Robert Parker, author of A Wanted Man and Crook's Hollow answers a few questions for me....
Is the writing full time? If not, what’s the day job? Can you give us a quick biography of yourself?
Yes the writing is indeed full time. I got to a point where I felt that if I wanted to give this the best chance of working that I could, I would have to drop everything else I was doing and really take the opportunity with both hands. It was a heck of a decision at the time to be honest, and one that I think most people assumed I was insane to do, but it's one I'm so glad I've taken.
Biography wise I have a very varied background in terms of employment and education. I was a solicitor's agent, a warehouse order picker, a van driver, barman, a commercial videographer and all sorts of things after a degree in law and then a degree in film production. I feel all this is giving me a very varied background in terms of life experience and it's something I really enjoy putting in my writing. I'm also married with three young children
What’s your typical writing schedule?
Typically in a day I will start by getting up early with the kids and (hold on to your hats) do the school run. Then I assemble my daily to do list which has anywhere between 15 and 30 items on it, and then try to crack on as much as I can. This is like the admin side of being an author - which these days I'm learning is a lot of e-mailing and social media. I actually like to have a packed schedule and and be as proactive as I can with what I want to achieve. When I eventually settle down to write I try to do 2000 words a day - if I'm 'writing' writing. In there I'll fit in training, as I box recreationally, and the daily rough and tumble of being a dad with three young kids who don't understand the concept of deadlines.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?
Never. I kind of think that life can be complicated enough without putting your dirty laundry in a book. That's just me though! I'll often go with life experiences in terms of the sentiment occasions gave me but I will never put direct references in my work. The very idea makes me cringe to bits.
When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
I'm afraid I don't really plot at all. I have a collection of scenes, and moments that inspire the story and characters, and place I want to get to. So I think when I start a book I have a bunch of things I want to achieve by the time I get to the end and a flavour of the kind of story I want to tell. When I start with the characters I don't really know how they're going to end up, where they're going, or where their stories will end so I usually just get writing and see where we go from there. I hugely believe that draft one is the most important - because you can't polish or edit anything that plain isn't there.
Are there any subjects off limits?
Not really, no, but considering I'm still largely at the outset of what I hope will be my career, I haven't encountered anything so far! Subject-wise, I don't think there's anything I wouldn't touch - but I would view them as off limits if I felt I couldn't do a good enough job of portraying them. For example, I'm not altogether comfortable with romance yet - perhaps that's why Ben Bracken has not been romantically involved for over a decade, a subconscious decision to make life easier for myself! But we touch some pretty grim topics in Crook's Hollow, which was written a few years later than A Wanted Man - so I suppose I'm growing in confidence.
I’m intending to read both A Wanted Man and Crook’s Hollow this month (March). From the back pages of both I see Manchester features in both, maybe only partly for AWM and kind of exclusively around the Manchester and Liverpool area for CH, is this part of the North West your home turf and stomping ground?
Oh yes, exactly so. I live in Warrington, which is pretty much equidistant between Manchester and Liverpool, and we are a bizarre breed of a bit of both. Growing up, there wasn't much to do round my way, in the rural corner of Warrington, and you were neither a true Manc nor a true Scouser, so you ended up adopting one or the other as your home city - and I started drinking out in Manchester, and fell in love with it in a big way. In terms of football allegiance, I went the other way...
How important is setting to your work?
I think at this stage of my career setting it's very important. In fact, it's probably important at whatever stage of career I'm at, but more so as I'm feeling my way into this as I believe that if I can get a sense of place right in my work , I will probably get away with more of the fantastical elements and moments were I use a bit of creative licence. But generally I think a sense of place is one of the most important things in writing a book as that is the absolute basis and bedrock for your story. If you don't buy the setting how are you expected to believe what happens in it?
How long from conception to completion did Crook’s Hollow take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?
I loved writing Crooks Hollow. I wrote it in the summer of 2016 and it took about 6 weeks, having been percolating for about 3 months prior. I have to be completely honest I found this one of the easiest things I've written in terms of getting it on the page because everything in it, especially the characters, took on a life of their own as I was writing - I didn't know who the villain was until pretty much the end and it suddenly made sense. I started with a scene in my head, which was the opening scene involving attempted murder by combine harvester (I do like a challenge) and I just let my mind wander from there. the motivations of the characters changed as we progressed and as the world around us changed with it, with Trump and Brexit etc. And as it was set in an area similar to one that I grew up in, I was very comfortable in letting it all hang out in terms of establishing setting and I actually had a lot of fun working out how I felt about certain things in that environment I knew so well . The hardest part was finding the right publisher, but luckily we found that in Black Rose Writing, who have been great to work with and seemed to 'get' what I was trying to do from the beginning - prior to that, publishers liked it but just didn't know how to categorise it. I mean there aren't that many 'country noir' books out there, as this book is being described as.
You seem to have garnered some praise from an impressive list of authors in respect of Crook’s Hollow – Adrian McKinty, Steph Post, David Joy and others – how did you manage that? McKinty lives on the other side of the world!
Firstly, my encounters in the world of crime fiction and publishing have been unanimously positive. Everyone has been so friendly and so generous with their time. I am a fan of the authors you mentioned - McKinty is, I think, my favourite author. There's stuff he does with words and their rhythms that just blows me to bits every time. And Post and Joy, I'm big fans of their work in the American Grit-Lit genre, which I was reading a lot of at the time of writing Crook's Hollow and would class as a pretty obvious influence of what I was trying to do with the book. These authors, and the others like Torquil MacLeod and Danielle Ramsay, really inspire me daily in my own work, and I reached out to them and told them so - and asked very politely if they'd take a look. The fact that they enjoyed it still thrills me like you wouldn't believe.
Is there one of your two offspring you are more proud of? Which would you press into the hands of a new reader?
Very tough this one, but I firmly believe that I'm learning as I go here, and getting better with every book. Crook's Hollow is one that I had so much fun with, and it's more recent, so I'll say that one - but the story of A Wanted Man will continue soon...
What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?
When A Wanted Man came out, it was initially ebook only. I desperately wanted that print deal, but just couldn't get it. But within 2 weeks of the book being available for download, it was quickly established that the demand was there, and that a print run was in the offing. I won't forget the phone call, ever. I was on holiday with the kids and they all thought there was something wrong with me when I slipped into stunned silence.
Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
I don't know about gems - there is definitely some unpublished garbage down there. I think every writer has that dearth of horrible material they come across from time to time when cleaning out something at home. What I do have are 15 of the worst screenplays you'd ever wish to read, and a host of abandoned novels.
What’s the current project in progress?
Ben Bracken 4 (which is the fourth book in the series started by A Wanted Man), and something else which I don't know what genre it is in yet - which is weird because I'm halfway through it. If I stick to where I'm growing my name, I'll dumb down my original idea - but if I stick to my guns (and knowing my stubborn streak, I will do, I can feel it) it'll end up a horror. Or maybe a crime-horror. Not sure. I'm just going to finish it and see what's what.
What’s the best thing about writing?
The time it gives me to spend time with my children. I'm so SO lucky in that respect.
I genuinely can't think of anything. Obviously there's stuff about needing to stay original, needing a certain number of book sales to keep doing what I'm doing, but I'm certainly someone who'll try to see the positives where I can.
What are the last five books you’ve read?
The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox (my God, is that guy going places...), Lightwood by Steph Post (everything I love about books and small-town crime stories was in this one), Unsub by Meg Gardiner (which was nothing short of sensational), The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson (a brilliant mystery which took me places I was not expecting) and Force of Nature by Jane Harper (which I somehow preferred to The Dry, which I loved!).
Who do you read and enjoy?
Well, I've mentioned McKinty, but I love anything by Don Winslow, Dennis Lehane, Ace Atkins and CJ Box. There are so many authors I enjoy though, that it would take me forever.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Jaws by Peter Benchley. It changed everything for me. I read it when I was 12 with a bag of pick'n'mix under my duvet with a torch and it changed everything. I had no idea fiction could be so powerful, so visceral.
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
Boxing. I started a couple of years ago, and it has uncorked something in me I definitely didn't know was there - and apparently having black eyes and busted nose help the overall image of the crime writer.
In a couple of years’ time…
I'll still be here. I'm digging my heals in.
Many thanks to Robert for his time.
You can catch him at the following haunts...