Adele Parks worked in advertising until she published her first novel, Playing Away, in 2000. Adele has lived in Italy and Botswana but now lives in England with her husband and son. Her latest novel, The State We’re In, was released this month. (Interview by Jade Craddock)Interviewee A to Z
Tell us about The State We’re In.
The State We’re In is a story about two strangers who meet on a plane journey to Chicago. Jo is a desperate romantic who has had her heart and confidence crushed far too often. She’s convinced that her only chance of happiness is to fly to Chicago and break up a wedding and win her ex-fiance back. Dean is an angry cynic, his background of neglect and disappointments mean he’ll never believe that love is for keeps. He’s returning home after visiting his estranged father who is dying in a London hospital. They are not suited and yet they are irresistibly drawn to one another. But, this isn’t an easy boy meets girl romance. It's a family drama played out over two generations. I look at some big issues about falling in love, living with deception, the value of family and the sacrifices a woman might make for the sake of her children. It’s got some really meaty twist and turns in there!
Where did you get the inspiration for the novel?
I’m pretty obsessed with how personal histories and childhood experiences shape individuals. I wanted to write about how important our parents and backgrounds are in creating who we become and what a responsibility that is. Whether we wish to imitate our parents and accept their morals and philosophies or whether we wholeheartedly reject them, they are still the foundation. I think that was my starting point. I also wanted to write a great big fat, proper love story. Do you know, I never have? People assume that commercial women’s fiction is only ever about boy meets girl but I’ve never written a novel about a single man meeting a single woman. I thought it was time.
Who was your favourite character to write in the novel?
Dean. He’s to die for! What a hero. I hope all my readers fall a little bit in love with Dean. I certainly did!
Without giving away the spectacular ending, at what stage in the writing process did you decide on that particular ending? Was it always part of the plan for the novel or did it develop later?
I always know the ending I’m writing to. I decide that before I start writing as I am a very structured planner. I like every word to count. I try really hard to make my endings unexpected, when the reader finishes the novel and thinks back, I want them to say, ‘Oh yes, of course!’ That will only happen if the planning is meticulous.
Was it emotionally difficult for you to write?
Yes. This novel has a lot of issues. First and foremost it is about two great big love affairs but I’m also writing about loneliness, compromise and Eddie is dying. All of those things are draining to write about, if you are going to write about them properly. I had to dig deep!
What message do you want readers to take from the novel?
I write to entertain my readers, not to lecture them but, that said, this is a thought-provoking book and I’d love my readers to be wondering about the characters for a long time after they’ve read the end of the novel. I guess I’d like people to think about the reality of love which, in my opinion, demands great patience and certain sacrifices.
This is your 13th book, does the writing process become easier or harder?
A bit of both to be honest. The actual process of structuring a novel becomes much easier. I’m now very confident about what I want from my plots and characters and I know when I’ve been successful in achieving my goals and when more work is required. This is harder to judge at the beginning. The challenge is coming up with fresh and different stories. I’ve always demanded this of myself. I honestly believe my fans would agree that I’ve never served up ‘more of the same’ and I’m always trying to take my work to new limits and areas.
What do you put your success down to?
A combination of things. I’m hardworking, I don’t quit, I take the rough and the smooth and plough on regardless of inevitable knockbacks. Besides that, I’ve had fantastic support, both from my professional partners – my publishers and agent - and in my private life. My husband is a phenomenal support. I couldn’t have done it alone.
How easy is it to keep motivated?
I love writing! I just love it! Getting to sit at my desk and make stuff up is just brilliant! I feel incredibly privileged. It’s not a question of finding motivation because I enjoy it so much.
How has your writing evolved?
That’s a really tricky one to answer because I haven’t consciously changed the way I write over the years but inevitably my writing has changed. The very nature of evolution means it’s barely perceptible as it happens but changes do happen. I think my books are more thoughtful now, than when I started out. I hope they still have humour and honesty which I’ve always been famed for.
What do you consider to be your biggest achievement as a writer?
I know from the mail that I receive from fans that my writing has offered comfort and distraction to people at tricky times in their lives. I think that’s important.
Is there anything you would have done differently in your career?
Not really. I’m not a big one for regrets of any form. I’ve always tried, really hard, to do my best. This means relying on the information I had to hand at the time; I might not always make the right call but none of us are mind readers.
Who are your role models as authors?
I’m pretty traditional in my taste. I adore Jane Austen. She had such a biting wit and simply knew the value of a hugely satisfying epic romance. Love her!
Which book can you not live without?
Usually whichever one I’m reading at the time. I have to have a book ‘on the go.’ I feel bereft otherwise.
How has women’s fiction evolved in the time you’ve been writing?
There’s so much choice nowadays. There are so many novels being published all the time. I think there must be many more than when I set out. I guess this means there’s always something out there to suit everyone’s tastes.
What do you think of the state of women’s fiction today?
I think it’s really healthy. There are some amazing writers out there; debuts and long-term troopers and everyone in-between! It’s an exciting and liberating time to be an author.
How can new writers distinguish themselves today? What do new writers need to set themselves apart?
Gosh, it is tricky. I guess this is the flip side of how much choice we have – the market is very crowded and it’s horribly hard to stand out from the crowd. I’d advise authors to be themselves and to be tenacious. Take every opportunity. Be sincere.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on 2014’s novel! It seems a bit insane that I’m just about to hand in that one, when we’re just launching The State We’re In but that’s how I’ve always operated.
And finally the book is very much about happy-ever-afters and the challenges life throws at this ideal, so do you believe in happy-ever-after?
Life can be wonderful and exhilarating but to know the highs you have to experience the lows too. Life inevitably has to include losses, disappointments and suffering. I try to show that in my work. I believe in growth and possibility. I believe in second chances, third and fourth ones…I believe in never giving up.