My Life In Books: Adele Parks

Women’s fiction writer Adele Parks grew up in North Yorkshire and loved reading as a child. When a local librarian asked if she wanted to be an author when she grew up, it planted a seed that eventually turned into a career. Adele has written 22 novels in 22 years, has published four million books in the UK and was awarded an MBE for services to literature earlier this year. To mark the publication of her new book, One Last Secret, she shared her reading habits, favourite authors and top book recommendations with us…

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What are you reading right now?

I’m reading Love Untold by Ruth Jones. This is Ruth’s third book but she’s probably best known for co-writing and starring in Gavin and Stacey. She’s such a national treasure and her humour and warmth always come through in her writing. Love Untold is about four generations in one family. The matriarch is about to turn 90 and she wants to heal the long-standing rift in her family. I’m about the third of the way through and her writing feels like a warm hug.

What book from childhood will always stay with you?

I think everyone of a certain generation is an Enid Blyton fan. My sister always loved the school tales, like the Malory Towers and St Clare’s series, as she always wanted to go to boarding school. However, I always adored The Wishing-Chair and The Magic Faraway Tree. I loved being taken into a completely different world – Enid Blyton’s fiction was always magical, exciting and unexpected but, in the end, everything would be okay. As a child, I found it incredibly comforting to know that you could go on an adventure but return home the same day.  

What children’s books do you revisit? 

I have a whole cabinet of all my old childhood books. Some are the same copies I owned as a child and others are ones I’ve rebought on eBay. When my son was little, I tried to introduce him to some of my old favourites, but the only one he really loved was The Hobbit, which is such a classic. I would be happy to reread that book over and over again – hopefully with grandchildren one day. My husband is a huge Tolkien fan who remembers all the small details, from the food they ate to the specific route the hobbits took on their journey.

What books made you want to write?

I wanted to become a writer when I was a little girl. I used to visit our local library with my mother and sister on the way home from school. We were allowed to choose three books each and I would read them in a day and return them the following afternoon. A librarian said to me, “Goodness, you read so much, would you like to be an author one day?” – that planted the seed. When I was a bit older, I went on to discover authors like Jane Austen and made my way through the romantic classics. Emma was one of my favourites, as Austen’s heroin is such a complex, flawed character – she has a devoted father, she’s going to inherit, she’s very beautiful, but she’s also very meddlesome. I loved the idea of a flawed heroin and thought there was some fun in that. 

One book that really made me want to write my own fiction was Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes. Marian’s voice is so unapologetically her own and her voice shines through. It made me realise that people are interested in stories about normal people and relatively ordinary people have stories to tell – that’s what I did when I wrote Playing Away. I was able to write in a voice that wasn’t particularly scholarly and it was an everyday story about a contemporary affair.

When and where do you read?

I mostly read in bed, which is terrible as I often stay up too late reading and find it hard to get back to sleep. I read when it’s bedtime and manage to fall asleep but, at about 4am, I suddenly wake up and start reading again to try and fall back asleep, which apparently isn’t a very good routine. When the house is quiet, I sneak into my office and sit in my chair to get a couple of hours in every day.

Where do you buy books?

I’m utterly spoilt as a write a column for a glossy magazine once a month so I get sent a lot of books from publishers. A lot of my friends are authors too, so they always send me their books. That said, when I’m on tour to talk about my own books, I can never resist popping into a bookshop to browse what’s on the table. Whoever said “don’t judge a book by its cover” was absolutely wrong. I always judge a book by its cover – and maybe its blurb and first paragraph too. I love independent book shops.

I loved being taken into a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WORLD – Enid Blyton’s fiction was always MAGICAL, EXCITING and UNEXPECTED but, in the end, everything WOULD BE OKAY.

Print or Kindle?

I definitely see that there’s a place for Kindle and I’m very grateful for eBooks, but I prefer reading physical copies. I have books in every room in my house (about 2,000 altogether) and there are dozens in every corner. This might horrify some people, but my books are really well used; I might circle something that’s interesting or fold over the page if I want to come back to it. These days, so many people talk to me about audiobook and Audible, which is fantastic. People always say they love listening to my books during everyday tasks like commuting or when they’re ironing, which is great, as dead time is turned into time well spent.

I also love rediscovering old bookmarks that I’ve used that remind me about a time in my life, like a theatre ticket at the back of an old book. I used to have a great habit of taking a pile of books on holiday with me in a suitcase and passing them around the pool at the hotel when I’d finished them. The best bit about that was that I simply had to fill the empty space with shopping! One year before we set off, my husband excitingly said to me: “You’re going to be so excited I’ve bought you a Kindle.” At first I was a bit underwhelmed but I appreciated being able to download books instantly. 

Do you belong to a book club?

I belong to two and they’ll both tell you that I’m their worst member! I love the idea of a book club because it’s a chance to catch up with friends and chat about books and, more often, life in general. Books often spark conversations about life and help people reveal things that are otherwise quite difficult to talk about. In both of my groups, we take turns to pick a title, so I always give the group one of my books – but they’re not allowed to score it because that would be too mortifying. 

How do you choose what to read?

Like so many people, my book choice often depends on my mood. If I’m down or things feel difficult, I’ll purposely choose an uplifting, warming book, the way you would eat chocolate or make a nice cup of tea. You want to comfort yourself, restore some order in the world and have some positivity. I’m more likely to tackle something a little darker if I’m happy, which is ironic. Then, it’s a little bit like going on a rollercoaster where you want to scare yourself but know you’re perfectly safe. I often choose psychological thrillers, partly because I love them, but also because I need to know what’s going on in the psychological thrillers market – what’s popular, what’s trending and what plotlines I like.  

Do you have a favourite author?

That’s such a hard question! Especially because I know so many authors now and I’m emotionally involved with them if they’re my friend – so it’s virtually impossible to choose just one. That said, I love Kate Atkinson’s novels. I’ve never heard her talk at a festival, but I always buy one of her books the minute it comes out. She’s admirably versatile; she’s written family drama, crime detective series and each one is always brilliant. 

What’s been your favourite read of 2022 so far?

Gillian McAllister’s latest book Wrong Time Wrong Place is exceptionally clever. In it, a mother watches her teenage son stab someone in the street. He’s a kind and loving son so she can’t work out why he did it. By the end of that evening he’s in custody, refusing to have a lawyer and she can’t understand her husband and son’s reaction to the stabbing. She goes to bed devastated. The next morning, she wakes up the day before the crime happened, and every day she goes to bed, she moves further away from the crime, but arguably closer to why it happened. It’s fascinating.

What book will always stay with you?

Once in a House on Fire by Andrea Ashworth. It sounds depressing but it’s a beautifully written memoir. Set during the 70s and 80s, it’s about a girl who grows up with two sisters and a mother who isn’t equipped to look after them as well as she should. There are several stepfathers and other men who come into their life; it’s about poverty, abuse and the effects of depression. It’s a hard read but it’s beautifully written and it captures that era so well.  

ONE BOOK that really made me want to write MY OWN fiction was RACHEL'S HOLIDAY by Marian Keyes.

Favourite biography?

I don’t read many biographies because I think it’s very hard to pin a person down to paper. Books are short chapters in people’s lives, whereas biographies try to cover everything, which is virtually impossible. That said, I loved Fay Weldon’s autobiography.

Favourite non-fiction book? 

I do love a bit of non-fiction, especially if it’s a handbook. This is a controversial one, but I found Gina Ford’s baby guide incredibly useful. My son is 21 now but, when I was pregnant, I remember sitting on a bench because I was so exhausted and another pregnant woman sat down next to me. She took one look at me and said, "I just read Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby Book, and it’s great.” Because I was a bit clueless and quite desperate, I waddled over to WHSmith and bought it there and then. I wouldn’t say I lived by it because it’s quite strict and regimented – and overwhelming in some ways – but I used it to help me feel empowered rather than intimidated by motherhood. The idea of getting into a routine worked for me as a young single mother at the time. 

Do you read poetry?

I do! I was given A Poem Every Day of the Year last Christmas. I tried to read one every day and I try to find something in it – perhaps I put more significance to signs than I should. I love the fact that I get a range of works from four centuries. Aside from that, I love Philip Larkin’s poetry, which I studied at university – one of the few poets who I didn’t find hard understanding. The Whitsun Weddings is a lovely collection of his. 

What book would you give as a gift?

It depends who the someone is as I like to gift books a lot. At Christmas, everyone I know gets a book, which is as much a challenge as it is a joy. I tend to gift upbeat books which is a safer bet. I gift a lot of mums Why Mummy Swears by Gill Sims which is hilarious. It’s so fun and it lets you laugh at yourself. I would also give Bridget Jones’s Diary to people – it’s such a crowd-pleaser. 

What was the last book that made you cry?

This is Not a Pity Memoir by Abi Morgan. Abi is a BAFTA and Emmy award-wining screenwriter who’s written things like Suffragette and The Iron Lady. Her husband has a very rare condition, and her memoir is about him being incredibly ill, trying to forge a new life after illness and growing after something monumental happens in your life. It’s a love story more than anything else and it’s incredibly moving. 

Any recommendations for laugh-out-loud books?

Women of a Certain Rage is hilarious for anyone who’s perimenopausal.

At Christmas, EVERYONE I know gets a BOOK, which is as much a CHALLENGE as it is a JOY.

What’s your favourite film or TV adaptation of a book?

Atonement is a phenomenal book and film. Quite often, if you love a book, it’s easy to nit-pick things about the adaption and go “Oh, that didn’t happen in the book’”, which drives my husband mad. Even though there are some small differences, Atonement is heart-breaking. It covers lots of big issues like female control, female rights and rape, but it’s a beautiful film. 

Are there any books that have helped you through difficult times?

I always keep reading through difficult times. If there’s something I need more information on, I usually go and find a book to find out more. Sadly, our family was hammered with suicide a few years ago, so I bought a book about suicide which helped me feel less alone. If you are going through something difficult, whether that’s a bereavement, stress at work or relationship troubles, there will always be a book on it.  

Favourite literary character?

I’m old-school so I’d love to invite Mr Darcy to an imaginative dinner party. 

What one book should everybody read in their lifetime?

I don’t know. That might sound strange, but I don’t believe in one size fits all. I get asked this question a lot but I don’t think people should all be prescribed the same book. I’m always wary of lists like ‘30 classics to read before you die’ – they’re not terrible as they can certainly open your mind to different ideas, but people should ultimately read exactly what they want to. However, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is exceptional and still relevant today. Racism is still an issue that needs to be addressed and contextualised. It’s sometimes joyful and very clever, told through a child’s eyes. 

Finally, what are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just published my 22nd book, One Last Secret. Over the years, I’ve noticed that psychological thrillers and crime fiction often feature sex workers and escorts, but they’re never the main character. They’re always dead in an alleyway or gyrating on a pole in a corner; always nameless and faceless. I wanted to tell the story from their point of view. One Last Secret is narrated by Dora, a high-end escort who has finally found an out of her profession – she knows it’s dangerous and volatile. She’s mixing with ruthless and ambitious people, and they all have secrets which she has been privy to. Just when she’s about to leave, she accepts one last job in the south of France and she comes face to face with someone from her past – a man she has never forgotten…


Inspired? Read Adele’s top picks below…

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