has got fuor salls rearly five salls becools of the one on the sall boom.
Well, you get the idea.
And then … when I was young I enjoyed Enid Blyton’s “adventure” series (Castle of Adventure, etc.) and I remember wondering what it would be like to write a book: looking at one paragraph and thinking how difficult it would be to produce so many words. I even copied it down to see what it would look like.
Shelagh: When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?
Colin: Encouraged by a teacher at grammar school in England, I just wanted to write, trying short stories — which were so terrible that I haven’t the courage to reread them. Then, when I was teaching at University, I published academic articles on Russian and comparative literature, including a major book on Mikhail Bulgakov. But I still wrote novels, short stories and plays.
In my fiction, the idea of a message only came later, but for me it is essential. I am interested in “what life is all about” — in a serious, religious sense — although combined with a good story.
Shelagh: Briefly tell us about your latest book.
Colin: My first published novel is Sardinian Silver. An English tourist representative in Sardinia seeks a Sard girl-friend, but is frustrated by local attitudes, with “continental” freedoms considered “immoral.” Eventually he finds a girl who’s unaccepted at home, but she falls for his friend, an introspective lawyer. Among others, he meets a tempestuous local maid, a pedantically Catholic schoolteacher and a flamboyant American woman. Included, of course, are many of my own reflections about life.
Shelagh: What’s the hook for the book?
Colin: Whether the young man hero will finally find love.
Shelagh: How do you develop characters? Setting?
Colin: In a sense, both were already given. In Sardinia and elsewhere I met a whole range of characters, whom then I developed in my own (fictitious) way. Sardinia itself was fascinating. My approach is similar in my other works: starting with people and places I find interesting.
Shelagh: Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?
Colin: Other than my three major protagonists, I’d have to say Isabelle, the crazy American who constantly offends local susceptibilities.
Shelagh: Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?
Colin: I wish I did. Plot is where I have most difficulties, although in the case of Sardinian Silver the actual events of my time there helped.
Shelagh: Do you have a specific writing style?
Colin: I aim for precision and accuracy, with no superfluous words, so I spend a great deal of time editing. However, I sometimes enjoy fantasy and experimentation, including “unreliable narrators,” particularly in my stories. I vary my POV according to what seems to work best. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses (which I didn’t much like) taught me that one can do absolutely anything in a novel if one can discover how.
Shelagh: How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
Colin: There was an insistence at my school on good grammar. Then the study at university of great Russian, German and French literature was a strong influence.
Shelagh: Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve even had.
Colin: “It’s a fantastic short read, to tell you the truth, like discovering a lost Graham Greene story… Wright takes his time here with his story, making plot a dim second to the mere establishment of time and place and mood, gently exploring the back alleys and side daytrips of this remarkable island with a kind of grace and ease that only comes with maturity. And in this, astute readers might be reminded as well of the “Alexandria Quartet” by Lawrence Durrell … This novel is without a doubt as good as one of Graham Greene’s minor works, and in fact could easily be mistaken for some forgotten Greene tale.”
Shelagh: What are your current projects?
Colin: To publish my short stories as a collection; then my somewhat fantastic long novel Veronica’s Papers; to get some of my plays performed professionally; and to complete another novel I’ve been having problems with, set in post-war Berlin. Finally, to publish a non-fiction book based on some of my articles on what I personally believe about God and life.
Shelagh: Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
Colin: For my novel, see www.sardiniansilver.com. For my career in general, see www.acolinwright.ca. And for a selection of some of my stories plus articles and literary blogs, see www.authorsden.com/acolinwright.