Welcome to the Open House Sunday Interview, and my guest this week is author Frank Parker. Frank will be sharing something of his childhood, special guest for dinner, a delicious sounding lamb roast and some delightful music from Jazz singer Clare Teal.
About Frank Parker
I’m Frank Parker and I am a writer. I didn’t used to be. Like many people I always wanted to be. On several occasions during my career as an Engineer I produced stories that I submitted to publishers. I even had a writing job once. It involved talking to small and medium sized businesses and writing up profiles for a regional business magazine. To make any money you had to sell advertising to accompany the articles. Selling is not a skill that comes naturally to me so that job did not last long.
I returned to Engineering, working on chemical plants, refineries and power stations throughout the North and Midlands of England. In 1997 I joined a defence contractor as a project administrator, a job that saw me through until retirement in the autumn of 2006. I came to live in the Irish Midlands so as to be near my son and his family. And, now at last, I have the freedom to write.
So far I’ve self-published 4 novels and two collections of short stories. You can find out more about them here. My stories have also appeared in anthologies published independently in County Laois.
I have also pursued a lifelong interest in politics. Between 1985 and 1991 I served as a councilor in North East Lincolnshire. So you should not be surprised to find posts on my blog commenting on current affairs from a broadly Liberal point of view. The environment and the damage we are doing to it, from agri-chemicals and air and water pollution to climate change, has always been a matter of concern to me. As a councilor I argued the case for the local authority to purchase timber products only from sustainable sources.
Since 2013 I have been studying Irish history in an attempt to gain a fuller understanding of the turbulent relationship between that country and its near neighbour. It began when I discovered that among the leaders of the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century were a number of individuals with a prior connection to the county in which I was born and grew up, Herefordshire. That discovery lies behind my historical novel Strongbow’s Wife which describes the invasion and its aftermath from the point of the view of the woman who married one of the most powerful of those leaders. You will find articles about some of the people and places involved by clicking the Hereford and Ireland History tab above.
For the past year I have been researching the background to the period in Irish history usually referred to as The Great Irish Famine. This work was prompted by a friend and together we hope to produce a book on the subject.
We will find out more about Frank’s books after he has been in the hot seat and answered his chosen questions.
Welcome to the open house Frank and can you tell us where were you born and something about your childhood memories.
I was born in Hereford. My parents were Londoners; Dad was serving with the RAF and Mum worked in Air Raid Precautions as well as being a tailor working for Simpsons of Picadily in their Stoke Newington factory. In the summer of 1941 she was expecting me so she and her widowed Mum were evacuated. She chose Herefordshire because a decade before she had holidayed there. After a year of living in various shared houses, in the spring of 1942 they found a stone built cottage to let high in the hills above the Golden Valley in the west of the county. It was to become our home for the next 14 years.
A stream ran behind the cottage with a couple of steep waterfalls in a deep ravine. Five small meadows and an orchard surrounded it. The owner used these to graze cattle through the autumn and into spring – in bad weather the animals were housed in a stone built block, the gable end of which faced the cottage across a cobbled yard. In late spring the cattle would be taken to market and the grass left to grow to be harvested for hay in July. This was a traditional rich mixture of grass and wild flowers and provided the winter feed for the cattle. It was stored in a ‘Dutch Barn’ – a steel structure with a curved corrugated steel roof – beyond the cattle sheds.
For me, growing up this set up appeared idyllic. Dad was killed in action shortly after my second birthday and, two and a half years later, Mum gave birth to a baby girl. I suspect that her arrival was one of several factors that stymied Mum’s chances of returning to London after the war. But for me and my sister, having the run of five acres of meadows, a stream and the gable end of the cattle shed to bounce balls from, was close to paradise. The cottage and its surroundings are the setting for my novel Summer Day.
I came to realise much too late that for my mother it was a lonely and isolated existence, especially after her mother died in February 1948.
In 1952, having passed the 11+ examination, I was sent away to a boarding school in Surrey. By the time I completed my education six years later, Mum had taken up with a local man, had two more daughters and set up home in an old house they bought in the village. A lot of hard work went into modernising and adapting that house and I was a, sometimes reluctant, labourer on many DIY projects whilst working as an apprentice in an Engineering business in Hereford.
Both the cottage and the house had large gardens where we grew most of our own fruit and vegetables. As a consequence I acquired a life long love of gardening.
Which author would you have to dinner, why and what questions would you ask them?
I would love to have the late Herbert George Wells as a dinner guest. I had already read several of his science fiction works by the time The History of Mr Polly was chosen as one of the set books for the Cambridge GCE ‘O’ level English Literature examination in 1958. I loved that book and could readily identify with the young man and his life as an apprentice to a trade he had no interest in, his loveless marriage and his escape to a very different life which, nevertheless, does not fully live up to his expectations.
But Wells was much more than a novelist; he was a Socialist and advocate of social reform and the creation of a progressive world government, all ideas that I have espoused myself.
I would love to know what he makes of the real social, political and technological advances of the seven decades since his death. What, for example, does he make of the United Nations as a forum for addressing the world’s problems? How would he rate various United States presidents or British prime ministers? How would he view recent incarnations of the British Labour Party: Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ or Jeremy Corbyn’s attachment to left of centre policies?
Would he be disappointed by the failure to close the gap between rich and poor, exhilarated by the advent of ‘smart’ technology and instant international communication, dismayed by the continuing ignorance of large sectors of the population?
In truth it would take many more than one dinner engagement to explore the mind of this great man of letters, a true polymath who thought deeply about science, politics, economics and philosophy, and wrote prolifically about them all.
What kind of music do you listen to and who are your favourite musicians?
I do not have a record collection. I listen to whatever happens to be on the radio – and mostly that means my local commercial radio station here in the Irish Midlands and an elelctic mixture of old and new popular music. I love live music, too, and I don’t mind if the artiste is a well established celebrity performer, a young person just starting out, or an established amateur performer. My taste ranges across all the genres that have been popular at various times during the last 60 years: folk, rock, blues, country, soul . . . It also embraces all of the many singer/song writers who have found fame and fortune over the same period.
But my first and continuing love is for jazz. The first live concert I ever attended was in the summer of 1957 at what was then the Gaumont State Theatre in Kilburn. The concert party was a group styled ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’ and featured Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton and Oscar Peterson, among others. Ella Fiztgerald topped the bill and took about a dozen curtain calls. This was at the start of Fitzgerald’s move away from Be-Bop into swing and the standards of the Great American Songbook. The first of a series of albums she produced with Norman Granz (who also manged the JATP tours) at his Verve records, this one featuring the songs of Cole Porter, was released the previous year.
As for a favourite piece of music – I guess anything from that era would do or you could play something by one of the greatest modern re-interpreters of the music, Clare Teal. I first saw her perform at a small venue in East Yorkshire about 15 years ago – around the time she was ‘discovered’ by Michael Parkinson, whose Sunday evening radio show she eventually took over. Here is Clare Teal with ‘Chasing Cars’ live at the Lichfield Festival in 2014. You can find her music: Clare Teal Amazon
If you cook do you have a signature dish that everyone loves to eat? Can we have the recipe?
I love to cook. I do most of the cooking in our house; not, however, the baking. Cakes and pastries are Mrs P’s department and she excels. I like cooking spicy casseroles and Indian style dishes. Here’s my recipe for a spicy lamb roast.
- Take a small to medium sized joint of lamb, leg or shoulder will do.
- Make a spice mix – use your own favourites and vary the quantity to suit your taste and that of your guests. I use cumin and coriander for the base, preferably whole seeds, a tea spoon of each, heated gently in a frying pan to bring out the aromas, then crushed in a pestle and mortar along with 3 or 4 cloves and a piece of cinnamon. Add oil – I use rape seed oil, but olive oil is good too – to make a paste.
- Pierce the surface of the joint in several places and push in slivers of garlic and rosemary leaves then massage the paste into the surface and leave to stand for about an hour.
- Meanwhile peel and chop a couple of medium onions – again, the quantity can be varied to suit your taste – peel and grate a two inch piece of ginger and chop a small red or green chilly. Once again adjust this or leave out altogether if you don’t like too much heat.
- Sweat the onion with a little oil for ten minutes in the base of a large pan, add the ginger and chopped chilly. Now place the marinaded joint into the pan and cover with stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for about two hours until the meat is starting to fall off the joint. Lift the joint and cover with foil whilst you strain and thicken the pan liquor to make a sauce.
- Slice the joint and serve with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.
Tell us about your work in progress.
My current work in progress is a historical novel based on the two and a half years that Captain (later Sir) Arthur Kennedy spent as Poor Law Inspector in the town and district of Kilrush in County Clare during the famine.He came to despise the actions of some of the land owners in the area who were evicting large numbers of their tenants, thereby increasing their dependence upon the relief provided by the poor law, whilst at the same time controlling the amount of money available for relief, by their refusal to pay sufficient taxes.
Books by Frank Parker
A layman’s guide to the worst man made disaster to afflict Great Britain, it’s causes and lessons for the future.
Whilst the British elites were celebrating the achievements of Empire, a million people died from lack of food and housing elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Is it possible for humanity to achieve the Liberal ideal of the greatest good for the greatest number or are Malthus’s predictions about the relationship between population and food production about to come true?
A recent review for the book
This is a deeply researched and well-written book. I was expecting it to focus almost entirely on the famine years. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it covers much broader topics which help to put the famine into historical, political, social, economic and religious perspective. Indeed, a full eight chapters are devoted to “setting the scene”. There’s even a fascinating chapter on nutrition and mental development.
The actual famine is broken down into four chapters as the crisis begins, develops, peaks and then wanes. At the end is an interesting summary giving the author’s personal view on the disaster, and on the continuing presence of famine in the world today.
A Purgatory of Misery is worthy of attention for anyone interested in European history. It gives a broad sweep of history, from way before the famine up to and then beyond those famine years. And it presents what seems to me to be a well-balanced account that does not take sides or inappropriately point the finger of blame.
A full review including an interview with the author is on thebookowl.com
Read the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Frank-Parker/e/B0076JVE5I
And Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Frank-Parker/e/B0076JVE5I
Read more reviews and follow Frank on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7834486.Frank_Parker
Connect to Frank
My thanks to Frank for sharing his memories and music with us and I know he would love to receive your feedback. Thank you for dropping by.. Sally