The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Robert Parker

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Robert Parker


Summary: Being from the other side of the Pennines, Sue's not renowned for her love of Manchester, but she was impressed by the way the city came across in The Baby and the Brandy the first book in a planned new series by Robert Parker. She had quite a few questions when the author popped into Bookbag Towers.
Date: 21 February 2014
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Being from the other side of the Pennines, Sue's not renowned for her love of Manchester, but she was impressed by the way the city came across in The Baby and the Brandy the first book in a planned new series by Robert Parker. She had quite a few questions when the author popped into Bookbag Towers.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Robert Parker: We all have a darker, edgier side buried somewhere within us, to some degree or other. I hope my books would appeal to that little side of you that asks ‘What if?’ The fantastic feedback I have been receiving has been from a very varied demographic. I had a wonderful message from a 75 year old gentleman who had loved it, but also demands for more Ben Bracken stories from ladies in their early twenties, not to mention many more messages from the gamut in between. As it turns out, that darker, grubbier, harder side I look to ruminate upon is not age or gender specific, but is there nonetheless. So when I see my readers, I see anyone and everyone that has a glint of mischief in their eyes.

RP: I think Manchester’s potential for drama. It is a city in such obvious transition, with an ever growing visual appeal and importance. I figured that if, like a chef with a recipe, you placed in the right amount of combustible ingredients, you could end up with a story and setting working in tandem to create something interesting, urgent and new.

  • BB: How did you research the character of Ben Bracken? Do you have an army background yourself?

RP: I have no military background whatsoever, yet the driving force behind my interest in the military comes from a number of sources, which in turn all served as research and helped to formulate elements of the Ben Bracken character. I have the greatest respect for the brave men and women of this country who fight abroad and at home to protect us. My family connection to this would be my Grandpa, who was a highly trained British Army Commando during the Second World War. His Africa Star medal is on my desk at home. Whenever we were young, and asked him about his years of service, he was never keen to elaborate, save for the adage that ‘there is no glory in war’. He gave everything, and was a prisoner of war for a number of years also. This kind of story is of course familiar to families the length and breadth of the country, and we are all proud of our forefathers for what they did for us.

I think Grandpa’s attitude and sacrifice really moulds the way I think about Bracken. My Granddad was the same, although he was just a little too young and joined the war in its latter stages as a 18 year old in the RAF who wanted to help. I have Great Uncles too, who did the same during World War 2. A more current influence is two friends I know at home who spend months away at a time in the forces. One lives in the same village, and he is something of a hero, and the other is now out of the RAF having completed his service. Both went to Afghanistan. We have enjoyed a few beers and chats together, about their time in the army, and it is the atmosphere and attitude of their recollections, not necessarily the incidents themselves, which have influenced me greatly. I admire all of these men I mention and their sacrifices on a daily basis.

  • BB: You've got an obvious love of Manchester, but could you live anywhere else, and if so, where?

RP: Well, I hate to say it but I don’t actually live in Manchester! I am based directly between Manchester and Liverpool, in Warrington. Manchester is a fraction closer, and I have spent a lot of time there. I feel that, as long as I have my family, I could live anywhere! Let’s say New York. I travelled there recently for the first time, and my jaw was on the floor the entire time. I’ve never seen anything like it, that place is just unreal. Either there or on the golf course in Lake Nona, Florida, but I don’t know whether I could get away with that!

  • BB: I found what you had to say about the criminal underbelly of Manchester very convincing. How true to life is it?

RP: Hmm, I have to be careful here. In a lot of ways, it was extremely true. And in all the scary ways you have in your head. Firstly, everything in the book is based on fact, but naturally some elements have been amped up for story and drama purposes. For example, there are indeed approximately 160 organized crime gangs in Manchester, but they don’t all have floating Chinese restaurants or plush palatial retreats in Salford Quays. But, I promise you, without saying too much, that it is not a million miles away from that. There are criminal masterminds in that city. There are things happening there that you wish wouldn’t. Thanks to the research process for the book, I now know a great deal of the real story behind Manchester, and what is really going on on those streets, that I certainly wouldn’t care to put into print for fear of naming someone I shouldn’t! I had sources, both active and inactive in Greater Manchester Police who shall rename firmly nameless. And they told me some things that would make your skin crawl and your eyes water. I was finding that the facts of Manchester’s criminal underworld were often more chilling and more eye-opening than the fiction I was trying to put together. Some of the things I was told were more akin to the horror genre than the crime genre, such were their viciousness. Let’s just say, I know roughly where not to go and who to avoid.

  • BB: How long did it take you to write The Baby and the Brandy? How do you write - and where?

RP: Well, I first wrote it as a film script when I was in my late teens, and I tinkered with it for years. On reflection it was more of a story strand than anything else. The story beats are different, and the execution is much altered. But the action beats are the same. I’m now 30, but the action sequences were all written when I was 18 and they haven’t changed at all in the 12 years in between. When it came to writing the book itself it was about 6 weeks, with a further two weeks of tinkering and polishing, working fairly rigorously to a 2,500 words per day schedule. I write anywhere and everywhere, I’m not fussy. But I do enjoy a quiet little man-cave at home where I fester, and quite a bit gets done in there.

  • BB: Which three books have influenced you most? What would be your desert island book?

RP: Such a difficult question, so this will be an eclectic mix! Jaws by Peter Benchley. It was probably the first adult themed novel I had read, having picked it up at a village fair car boot sale for 50p when I was 13. It was spectacular, and was a massive shock to the system and an early testament to what raw, visceral things you can do with words. [[Atonement by Ian McEwan[[. It’s so beautifully crafted, constantly touching, engaging and surprising. It ticks so many boxes in terms of things I enjoy in fiction. Lastly, Wildfire Season by Andrew Pyper. At the time that I read this one, I was reading an awful lot but couldn't find something I could relate to or really enjoy, for whatever reason. Then, out of nowhere, I came across this book and it scorched me. It was so different, so challenging, so compelling, in so many ways. And on a desert island, please send me there with Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. A classic that always resonates, and would suit the setting perfectly!

  • BB: What are you reading at the moment?

RP: I’m working my way through the Joe Pickett series by CJ Box, about a Game Warden in Wyoming, solving crimes and seeking justice in the Rocky Mountains. It’s a series with relatable characters, compelling mysteries, fantastic locations and is just so darn readable. There is an economy to Box’s writing that I find so refreshing and engaging, with a real visceral bite. The books have me hooked right from the opening page. I would say that presently with my own work, CJ Box is a major influence, and is certainly an inspiration.

  • BB: You've got one wish. What's it to be?

RP: That I never witness first hand any of the things my police sources shared with me about Manchester! Seriously, I’ll just take that. The rest can work itself out. I’ll just keep working here as hard as I can.

  • BB: What's next for Robert Parker?

RP: Right now, it’s more Bracken! The next book, Apex, is almost done, and a full story arc is in place for at least 10 Bracken novels and a couple more short story sets. I’m certainly going to put Ben through the wringer. Further to that I’ve got another series in mind. It’s a little more happy go lucky than Bracken, and it’s nice to step out of my mental shadows and compose something a little lighter. Then there are two novels I have mapped out which are away from the crime thriller genre, and firmly more into supernatural horror. It’s a genre I enjoyed in my teens, and would love a crack at. I have a little plan for a young adult series too, and I think I have an idea that lends itself very nicely to that specific genre. All in all, I’m not going to be resting on my laurels, and I plan to write 5 more novels in the next 12 months. I’m bursting with stories and ideas that I want to write. I just wish that there were more like 40 hours in a day rather than just 24!

  • BB: Gosh - there's plenty for us to look forward to there, Robert. Thanks for taking the time to chat to us.

You can read more about Robert Parker here.

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