Tony Parsons at home in London
January 26, 2009

© David Levenson
www.davidlevenson.com

Melanie Interviews: Tony Parsons

Tony Parsons is a journalist, broadcaster, author and an idol of mine. I am also a massive fan of his books. We live in the same area, so I often bump into him and I’m absolutely thrilled that he agreed to this interview to talk about his latest novel ‘The Hanging Club’.

Tony is 62 years old, as fit as a butchers dog, with Clint Eastwood good looks, a killer smile and the swagger of a guy who knows much!

Melanie:

First can we talk your massive hit ‘Man and Boy’?

Tony Parsons:

Yeah, ‘Man and Boy’ came at a funny period of my life. It was a time when I felt poised between two generations, you know? I could really feel like somebody’s son and somebody’s father, because the son I’d raised alone, as a single dad, was growing up. Suddenly, I could see that he was accelerating towards adulthood. I was just that point, that every parent gets, when they realise their kid’s turning into the person they’re going to be and not just that innocent easy little bundle of love you once had.

My son was growing up really shockingly fast and my mum, who I’d always been very close to, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. So I really felt poised between the two generations. You know? That real kind of cycle of life stuff. I really understood it on a deep level, in a way that I’d never really understood it before.

My dad had died of cancer and the way that you knew he was an old working class geezer and an ex-soldier, was the way he dealt with cancer. He didn’t tell anybody about it. He had cancer for a year or maybe longer, who knows, and he just didn’t talk about it. He didn’t tell anybody that he was dying and then he collapsed, was taken to hospital and three months later we buried him.

Melanie Sykes:

So you were all in absolute shock?

Tony Parsons:

Yeah, but with Mum it was different because I was sitting in the office with the doctor when he gave the diagnosis and I just saw her reaction, and it was much closer. It was a very raw and bitter thing, but she was brave, stoic and humorous about it, which kind of made it harder. And I was at quite a happy time in my career, I was doing a TV show every Thursday night and Piers Morgan had hired me at the Daily Mirror. I was making decent money, but I just started writing this stuff to help me get through that period.

I think if you’re a born storyteller, it’s got nothing to do with getting published, this stuff just helps. Turning your complicated emotions into a story, helps you deal with it. It’s not brave, it’s just the way you process stuff. So I wrote this fiction because I like the freedom to make stuff up when I want to. If I didn’t make it to my dad’s deathbed and I want, I wish I had, then I can…

You can make, in fiction, the basis of real life and yet still have a kind of magic. The magic of dreams, imagination and wishes.

Melanie:

‘Man and Boy’ was your first big success wasn’t it?

Tony Parsons:

It was the first good and grown up thing I wrote. It was the first one that really came from the heart, you know? Before writing, I was working in a gin distillery in Islington. If you’re familiar with Gordon’s gin, thats where I worked…

Melanie:

Yeah, unfortunately I am!

Tony Parsons:

You looked like you might be. (laughs)…. I wrote a novel when I was in there and that got me my first job in journalism, it got published, but it wasn’t very good. Writing a novel is largely an act of will, an act of not listening to anybody when they say it’s not good, it’s not good enough, forget it.

Melanie:

How did you find the discipline and confidence in your ability to write your first novel?

Tony Parsons:

It’s not confidence. It’s having the attitude that I’m going to do this and it might find an audience. I didn’t have any huge expectations that I was going to sell millions of books, which is what happened. I just thought, I really want to write this story, I’m going to write it and I believe it’ll find a publisher.

Melanie:

I’m loving your new crime stories and I find myself visualising DC Max Wolfe as you. Is this character very close to who you are?

Tony Parsons:

No, he’s an improved version of me, like my shadow twin brother, but much better and nicer than I am.

Melanie:

Tell me about the technical side of writing crime, it has to be factual doesn’t it? Do you spend more time researching than you do writing?

Tony Parsons:

You know, John le Carré said it’s not about authenticity, it’s about credibility and I think that’s right. Everything is a slave to the story. It’s good to know your facts are correct, but for me the story has to be what comes first. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of doing things, but now I’ve had a few books out and I’ve met people in the police who have enjoyed it, I feel less pressure to be accurate.

Melanie:

Do you get access to interesting places in the name of research for your novels?

Tony Parsons:

One of the places that’s obviously really important to Max Wolfe is the black museum, Room 101 in Scotland Yard.

I hadn’t been there when I started writing about it, I have now, but before this people were coming up to me and saying, there’s a guy, a retired detective who runs the black museum and you captured him perfectly. And I made it all up, I’d never been there!

Melanie:

You’re kidding me, incredible!

So do you read a lot of crime and horror? There are some horrific scenes in your latest books, do you relish gruesome stuff?

Tony Parsons:

I’m kind of open to it. I was a big Stephen King fan, without thinking of myself a horror fan and I was a big fan of Raymond Chandler, without thinking of them as crime books. I read so much and am completely open to all genres. ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ is one of my favourite books and I don’t know any men that have read that book.

Melanie:

How do you make time for writing and what’s your process?

Tony Parsons:

I try to get started early in the day, so after I walk my dog or drop my daughter at school. I handwrite notes with details of a chapter and add post-it notes of how I would like it to end, and that’s my days work. That’s what I do in a day and if I finish it in an hour, then I wont feel guilty about going to the Everyman and watching a movie.

Melanie:

Do you get excited when you write something bloody amazing?

Tony Parsons:

Yeah I do, you do get little charges.

But, there’s also plenty of times where you’re grinding it out, you know, you’re really struggling, trying to get through it. It can’t all be euphoria, you have to work for those moments.

Melanie:

Being a novelist is my fantasy, do you love your life as a writer?

Tony Parsons:

Yeah I do, I think I’m very blessed and very lucky and because I come from an environment where people didn’t work in jobs they loved.

Melanie:

I do understand, I’m from a working class background, my parents worked for us and certainly not for personal satisfaction.

I hear we will being seeing the DC Max Wolfe books on screen. Who do you see playing DC Wolfe?

Tony Parsons:

Some unemployed young actor who nobody’s heard of, I’d love that, but it wouldn’t be my decision. Great shows like ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Breaking Bad’ used practically unheard of working actors.

Melanie:

I know you’re into exercising and keep super fit. Does this help you to focus on writing?

Tony Parsons:

I like getting fitter as I get older. I enjoyed being fitter at 50 than I was at 40 and I enjoy being fitter at 60 than I was at 50. You only get a limited time on this earth, but I do think you can apply the brakes to the ageing process as long as you have discipline and work hard.

Melanie: 

What motivates you to keep in such great shape?

Tony Parsons: 

I look at Christie Brinkley and I think that’s what I want to look like.

Model Christie Brinkley, looking incredible in her 60s.

Credit

Melanie: 

Is she your age?

Tony Parsons: 

She’s exactly the same age as me, 62. Which is why I stand at the end of her driveway every night, you know, crying in the rain… (laughs)

No, I’m not stalking her really, but I do have a fascination with her because I’ve watched her get old the way I’ve got old and she just looks great. What I think I like about her is that she’s not a great looking woman for her age, she’s just a great looking woman.

Melanie:

I love that! People say this to me too. I do think I look good for my my age or indeed any age and that’s not arrogance, it’s just the truth.

Tony Parsons:

That’s true, yeah absolutely and it takes work. As you know, it doesn’t happen by accident, none of it happens by accident.

 

‘The Hanging Club’ is the third outing for DC Max Wolfe is out now.