About the author:
Adele Parks was born in Teesside, North East England. Her first novel, Playing Away, was published in 2000, and since then she’s had seventeen international bestsellers, translated into twenty-six languages. She’s been an ambassador for The Reading Agency and a judge for the Costa Book Awards, and is a keen supporter of The National Literary Trust. She’s lived in Italy, Botswana and London and is now settled in Guildford, Surrey, with her husband, son and cat.
Tell us a little bit about yourself – when did you know that wanted to be a writer?
I was born in Teesside, NE England into a close-knit extended family. I had a great childhood. It was pretty traditional for the time (I basically watched too much TV and ate lots of convenience food because nobody minded if kids did that in those days – certainly, no one in our house minded!). I also read vociferously. That was massively encouraged in our home, for which I’m eternally grateful. I’ve wanted to write novels for as long as I can remember. As soon as I made the connection between the glorious book I was holding in my hand and the fact someone had written it, I was sure that I wanted to be a writer. The book was The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton; I think I was about five years old. Soon after that I started to write stories about fairies and witches, my granddad paid me 10p for an illustrated copy!
As I grew up, I always carried notebooks around with me, into which I jotted ideas for plots and novel. If ever I was feeling especially brave (or drunk) I would shamefacedly confess my secret dream to be a writer to my friends. I was twenty-eight before I started to take myself and my ambition seriously. Once I did, I simply worked steadily until I had a novel which I could present to an agent. I had a full-time job but I timetabled three hours, three times a week for writing, and a further five hours at a weekend. My social life took a bashing! I ruthlessly self-edited, I accepted criticism and I researched my market. It took me two years to write my first novel (Playing Away). Then I pitched it to an agent I had read about. Whoop, whoop, that agent was exited by my voice and took me on. He presented my book to 6 publishers and they all accepted it! I do realize this is a bit sickening to anyone who has had numerous knockbacks but on the other hand my story shows that dreams come true and novelists work in a world of dreams, so I hope no-one resents it too much.
Give us the elevator pitch for Lies Lies Lies
A seemingly perfect little family of three is blasted apart when the alcoholic husband has medical tests that reveal he could never have fathered his child. That’s just where the drama starts as I explore dark corners of a relationship in freefall. Some secrets are told to protect, others poison.
Do you think keeping secrets is an essential part of any relationship?
It depends on the scale of the secret. I don’t suppose anyone will die if you keep a secret about how much your mascara cost but if you start to lie about sizeable debts, addiction, fidelity or anything that might be construed as a major deal breaker in a relationship, then chances are something is seriously wrong. You have to ask yourself, why can’t you tell the truth? What’s wrong with your relationship that it can’t support the truth? I think that secrets are rarely helpful in the long run; they have a way of getting out and then the person who has had information withheld from them is often devastated. However, honestly life isn’t clear cut. We’re not all as good as we’d like to be. We’re human, frail and flawed. Plus, sometimes people keep secrets because they think they are protecting someone they love.
Would you ever divulge someone else’s secret?
I don’t think I ever have but I would if I thought someone was in danger or placing another person in danger.
What are the successful elements of a gripping suspense novel?
I want my readers’ hearts slamming against their rib cages, sweaty palms and even the occasional gasp out loud moment. For a suspense story to be genuinely gripping, I think the following is necessary:
- Investment. From early on in the plot the reader must understand what is at stake and value it. The protagonists world must be at risk, and we have to care.
- Foresight. I like to allow the reader various viewpoints and therefore gift them a more elevated and knowledgeable position than any of the characters. In this way the reader has a unique sense of impending doom. They see the lines of divergence and convergence between characters and can guess at the consequences ahead. I’m allowing the reader to do some of the work here, as their guessing at what may or may not happen heightens tension.
- Surprise. I get paid for this, right? So I can’t let the reader do all the heavy lifting. I want my readers to guess parts of the plot but and believe she/he can maybe see what’s coming but I do enjoy delivering a final, unpredictable (although totally credible) shocking reveal or twist.
- A sense of urgency. A ticking clock is an old school, but incredibly effective element to suspense. If there is some sort of deadline that the action has to take place in that’s very exciting.
- Constant pressure. Things have to get worse and worse for the protagonist. The odds of success need to appear increasingly slim. I’m pretty cruel to my protagonists. They face trials, torments and torture (at least mentally).
- Compelling characters. I don’t really have clear cut goodies and baddies in my novels. Real people are complex and layered and I want my characters to reflect that. I explore motivation and because of the multiple viewpoints that the reader is privy to, it is sometimes unclear who to root for. My readers’ alliances to shift, morph, remain fluid which adds to the tension.
Why do you think domestic noir has such an enduring appeal?
It does seem that fast passed, adrenalin-producing thrillers are holding us tight in their icy grip, and there is no sign that will change. The subsection of thrillers set in the home – domestic noir – seems to have a particular appeal. I think the vast majority of us are extremely invested in our families and therefore have a morbid fascination with reading about what can go wrong inside a seemingly normal home. The truth is, most murders are committed by someone the victim knows so domestic noir is horribly realistic. I guess we want to exercise our fears. Another part of the enduring appeal could be that reading something that has a reveal, a plot-twist or simply a compelling question fuelling the plot, draws sharp, inquisitive minds. We want to know who did it? Will they get away with it? Did we guess correctly? So reading a thriller becomes an intellectually stimulating, interactive experience. The best thrillers continually astonish and defy the reader until the final page. How great is it when we think we’re heading in one direction, but the author spins us around and takes us somewhere else! It is deeply satisfying if you guess the ending correctly and challenging if you can’t and the author delvers a final surprise for you. Both experiences are positive reading experiences.
What do you like to read?
I am in an incredibly lucky position that books are literally pressed into my hands by publishers, authors and publicists; it’s a great perk of my job that I get given a lot of free books! Naturally I do read widely in my genre. I get extremely excited when Liane Moriarty, Sally Hepworth, Clare Mackintosh and Lisa Jewell have new releases. I also love discovering debut novelists. This year, so far, I’ve been particularly impressed with Rachel Edward’s debut Darling and deeply disturbed (but in a good way) by Helen Monks Takhar’s debut Precious You. However, I am an eclectic reader and enjoy other genres too.
You’re well-known for examining the ‘thorny sides’ of people’s lives – what issues fire up your imagination?
My first novel was about adultery, it was a very sexy and somewhat shocking book – certainly for the time. I didn’t want to get stuck in a rut of being known for writing books about adultery (no matter how compelling the subject may or may not have been!) so I deliberately looked for other heart breaking but every day issues to explore. I like writing about the extraordinary things that happen to all of us ordinary souls! I have written about infertility, divorce, friendship, sibling love and rivalry, suffering from illness such as Alzheimer’s or cancer, the sandwich generation, reality TV shows, Elvis impersonators, fame, betrayal, mental illness, even a baby swap in a hospital! I guess at the heart of every one of my novels is the question, ‘How far will you go for…’ I’m interested in extremes.
An Adele Parks suspense novel is always twisty and surprising – what comes first – the twists and turns of the plot or the character development?
In a suspense novel I think the plot has to come first, but only just. The process is hand in glove. As soon as I’ve had a moment where I think, ‘What would happen if…?’ I think, ‘Who would be most profoundly affected by that?’ In novels with reveals, twists, surprises then the plot has to be impeccable. I don’t believe in twists simply for the sake of shocking, that is disappointing for the reader. The twists ought to be a surprise but once revealed I want my readers to think, ‘Of course!’.
What do you plan to write next?
I’m about three quarters of the way through writing my novel for 2020. It’s another domestic thriller – it seems I like flinging perfectly lovely families into terrible states of disarray! I can’t say much about it at this stage because it won’t be published for another year, but I do promise to keep them coming!