I first picked up a Tony Parsons novel in 2008. Aged 14 I was scouring the bestseller’s list for something other than Twilight and for some reason Parsons’ latest work stood out.
My Favourite Wife tells the tale of Bill, a lawyer from London who moves to Shanghai with his family in pursuit of money and a better life. However, when his wife and daughter return home to dote on ill parents, Bill engages in an affair. Things start to get difficult when the liaison evolves from just sex into something more emotional and Bill begins to care not just for his wife but his mistress. The lines blur.
As a gay boy in the closet with no relationship experience in tow at the time of reading My Favourite Wife – I could hardly relate to Bill and his dilemma. Not sure boys who enjoy reruns of America’s Next Top Model are exactly what Parsons had in mind when writing My Favourite Wife. However, his blunt, genuine writing style marked me and kickstarted a love of both Parsons’ self professed ‘man lit’, or ‘dick lit’ as our LITERATURE Editor prefers – think chick lit from a man’s perspective – and journalism.
I next stumbled across Parsons in GQ. Every month he writes a column on anything and everything – boxing, drugs, cancer – and like with My Favourite Wife his honesty seeps into every word he writes. The difference being where in his literature he takes inspiration from his personal life, in his journalism he actively divulges on it. He relates boxing, drugs and cancer to his own experience of boxing, drugs and cancer, with the result that regardless of whether you’ve boxed or not – he lets you into in that world.
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On Saturday I had the pleasure of seeing Parsons speak at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival. Press pass in hand, awkwardly trying to appear professional – there will be a lot of awkwardly trying to appear professional in this month’s EIBF series – I found a spot in the back centre of the tent hoping Parsons would be the man I’d imagined from his work.
Thankfully he was. Sat dressed simply – despite his GQ credentials Parsons doesn’t come across to me as the kind of man who concerns himself too much with fashion – and chatting in his signature Essex boy done good accent – Parsons spoke candidly on his transition from ‘dick lit’ to crime in his latest work: The Murder Bag.
The Murder Bag centres on London detective Max Wolfe, as he investigates the successive killings of a group of former private school friends, who left school together twenty years prior. The case becomes more and more pressing as it’s not only the group’s lives at stake but Max’s and his daughter Scout’s.
Not exactly My Favourite Wife but Parsons explained this seemingly drastic departure from ‘man lit’ with ease in his talk. He said that although he was ‘always a fan of crime’, he never really felt the need to go into it until 2010, when detective Max Woolfe popped into his head and he ‘couldn’t think of anything else other than The Murder Bag‘. ‘The book chooses you’ he said. And with that in mind, he cashed in his pension, wrote the book without a publisher and now has another number one novel under his belt.
Scary – of course – but Parsons had some wise words to say on it all. ‘If you write a book for money, you don’t tend to make money. If you write a book for love, you tend to make a whole lot of money.’ Refreshing to hear that in a world where there is often pressure to conform to succeed, Parsons believes that in literature throwing caution to the wind and writing what you believe in is key to success. ‘Readers aren’t stupid they can tell if you don’t believe in what you’re writing.’
And hearing Parsons discuss The Murder Bag in person – it’s clear that it’s something he really does ‘believe in’. Excitedly talking about it’s setting – ‘London is my town. But I wanted this to go beyond modern London. Think Bill Sykes/Oliver kind of London’ – and his lead being a single parent – ‘I know that I can write about this with some authority. It’s very difficult to write a compulsive story that also has emotional heft but, if your characters share similarities with you, it comes more naturally.’ – he comes across more excitable whizkid than sixty year old man.
And if you read or have read The Murder Bag – you’ll understand why he’s so passionate about it. What could come across as farfetched crime fantasy, reads naturally. Perhaps not just due to Parsons’ talent but because Parsons is both enamoured by his own lead character and connected to him. Max Woolfe is ‘aspirational’ in the James Bond kind of sense but relatable in the Tony Parsons kind of sense.
It’s no surprise then that with Parsons’ passion/talent and The Murder Bag’s sales/reception that there are two more Max Woolfe tales in the works. Nor that the subject of a film came up. Parsons is no stranger to film. A few years ago his acclaimed father/son novel Man and Boy was picked up by Sam Mendes only never to see the light of day, then his maternity oeuvre The Family Way had Julia Roberts buy the film rights to it only for it never to actually become a film – could this be third time lucky for Parsons?
Well maybe – but if it’s going to be a film Parsons wants it done right. Sky tried to buy the rights to it but in his words ‘Sky are not going to make great drama’ and Parsons wants Max played by someone who ‘can’t get any work’. Relating it to the likes of Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, he put it like this: ‘With Mad Men, John Hamm is Don Draper and I want whoever plays Max to be Max. With a big name like Brad Pitt, Max would always be Brad Pitt. Not the other way round.’
Although that’s not an outright no to Brad Pitt just to be clear. As genuine in person as on paper – Parsons quipped: ‘with Brad Pitt I could make an exception’.
The Murder Bag is in stores now and the Edinburgh International Book Festival runs until August 25th. For more info on the festival and to get tickets check out their website here: EIBF.
Sam Prance is the Editor-in-Chief & Founder of Prancing Through LIFE. He studies French and Italian at the University of Edinburgh. His favourite novel is Cloud Atlas and he has Madonna marathons on a regular basis. He is currently writing this auto-bio in the third person. He will now stop writing this third person auto-bio in order to save himself some embarrassment.
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