Best-selling author Adele Parks on turning 50: If anything, I've upped my game
Best-selling author Adele Parks talks to Hannah Stephenson about resisting ageism, fertility and the affects on women of having babies later, and how she's had to fight to kick off the ‘chick lit' tag
ONCE branded one of the 'chick lit' brigade, Adele Parks is much happier to be sitting firmly in the 'domestic noir' section of bookstores these days.
The chatty Teesside novelist – who has had a string of international bestsellers, averaging a book a year since her first novel, Playing Away, was published 19 years ago – has long insisted her work should not be branded pink and fluffy.
"People have said to me, 'You've gone so dark', but actually all of my books have included difficult circumstances. I've had lots of heroines who are quite unlikable and unsympathetic – I'm just pushing that more," she says.
"But in the past, the 'chick lit' thing happened because of how you were branded. If you were a woman writer, you immediately fell into the chick lit category irrespective of what you were writing. As time has moved on, people have realised that's not particularly helpful."
Indeed, her earlier book jackets, often featuring a pair of sexy legs in stilettos against soft purple or pink backgrounds, belie a lot of the serious subject matter within the novels themselves, which includes family turmoil, theories on love, parenting and fidelity.
As an ambassador for The Reading Agency and a judge for the Costa Book Awards, as well as being a best-selling author in her own right published in 26 languages, Parks is clearly a major talent. She says her writing has changed as she has aged.
"As you get older, you are perhaps a little bit less flippant. My earlier books were quite humorous and the characters were less concerned about consequences. As I've got older, from the beginning the characters are saying, 'Actually, this is probably going to go wrong'. That brings more depth and darkness to the subjects and the greater level of threat."
Parks turned 50 this year, and is excited about the decade ahead.
"I think ageing is way better than the alternative. Getting old is a privilege. Dying young sucks. I've never had a problem with ageing," she says. "In my 30th year I got my first book deal, in my 40th year I changed publishing houses and got a brilliant deal and we moved houses, and now I think, 'Ooh, what's going to happen in my 50th year?' I find it kind of exciting.
"If anything, I've upped my game," she continues. "I've joined a gym, which was health-based. There's a lot of things you can avoid if you exercise more.
"With my clothes, I was determined not to slip into 'Beige-ville' and stop caring how I looked. There's a lot of ageism in our country, particularly towards women, whereas men get to be seen as wiser. Women are tricked into believing we are no longer useful or at our best – and we should resist that as much as we can."
Her 19th novel, Lies Lies Lies, is a domestic noir centred on a couple, Daisy and Simon, who are trying for a second child. But with fertility problems, IVF attempts and his alcoholism, things spiral out of control in their relationship, and then an accident changes both their lives forever.
Parks is a mother – to son Conrad, 18, from her first marriage. Was it a conscious decision to only have one child?
"Yes and no. I had my son with my first husband and then we split up. Then when I met my second husband, I felt I was kind of done. I already had one and didn't want anything more complex than that. But if you'd asked me that when I was 25, I would have thought that I'd have more than one child," she says.
"My husband [Jim, a website designer] was very happy with that decision. He didn't want any more children. He met Conrad when he was a tiny toddler and he is his dad and we're done. We were establishing our relationship and by the time we got married, if I'd had another child there would have been such a big age gap. I didn't want that."
She admits she went through the whole biological ticking clock experience, however.
"I had Conrad when I was 31, which was perfect, but when I got to 45, I thought, 'Oh, I think I'm done'. That was when I stopped looking back and thinking, 'Is it a possibility?' I didn't grieve over it. I'm a practical person who takes responsibility for my own decisions. I have a terrific child, who I'm super proud of. I just thought, 'Let's concentrate on what we've got'.
"I'm close to my nieces and nephews and so we have a very young full house and my son always has friends around, so I didn't feel a huge lack, but I totally understand that many women do."
Was she nervous about bringing a new man into Conrad's life?
"No. I split up from my first husband when Conrad was 10 months [she won't discuss her first husband] and I met Jim about five months after that. Our dates would consist of him ringing up before he arrived, saying, 'Do you need me to bring any nappies or baby food around?'
"He was very much dad from the get-go. The difference for us is that we were a family from the get-go. We weren't really a couple and then a family."
Fertility struggles – one of the themes in her new book – isn't something she went through herself, but it's a subject that resounds in so many people's lives.
"Nowadays, I don't know anyone who isn't aware of this situation. We are having our babies later. I have a number of very close friends who have had infertility issues and I've seen the effects of IVF, both when it's fantastic and exciting and I've also seen the heartbreak of how many attempts you might have before you get the successful result – and some people just don't get the result they're hoping for," says Parks.
"It's a shock to all of us when it comes to trying to have babies or planning a family, because some of us are very lucky, but it's one of the things in life that we can't control, and we are increasingly used to being able to control our own environment.
"If your raison d'etre is to be a mother and that seems impossible, it's truly heartbreaking."
Today, Parks writes in a converted bedroom at her home in Guildford, Surrey, and is as disciplined as any office worker, doing set hours, five days a week. She already has two further domestic noir books planned, but despite darker subject matter she still likes happy endings.
"My writing is relatively uplifting, I hope. There's dark and shade but there's light as well," she says. "I don't want my readers to feel worse after the experience."
:: Lies Lies Lies by Adele Parks is published by HQ, priced £7.99 paperback, £5.99 ebook, £12.99 audiobook.