Author Adele Parks has created a fair few fictional ‘happily ever afters’, but what of her own? She tells Hannah Stephenson about her journey to finding Mr Right
Queen of romcoms Adele Parks on her real-life ‘happily ever after’.
She’s on the top of many women’s holiday reading lists along with the likes of Marian Keyes, Jane Green and Lisa Jewell. Her 13 published romcoms have sold in their millions and been translated into 25 languages – yet Adele Parks is not particularly romantic, she reflects. Indeed, the Teesside-born author has been proposed to no fewer than seven times, but is nothing like as sentimental and idealistic as Jo, the heroine of her latest novel The State We’re In.
Released last month to rave reviews, Parks’ newest book tells the story of Jo, an eternal optimist who believes she will find ‘the one’, and Dean, a cynical commitmentphobe. They meet on a plane and appear to be opposites in every way, but it’s only after getting off the plane that their real journey begins.
“I never thought that getting married was the be-all and endall,” Parks, 44, explains. “But I know a lot of women believe in a ‘happily ever after’ that will only come via a happy marriage.”
Adele laughs at the memory of the various proposals she’s received over the years.
“The first one was from a boy who was 16... At that time the proposals used to come quite quickly in the relationship and I’m always suspicious of anyone who proposes within the first three months,” she says.
Parks – whose parents Tony, an ICI engineer, and Maureen, who worked at Barclaycard, have been married for 51 years – resisted marriage throughout her early 20s. “My mum married when she was 18 and my sister married at 23. I was 20 and I remember people saying, ‘You’ll be next’, and I was horrified.”
After a few proposals, which she turned down, she married her first husband Simon, who she met while working in advertising. After six years, though, they split up and she was divorced at 32, with a son from their marriage, Conrad.
“I married my best friend when we were too young. As we both grew up, we grew apart.”
Finding Mr Right
The following year she met Jim, a marketing director, and they’ve been together ever since.
Despite her cynicism, Parks says she has finally found ‘the one’ and they have now been married nine years. “I don’t think it could get better than this. He’s kind, genuinely sees the best in everyone while I see faults in people. He’s very optimistic about life.”
They met in a salsa bar in the UK, says Parks. “It was literally ‘Our eyes met across a crowded room’. I asked him to dance and the minute I did that, I thought, ‘What if he’s a terrible dancer?’ Actually, he turned out to be a brilliant dancer – way better than I was.”
When they married, Jim took her surname – the ultimate romantic gesture of commitment – so now he’s Mr Parks. “My son Conrad and I were Parks so he changed his name to be
the same as us. It’s a huge deal, but not to him. He’s very laid back about it.” Yet it was a different scenario when they first met, she adds. “When I met him he was a complete commitment-phobe. He said he didn’t want a serious relationship and nor did I. But we ended up literally falling in love.”
Building on strong values
Parks fervently believes that her past has shaped her future. She grew up in a stable family and started writing as a teenager. “I’m close tomy parents and I have the same values as them,” she says.
After leaving school she went to Leicester University in the UK to read English language and literature, writing in her spare time and on weekends. After graduating she spent several years working in advertising and as a management consultant, but she’d always dreamed of being an author and wrote her first novel, Playing Away, after securing an agent. It was published in 2000.
Today, her husband is the director of Guildford Book Festival, and has taken an active interest in his wife’s career. Yet she says in many ways they are so different. “He’s definitely more adventurous than I am. He has done all the strange snowboarding, heliboarding, jumping out and off things that just make my heart terrified.
“With us, the things that are different are surface things, but the things that we have in common are our family values, attitudes towards money and other things that really matter.”
Parks’ novels centre on relationships and key issues surrounding them but she views the term ‘chick lit’ with a measure of contempt. “I don’t hate it, I think it’s a double-edged sword,” she says.
“I do some work with adult literacy programmes. I meet a lot of people who, if I said, ‘I write commercial women’s fiction’, would look at me blankly. If I say, ‘I write chick lit’, they think it’s something they could approach and then I hope that they will be pleasantly surprised.
“I just think it’s really sexist. I am a feminist and I’m 44 –well past being a chick.”
She agrees that chick lit has a stigma of being predictable. “People think it’s going to be about a single woman who is desperately seeking love. There’s more to women than that.
“There are no negative connotations about being a crime writer, so why does women’s commercial fiction have to be reduced to chick lit?”
She recognises that there will always be some literary snobs who won’t acknowledge the value of commercial women’s fiction.
“People either love it or dismiss it and the people who dismiss it have never read it. That’s the irritation.”
She writes about one book a year, having published 13 novels in 13 years, working from home in Guildford, Surrey, and finishing her working day when Conrad, now 12, comes home from school.
Her books are less dramatic than they used to be, she admits, and she wouldn’t dream of emulating someone to sell more copies.
“You need to be truthful to yourself. The worst thing you can do is try to ape someone else.”
The StateWe’re In is Adele Parks’ 13th novel in 13 years, all having sold in their millions