Tony Parsons, popular novellist

Novelist and newspaper columnist Tony Parsons has already achieved success as a multi-million selling author of novels including Man and Boy (1999), One For My Baby (2001), Man and Wife(2003), The Family Way (2004), Stories We Could Tell (2006), My Favourite Wife (2007), Starting Over (2009) and Men From the Boys (2010). His new book Catching the Sun follows the story of a disillusioned Tom Finn and his family who decide to emigrate to Phuket, Thailand after Tom is almost jailed for confronting two burglars in his own home. Phuket is the tropical paradise the Finn family dreamed of, but both man-made disaster and the unleashed forces of nature shatter their tropical idyll.

Tony kindly stopped by my blog this month to tell us more about the book, his writing habits, the ebook revolution and what he thinks of 50 Shades of Grey!

Q. Your latest novel Catching the Sun explores the experiences of a family abandoning the UK for a better life in Thailand. What advice would you give a British family inspired to emigrate after reading your book?

A. I am not sure if anyone would be inspired to emigrate after reading Catching the Sun!! They might feel like staying home!! I hope that the book will make people want to run to the sunshine – I tried to make it a book that, no matter what happens, still keeps the feeling of what it is like to have warm air on your face and your bare feet in sand and the sun blazing in the sky. I hope it makes people want to go to Thailand. I am not sure it is much of an argument from emigration – too much bad stuff happens to them. If I could give any advice to someone thinking of emigrating I would say – living there is not the same as visiting there.

Q. I have read in other interviews that your family almost emigrated to Australia when you were a child. Do you think you would still have become a writer if you were raised in Australia or would you have found another path in life?

A. I think I would have always been a writer. It is the one thing that I love that I am good at – or at least, the one thing I could do half-well. I always dreamed of being a footballer, and I had a trial with Chelsea when I was 15. But I was never good enough to play football for a living. But I thought I might be good enough to make it as a writer. I think if we had moved when I was a kid, I would have been an Australian writer – which is an interesting thing to be.

Q. Your novels are usually set in London. When writing Catching the Sun, did you find it more of a challenge having to transport your readers to a location that many may never have visited or even heard of?

A. It was a challenge writing about Phuket, and writing about Thailand, because you want to get it right – you want it to be convincing even to people who know it well, or people who live there. So there is that pressure writing about somewhere that is not your home. But it was liberating because Phuket is so beautiful, and because Thai culture is so rich and deep. Although I am a Londoner, I don’t want every book to be set in London streets. I wanted to try to capture the essence of Thai culture, as well as tell a good story, and I am happy when people tell me that Catching the Sun makes them feel like catching a plane to Thailand.

Q. At 58, how do you think you have changed as a man yourself since you wrote Man and Boy?

A. Man and Boy came out in 1999 and I suppose I have changed in that time by becoming more aware of how short our lives are, and how precious the time is, and how we must always count our blessings. My daughter was born in 2002, and she had a lot to do with those changes.

Q. I have several of your novels sitting on my book shelf, which authors line up on your book shelf?

A. I have got everything on my bookshelves – from Philip Roth to 50 Shades of Grey. There are certain writers I love, and I am happy to collect more than one edition of my favourite books – so there are a few copies of On The Road by Jack Kerouac, or Great Expectations by Dickens, or The Catcher in the Rye by J. D Salinger, or The Virgin Soldiers by Leslie Thomas. But – right in front of my eyes – I concentrate on the work in hand, so the bookshelf in front of me is stacked with books about Thailand, and every aspect of Thai culture. Cook books, travel literature, guide books, everything. There must be 100 books about Thailand on my bookshelf.

Q. There has been a lot of controversy about 50 Shades of Grey hasn’t there? Oooh go on, tell us, what do you think of it?!

A. I thought they did a fantastic job of packaging 50 Shades of Grey – it is a lovely cover, reminds me a bit of Man and Boy, the classic simplicity of it. I think when a book gets to a certain number of sales, curiosity kicks in for the general populace and they want to see what it’s all about. I think it is very much a part of the vampire fad – the tail end of it.

Q. Where do you go to write, and do you have any writing habits ie, writing so many words per day, writing at a certain time of day, an exercise or meditation regime to boost your creativity perhaps?!

A. I have a very disciplined and regimented life if I am not travelling. I walk my daughter Jasmine to school with our dog Stan – a 6 month old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – and then I write 1,000 words. There is a period at the start and the end of a book where you are not writing 1,000 words, and that is because you are dreaming (the start) or editing (the end). But when the book is up and running, I hit those 1,000 words.

I write at the top of our house in Hampstead in the smallest room I have ever written in. But it has everything – books, music, good chair, good desk, great views of the sunset, TV, protein bars and water. Sometimes I have music or the TV on and it doesn’t matter because if I am writing, then I am oblivious to it.

I go to the gym for about 4 hours a week. Boxing is my thing, and a lot of it resembles Pilates – lot of abdominal work, mat work, building the strength of your core. But you also get to hit stuff – heavy bag, speed bag and each other. The week ends with a few round of sparring with my trainer. It is an odd thing to do, because you are trying to hit each other but totally without anger. I also just started doing Yoga with a woman who lives locally and is a great teacher. So boxing and yoga are my things, and I would recommend both of them to anyone. Fitness is important to me because I was in my forties when my daughter was born and my one ambition in life is to see her grow up.

Q. How do you think the ebook revolution has impacted on the performance of your books? Do you prefer to read a paperback or an ebook?

A. I prefer a real book but I think that the more ways to consume a book the better. I just want everyone to enjoy books. I grew up in a poor working class neighbourhood, living above a shop in a rented flat for the first 5 years, and I know that books set me free and gave me my life. I don’t know how ebooks have affected me personally in terms of career – I seem to do quite well on iPad and Kindle. I will always be a print man, though.

Q. So what next Tony? A Hollywood movie based on the book, a follow up novel, a sabbatical in Thailand?

A. Next I would like to try to come up with a character who will be around after I am gone. I am re-reading all the Ian Fleming James Bond books which I last read as a kid, and it is amazing how the human mind can come up with a character like Bond or Sherlock Holmes who sticks around for a century – how a writer can capture something that speaks to the human heart in any age. I am finding that it is tougher than it looks!! So that’s next.

(Editor’s Note: Since this interview, Tony Parsons has written a controversial column in the Mirror suggesting Tattooed people look like “Thickos”. As author of The Scary Guy’s biography, I find his comments unfortuate but feel we must separate art from the artist, so decided to run Vanessa’s excellent piece.)

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