North East-born novelist Adele Parks has firmly established herself as one of the UK’s most-loved female writers. But, just over a decade ago, her writing skills were kept firmly under wraps. MIEKA SMILES caught up with her
DESPITE selling more than two million books and having her work translated into 25 languages, chatty Adele Parks is refreshingly modest about her meteoric rise to success, dubbing it “completely bonkers”.
And although she’d always dreamed of becoming a writer, down-to-earth Adele, originally from Eaglescliffe near Stockton, Teesside, was so shy about her writing that she kept her talent a secret for years.
“I always enjoyed writing at school and I used to certainly have notebooks to write in,” explains Adele, 42.
“But there’s no clear trajectory of becoming an author and I really kept it quiet.
“After I graduated, I actually thought ‘what am I going to do?’.
“I did a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) course and went to Italy for a year.
“I had a great year and met lots of interesting people. I put on lots of weight, ate lots of pizza – but nothing life-changing happened.
“I started applying for jobs in advertising agencies.”
After graduating from Leicester University, where she studied English language and literature, Adele conquered the world of advertising, earning prestigious promotions in London’s top agencies.
“That career went really well and I stayed in it throughout my twenties,” says Adele. It included a bit of travel – I was in Botswana for 20 months and that was terrific.”
But although she continued to climb the career ladder, Adele’s secret passion for writing couldn’t be quelled.
Adele, a former Egglescliffe Comprehensive student, said: “I was always certainly writing still.
“It was coming up to my 30th birthday and I just got that wake-up call – I was in the office at 2am in the morning deciding which out of two yellows said ‘sunshine’ more than the other.
“I thought ‘really?’!
“It had been very much full-on and it’s very much a young person’s career.
“I’d also started to think about wanting to start a family.
“I thought ‘how is this going to work?’.
“That’s when I secretly started writing my novel.”
Still unsure about her skills as a writer, Adele enlisted the help of her bookworm best friend Jo, who read her first book Playing Away chapter by chapter as she penned it.
“I’d still not confessed to anyone,” says Adele.
“It’s very subjective and personal – you’re never sure that you’re any good at it.
“Jo used to get really excited to know that the next chapter was coming along.
“And I knew if I could capture her then I was onto something,” says Adele.
In the stuff debut novelist’s dreams are made of, Adele made quick work of clinching a book deal.
It took her just 10 days to get an agent, who sent her work to six publishing houses. All six made an offer.
“I basically got this big red book called the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook,” explains Adele, who sent her work to a selection of relevant agents listed in the book.
“I literally just whittled through it. A lot of it is ‘right time, right place’.
“It was absolutely unbelievable. Even now I’m laughing as I’m saying it. Really, that happened? It’s completely bonkers.
“I was pinching myself. I’d never really said ‘one day I’ll get published’.
It wasn’t until Adele’s second book was coming out that she had the confidence to quit the day job.
“I did keep my day job for a while,” she explains.
“I am nervous when people say that they are giving up their job to be a writer.
“It was when the second book was coming out that I thought ‘I can’t deal with two careers’ – especially with all the PR that goes around it.
“By then I was pregnant and wanted to have my baby and be at home – there was definitely a life balance shift, which was fab.”
Since Playing Away was published in 2000, Adele has written a book a year – all of which have been bestsellers.
So has Hollywood come a knocking?
“I have had meetings in Hollywood. It’s interesting,” says Adele, who explains that her titles go in and out of “options” which is an industry term meaning a contractual agreement between a potential film producer and a writer who holds ownership of a screenplay.
“I would love it to happen.
“I love film, so we ‘get’ that it would be phenomenal.
“But if I’m honest and true to myself, my true passion is really grappling and struggling with words.”
The “chick lit” pigeonhole has never really suited Adele, who says she purposely picks big topics such as Alzheimer’s and infidelity in her work, as seen in her latest book Whatever it Takes, which was released at the end of June.
“Bridget Jones had been phenomenal – I loved it,” she says.
“It was about a woman looking for love. But I thought ‘what happens then?’.
“Basically, it’s all over once you get married.
“I never really accepted that. What about people in long-term relationships? Certainly in relationships.
“I just wanted to write something a bit more grown up,” says Adele, who now lives in Guildford, which she thinks she may have subconsciously chosen thanks to its likeness to Yarm, a pretty market town next to Eaglescliffe.
“My parents and sister are still there, so I’m probably back every six weeks or something,” says the author of her Teesside home.
“I also have lots of friends there. I don’t really get time to miss it as I keep the relationship very live.”
“In Guildford, I think I’ve chosen somewhere that’s very similar,” says Adele, who lives with her husband Jim and 11-year-old son Conrad.
And she believes that reading is a basic right.
She is an Ambassador of The Reading Agency’s Six Book Challenge, a scheme that encourages emerging readers who are becoming passionate about books.
And, after receiving an honorary doctorate of Letters from Teesside University in 2010, she has used her connections with the university to give a step-up to other would-be novelists.
So what is her advice for those who dream of following in her footsteps?
It really is simple, says Adele: “Just get writing.”
Adele’s latest book Whatever it Takes is out now priced £11.99.