The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Tony Parsons
|The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Tony Parsons|
|Summary: We enjoyed Tony Parson's latest novel Catching the Sun and we really wanted to know more about the background to the book when Tony popped into Bookbag Towers.|
|Date: 11 May 2012|
|Interviewer: Sue Magee|
We enjoyed Tony Parson's latest novel Catching the Sun and we really wanted to know more about the background to the book when Tony popped into Bookbag Towers.
- Bookbag: Hi Tony. What was the inspiration behind Catching the Sun?
Tony Parsons: The inspiration for CATCHING THE SUN was falling in love with the far north of Phuket – for its calm, and beauty, and history. Also, I liked the fact that almost nobody knows about that part of Thailand. Two million visitors go to Phuket every year but almost nobody stays in the north – those 2 million head south and west.
So I felt that I had discovered a secret beach that nobody knows about.
I had been going to Thailand for over 20 years and then one day I fell in love with it. I was standing on the sand at Hat Nai Yang – Nai Yang beach – in the far north of Phuket and I looked out at the perfect bow-shaped bay and realised that I had never seen such a vision of unspoilt natural beauty in all my life. The only boats were the longtails of the fishermen. No banana boats. No jet skis. It is totally unspoilt, totally peaceful – and that sense of peace really got to me – as both a traveller, and a writer. Because this place has also witnessed terrible destruction. Hat Nai Yang looks out at the Andaman coast of southern Thailand – it was this peaceful sea that the Tsunami of Boxing Day, 2004 came out of. And I was struck by the savagery of Hat Nai Yang’s history, and the beautiful calm of today. And you know what love is like – the more you know, the deeper you fall. I explored the north of Thailand inland – discovered this was where tin mines were, and virgin rain forest still exists, and gibbons lived in the wild. I couldn’t resist it. I had to write about it.
- BB: I couldn't help but contrast your hero, Tom Finn, who lost his business and who then lost his job when he was a little too confrontational with a couple of burglars he found in his home, with the rioters of August 2011. You could argue that they were all disadvantaged - and you've said that all that ails us came together in a perfect storm last August - but why does Tom Finn (not against a bit of violence himself) go to Thailand? Seven years later would he have been out on the streets with the rioters?
TP: I don’t think that the hero of CATCHING THE SUN would have been on the streets with the rioters. I think it is more likely that the rioters would have burned him out of his home. He doesn’t believe in mindless violence. He only believes in defending the people he loves.
- BB: When I reviewed Catching the Sun I managed to avoid mentioning the tsunami - you delivered it with an impact which I didn't want to spoil - but I did wonder if you had personal experience of what happened? I had never before thought about what happened from 'the inside', from the point of view of the people who thought that 'the wave' had happened just to their village, their bay. It brought home the enormity of the disaster.
TP: The Thai Tsunami features in CATCHING THE SUN but it is not the climax of the book, but where characters discover what is really important to them. I have friends who live in Phuket who were there that Boxing Day, and I spoke to people who experienced it – and of course experiences vary from people who saw it from the beach, and those who only learned about it when they saw crowds of people fleeing inland. I think it captures what it was like. Not just for the general reader, but for those who experienced the Tsunami. Probably the biggest inspiration for that part of the book is that I was in Japan when they had a big earthquake a few years ago and I felt something that we never really feel in the UK – the power of nature, which is something a large part of the world lives with every day. So as a writer, you only have 3 tools in your toolbox – research, experience and imagination. The best writing is when you use all three.
- BB: Where and how do you write? With or without music? What do you enjoy about it and is there anything which you'd rather not have to do at all?
TP: I like writing. I enjoy the life. I like getting to it early before anything else gets into my head. I like losing myself in a story, I like the discipline it takes, I like the graft and craft and struggle it takes to create something you feel proud of. I work in a little room at the top of our house and it doesn’t matter top me if music is on or not – because when I am writing, I don’t hear it.
I am not keen on all the stuff you have to do to promote writing – it can be enjoyable travelling and talking and meeting people, but it is incredibly time consuming. And if you are not at your desk writing, then you are not doing your job.
- BB: You spent a week as writer in residence at Heathrow last August. Did you enjoy it? Did you have any preconceptions which were proved wrong?
TP: I enjoyed the time I spent at Heathrow as writer-in-residence and I am proud of the collection of short stories, DEPARTURES, that came out of it. All of my preconceptions were proved wrong! I thought that air traffic controllers would be venerable old gentlemen who look a little like Michael Fish, the BBC weatherman – but actually air traffic control is run by these brilliant young kids in their twenties in T-shirts and shorts, who have grown up with computers and are completely calm about landing 50 planes every hour. And the pilot I hung around with was a working class guy from Essex who had invested £100,000 of his own money to become a pilot for British Airways. It was all shocking, it was all a surprise. I spent time with the UK Border Agency and I was stunned at the things people do to get into the UK – one man from Iraq was granted asylum in Greece but he wanted to live in the UK – which wasn’t possible because he had been granted asylum in another EU country. So when he got off his plane from Athens he ate his travel documents and claimed he had just arrived from Iraq. The number of travellers who, for various reasons, actually eat their travel documents surprised me. The people who work at Heathrow have an obsessive love for the place – I think it is because you truly do feel connected to the rest of the planet.
- BB: One of the most riveting shows in town at the moment seems to be the Leveson enquiry. When it's all over and done with, do you think it will make a difference?
TP: I don’t think the Leveson enquiry will change much – hopefully it will stop the more extreme bad behaviour of the press, but I hope that they do not kill our free press just because a few sulky celebrities like high Grant and Steve Coogan would like them to. If the press does not hold the wicked and the crooked to account, then nobody will. I think most politicians would love to see our free press crushed. I hope they don’t get their way.
- BB: You've got one wish. What's it to be?
TP: If I had one wish then it would be to live long enough to see my daughter Jasmine grow up and build the life that she wants for herself. She is 9 right now so she has a way to go. But if I could stick around long enough to see Jasmine grown up and happy, that would be more than enough for me.
- BB: Thanks, Tony - we hope that you get your wish.
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