A Conversation with Penny Parkes

Penny Parkes survived a Convent education largely thanks to a ready supply of inappropriate novels and her passion for writing and languages.

She studied International Management in Bath and Germany, before gaining experience with the BBC. She then set up an independent Film Location Agency and spent many happy years organising shoots for film, television and advertising – thereby ensuring that she was never short of travel opportunities, freelance writing projects or entertaining anecdotes.

Penny now lives in the Cotswolds with her husband, two children and an excitable dog with a fondness for Post-its. She will often be found plotting epic train journeys through the Alps, baking gluten-free goodies or attempting to attain an elusive state of organisation.

A gripping and heartfelt story about overcoming the past and finding where you belong.

Anna Wilson travels the world as a professional housesitter – stepping into other people’s lives – caring for their homes, pets and sometimes even neighbours. Living vicariously.

But all Anna has ever really wanted is a home of her own – a proper one, filled with family and love and happy memories. If only she knew where to start.

Growing up in foster care, she always envied her friends their secure and carefree lives, their certainty and confidence. And, while those same friends may have become her family of choice, Anna is still stuck in that nomadic cycle, looking for answers, trying to find the courage to put down roots and find a place to call home.

Compelling, rich and evocative, Home is Anna’s journey to discovering that it isn’t where you settle down that matters, but the people you have around you when you do. 

I loved this warm and touching story about home, belonging, and finding your way in the world. Vivid, evocative and beautifully written, with a message of hope at its heart. Holly Miller, author of The Sight of You

It is such a pleasure to welcome Penny to the blog. I’d like to thank her for writing about her writing life and novel Home – which I am sure will be a fantastic contribution to care experienced literature.

  • Tell us of your journey as a writer

My journey into writing began with an abiding obsession with books. Whether for simple escapism, or to live other lives vicariously, I have always found comfort in the pages of a book and longed to create my own fictional worlds. Of course, back when I was at school, becoming an author wasn’t really considered a valid career choice, so my life took a few tangential turns and I was actually well into my thirties before I felt ready to take the leap. I wrote my first novel without telling anyone except my husband, still doubting the validity of anything I might have to say. Hearing the wonderful responses to my five novels has gone a long way to quashing that imposter syndrome, yet still I am filled with nerves every time I submit a manuscript!

  • What made you choose to write about care experience?

My protagonist Anna was one of those characters that quietly evolved in my head as I was writing – the book itself began from the concept of a nomadic housesitter and Anna’s background was the puzzle piece that made the whole jigsaw make sense. “How do you find a place to call your own when you don’t know where to start looking?” is the tagline on the cover, and it truly sums up the emotional journey that carried me through writing this book.

  • Do you have any personal experience with the care system, fostering, children’s homes etc?

My only experience of the care system has been through the extensive research I did for this novel – I spent a lot of time with an amazing professional in social care, quizzing her endlessly (and annoyingly probably), but also really drilling down into the experience of that kind of childhood – the gaps that maybe readers wouldn’t even consider – like having no baby photos, or even a full medical history, relocating in the middle of the night – and that’s just on the surface. It quickly became apparent to me that there’s a kind of shared shibboleth, a shorthand, between children who have experienced life as a looked-after child and I was determined to do that justice.

  • Orphans, those in foster care or children’s homes, often feel they are stereotyped by their past. How aware of this were you whilst writing your novel?

As I was writing, there was a constant echo in everything that Anna did, every decision she made and every relationship she formed – for me, it felt as though her past experiences had given her a very distinct perspective and shaped her expectations of how her life could be. Neither of these could be truly shared by her loved ones, no matter how willing or empathetic.

  • What is the meaning of the title?

The title was actually the inspiration for the book from the very beginning – that word ‘Home’ is so emotive and means something very different to all of us. Is it where we live? Who we live with? Or perhaps how we present ourselves to the world? I believe our own unique experiences of ‘home’ can form such an intrinsic part of our identity, whether it’s an accurate reflection of our lives or not…

  • What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I’m currently working on another stand-alone novel – imaginatively titled ‘Book Six’ on my laptop! A contemporary story and hopefully relatable for all of us after the last few years we’ve been through. It feels to me as though our understanding of how our lives fit together has evolved through the various lockdowns, not least our priorities and our friendships.

  • What #diverse characters do you think are missing from literature?

I would like to see more characters with health limitations and invisible disabilities in mainstream fiction, without them becoming the ‘sidekick’ or the best friend. It’s a hard sell at times, editorially, but I think it’s disingenuous to pretend it’s not a pressing issue.

  • If you could recommend one book for your readers, what would it be?

I utterly adored Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason this summer – one of those incredibly insightful novels that stays with you long after the final page. Heartbreaking at times, but ultimately uplifting, it reads like a modern classic to me.

  • Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I was an unashamed fan of A.A.Milne and the characters of the One Hundred Acre wood from a very early age – but later, while unwell for many months, I became obsessed with memorising his compilation of children’s poems – When We Were Very Young –  and the tale of poor Edward bear falling off the ottoman and lacking the energy to clamber back has stayed with me. Always.

  • What one piece of advice would you give young people leaving the care system today?

I would, in all honesty, consider myself ill-equipped to advise anyone, other than to repeat what I say to my own children: childhood is just the beginning, the finding out who you are, and who you want to be, part of life. The whole story isn’t written already and you can change the plot at any time.

 

Follow Penny on Twitter & Instagram: @CotswoldPenny

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