Questions and Answers with Tim Parks

You can read a review of Tim Parks’ latest novel, ‘Hotel Milano’ here:

You can buy Tim Park’s latest novel Hotel Milano – and support the blog – by purchasing the book from

PAJNewman (PAJ): ‘Hotel Milano’ tackles Coronavirus head on and is set in a very specific time period. Yet, most novelists I’ve spoken to recently, say they have decided to try and skirt the pandemic. When did you know you were going to base your latest work so directly in this time frame and, I suppose, what was the thing which drew you to it as a topic?

Tim Parks (TP): Well, I’d beg to differ. Neither Coronavirus nor Covid are mentioned in the book. Nor does the word lockdown occur. Yes there is an epidemic, yes people find their movements drastically restricted. But the only thing that interested me was the dramatic situation that this circumstance allowed me to explore: an older man, who doesn’t follow the news, suddenly finds himself isolated, then forced into a relationship with people of a different ethnic community whom he would never otherwise have met, in a drama that immediately presents itself as crucial for their survival. It was this existential drama that interested me. Not a grand novel about the pandemic. It’s too soon for that I suspect and anyway it wouldn’t be my kind of novel.

PAJ: How was your own pandemic? Did you adapt fairly well to lockdown?

TP: Like everyone else I hate being shut in the house. But for the purposes of the book, what mattered was understanding just how fragile normality is, how swiftly the circumstances of your life can change.

PAJ: In terms of the novel, it has a first person, stream of consciousness narrative. Do you begin from a position of wanting to write in that form or, for you, does the story dictate the narrative?

TP: For many years, Frank, an ageing journalist, has refused to follow the news in whatever form. Newspaper, radio, TV, internet. He’s isolated and he’s sought isolation. Hence what happens is an even greater surprise to him. Given this situation, the first person seemed the way to go. I imagined it this way. A person locked in their own private world. It is not a ‘stream of consciousness’ in the Joycean sense. Joyce wrote in third person and includes a lot of passive perceptions that waft through the mind. The first person in ‘Hotel Milano‘ is very much a man debating with himself. What we get is what he consciously articulates. But I always have fun playing with the way the voice works. It’s one of the pleasures of writing.

PAJ: Based on reading some of your previous, non-fiction works, it appears to me like there are a number of biographical parallels with your own life. Are those resonances important for you as a novelist?

TP: For sure one can imagine things more easily when there are parallels with your own experience. One can play with turns your life might have taken and so on. It’s rare to find a good novel where the author doesn’t have some intimate knowledge of the places and people in the story.

PAJ: It seems like a novel of the now, encompassing loneliness, the migrant crisis, the role of the news in the narratives of our lives, grief and the virtue of caring for others. Were these threads you planned to explore or is there a more organic discovery as you were writing Frank’s journey?

TP: My novels aren’t essays. Perhaps they dramatize phases in the arc of a life. In this case old age. One of the things that most perplexes me in Milan is how separate the various ethnic communities are, how little we meet each other or know about each other. We presume this or that about the lives of others, but it’s another thing entirely to be forced to engage with people in dramatic circumstances. Frank suddenly finds himself in a position to do something noble, but dangerous, this when he’d presumed his active life was over. What would a situation like this feel like? How will Frank respond?

PAJ: You have a varied career as a man of letters, encompassing roles as a university professor, translator, reviewer, writer of non-fiction and celebrated novelist: do you have a favourite role and what dictates your next project?

TP: My ambition was always to be a novelist. Then I realized that it’s much more fun to write a range of things, and to teach and translate, though I’ve given up teaching now. Life is richer if one keeps it varied. And all these professions feed into each other. Generally what determines the next project is the requirement that it be refreshingly different from the one before. You could think of some kind crop rotation. I leave the novel field fallow for a year or two, then come back to it. But novels remain ‘the ambition’.

PAJ: Following on from this, do you have a “typical” writing day?

TP: Write in the morning. Go to the gym at lunch or early evening. Other stuff in the afternoon. But nothing’s fixed. There are times when I’ll write all day and others when I’ll drop it for a week.

PAJ: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

TP: I know so little about the situation for a first-time writer these days. What matters above all, I think is a profound sense of vocation, a determination to keep learning and improving and trying. I had written five or six novels before I was published.

PAJ: Obviously at least two of your non-fiction books – ‘A Season with Verona’ and ‘The Hero’s Way’ have required enormous time and commitment just in order to complete gathering the raw material for. Were they enjoyable and are they artificially dreamt up or things which you would have done organically without the objective of a book at the end?

TP: I have never done anything in order to write a book about it. But when I decide to write a book about things I’ve planned to do anyway, I might start getting more deeply involved than I would have done anyway. In the end, the thought, Perhaps I could write a book about this walk (‘The Hero’s Way‘), allows me to engage in the whole adventure much more intensely. In the same way, I read more excitedly and carefully when I know I’m going to write a review about a book, or an essay on its author. Life and writing are wonderfully mixed up for me.

PAJ: On the subject of ‘A Season with Verona’, to a certain subset of readers, this is still perhaps the work you are best known for in the UK. Now 20 years old, I was wondering do you still support the club and are you still able to make it to games? Do you ever re-read your older work?

TP: I live in Milan now, so I’m hardly a regular at the Bentegodi. But I certainly keep my eye on Hellas and watch anxiously for each result. A melancholy habit this year. Only very rarely do I pick up an old book of mine and look at a couple of pages. Perhaps because I have to mention it in an interview or at a presentation. I like to stay focused on what I’m doing now.

PAJ: Books like ‘Italian Neighbours’ and ‘An Italian Education’ can now seem like postcards from the moon to UK-based readers post-Brexit. As a long-standing Brit-abroad, how do you reflect on the changes to your country of origin?

TP: I’m not sure I understand this question. There was no free movement of people in Europe when I arrived in Italy. I had to fill out endless forms, apply for permission every three months. Today, I see plenty of people around me in Milan who have come from non-EU countries, Britain and the USA included. The days of travel are not over. Nor is my affection for Britain, though I wouldn’t claim to ‘understand’ the place, having been away so long. It’s always a great pleasure to me when I go back for a few days.

PAJ: What is the question you wished interviewers and readers would ask but never do?

TP: Really, I have no such wishes. One hopes readers will find one’s books a pleasure. The aim is always to intrigue, to establish an intimacy, to keep the reader guessing about what the story is most deeply about. Perhaps because the greatest pleasure for me as a reader is the book that stirs the greatest activity of mind. As for interviewers, they must ask what they want to know. Fortunately it’s not a police interrogation and I don’t have to make sure my answers are consistent.

Purchase Links:






Born in Manchester in 1954, Tim Parks grew up in London and studied at Cambridge and Harvard. In 1981 he moved to Italy where he has lived ever since. He has written nineteen novels including Europa (shortlisted for the Booker prize), DestinyCleaverIn Extremis and, most recently, Hotel Milano.

During the nineties he wrote two, personal non-fiction accounts of life in northern Italy, Italian Neighbours and An Italian Education, books that won acclaim and popularity for their anthropological wryness. These were complemented in 2002 by A Season with Verona, a grand overview of Italian life as seen through the business and passion of football, and Italian Ways, on and off the rails from Milan to Palermo. 

A regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books, in recent years he has been publishing a series of blogs on writing, reading, translation and the like in the New York Review online.

Aside from his own writing, Tim has translated works by Moravia, Pavese, Calvino, Calasso, Machiavelli and Leopardi; his book, Translating Style, which analyses Italian translations of the English modernists, is considered a classic in its field. (Biography adapted from

Social Media:




Question and Answers with Simon Conway

You can read a review of Simon’s latest novel, ‘The Survivor’ here

You can support the blog and order ‘The Survivor’ from the link here

Jude Lyon of MI6 has narrowly foiled the traitor Fowle’s plot to level London, but the public are demanding answers.

Answers the government doesn’t have.

As the country reels, a new populist political figure carves a stratospheric trajectory – but is he all he seems?

In Moscow the President is furious. The world now knows the destructive power of the programme his people had been developing, and as the Russians scramble to understand how it got into Fowle’s hands, they start to worry that perhaps it could be used against them . . .

But Jude Lyon has just one question on his mind: Guy Fowle is missing, with nothing left to lose,

So what is he planning next?

Seething with political machinations, burning with blood-thumping action, and featuring the best returning MI6 operative since James Bond ‘The Survivor’ brings the espionage novel crashing into the modern day.

PAJNewman (PN): ‘The Survivor’ follows just over a year from the publication of ‘The Saboteur’. How has your last year been? I think I’m correct in thinking that you have moved to America. Is that altering the way you work and are you still planning on publishing at the rate you’ve been for this trilogy?

Simon Conway (SC): I moved to the USA in March with my wife who is reporting on US politics for the BBC. I’m still travelling but at a slight slower pace. This year I’ve been in East Africa, Ukraine and the South Pacific for work but with long enough between trips to settle in here in Washington, DC. It’s a fascinating and in many ways disturbing time to be here.  If anything, the atmosphere here is more febrile than in the wake of the storming of the capitol. It feels like democracy is under threat and there is a danger of politically motivated violence. It’s rich material for future books. I am enjoying writing and I’m hoping to keep up the pace.

PN: How are you getting on with balancing the demands of the publisher, the public and your other job for the HALO Trust?

SC: I’m finding a balance. For the last year I’ve been working part-time for HALO unless I’m overseas on mission. That gives me more time to time to stare out the window, which I’ve convinced myself is all important for writers. I have a large laurel oak just outside my window in Georgetown and watching it change with the seasons has been ceaselessly diverting.

PN: In ‘The Survivor’ Jude is still recovering from his injuries sustained at the end of his last outing and London remains in ruins. The marketing is saying that this concludes the Jude Lyon series. Is this confirmed or can you imagine bring Jude back in future?

SC: Put this way, we may see more of those who survive…

PN: How do you feel about this outing for Jude? Are you finding your attitude to your work has shifted across the three novels?

SC: Jude is understandably scarred by what has happened in the last two books and I think we see a more reflective side of him and Yulia Ermolaeva in The Survivor. There is a quiet pleasure in writing characters that you are familiar with and I’m going to miss some of them. At the same time, I wanted to keep up the pace. I got a message from Mick Herron a couple of days ago, who read an advance copy. He said that it’s like being “strapped to a rocket” which pleased me no end. It was always going to be a challenge to complete the trilogy given the mayhem caused in The Saboteur and I hope that I’ve achieved it.

PN: How easy or hard was it to avoid the Covid overtures to some of the decisions taken by the Prime Minister in the novel. Do you get satisfaction out of the layers of comic irony this generates?

SC: I think that Covid has highlighted the fragility and inter-connectedness of modern society and that is particularly interesting if you are exploring its vulnerability to acts of sabotage and how ill-prepared our political system is to respond. One of the more enjoyable aspects of the books has been creating the politicians: Frank Booth the self-pitying former Foreign Secretary responsible for an illegal rendition in The Stranger; Gabriel Morley, the hapless Chancellor of the Exchequer in The Saboteur who becomes a Russian pawn; and Lee Chapeaux, the youthful insurgent who sees himself as a latter-day Cromwell and becomes Prime Minister in The Survivor without facing the electorate. He is quite happy to burn everything down to rebuild from the ashes.

PN: I know one of your novels is in development for TV ( Would you be willing to let this trilogy be adapted? If so, do you have an actor in mind for either Jude or Guy?

SC: I’m open minded. They’d have to do a lot of damage to London! I don’t have a specific actor in mind. That’s for others to decide. Who do you have in mind?

PN: In terms of the HALO Trust, is there any way for readers to help support the work that you are doing?

SC: Absolutely, I encourage people to follow The HALO Trust on social media and spread the message. Take a look at We have been quite successful at public fund raising for our work in Ukraine.

PN: What is the question you wished interviewers and readers would ask but never do?

SC: I think that interviewers and readers find their way to the right questions.

Purchase Links:







Author Bio:

Simon Conway is a former British Army officer and international aid worker. He has cleared landmines and the other debris of war across the world.

As Co-Chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition he successfully campaigned to achieve an international ban on cluster bombs.

He is currently working as Director of Capability for The HALO Trust.

He lives in Edinburgh with his wife the journalist and broadcaster Sarah Smith. He has two daughters. (Biography courtesy of

Social Media:




Questions and Answers with Simon Conway

You can read a review of Simon Conway’s new novel, ‘The Saboteur’ here

PAJNewman (PAJN): Jude Lyon is back and, once again, confronted with his nemesis Guy Fowle. I know last time you spoke about these characters representing your principled side and your inner psychopath and, this time out Fowle is even more dastardly than before. Do you see a long-term Bond/Blofeld, Smiley/Karla ying and yang relationship between these two?

Simon Conway (SC): It all depends whether one of them kills the other. I haven’t decided.

PAJN: Guy really is a villain – do you ever find yourself writing a chapter featuring him and think, “what’s wrong with me?!?” He certainly seems to be getting more evil as the books go on. I can’t see an emotional heart opening change in his behaviour any time soon but perhaps I’m being too harsh?

SC: Never. I refer you to the narrator of my second novel Rage who says: “There were so many things wrong with me I’d become frightened of drawing up a list of them, for fear of what I might learn.”

I like to believe in the possibility for redemption but for Guy Fowle it is hard to see what form that might take.

PAJN: The novel obviously has echoes of Covid with the vast majority of London being confined to their homes. Will Covid play a part in your future work do you think? And was it quite nice to play with parts of it, like the lockdown, but not have to deal with the dreary reality so much.

SC: I think that there is a place for COVID drama but I’m not sure that it’s what my readers are looking for. If it plays a part in my writing it will either to be through deliberate echoes – empty streets, deserted airports and overcrowded hospitals – or as a recent historical event.

PAJN: When we spoke last, you had taken about 18 months to write The Stranger. This novel is appearing much sooner and a great chunk of it was (I believe) written in combat zones. Would you mind speaking a little about how that works for you and how you manage to concentrate when doing such a difficult and dangerous day job?

SC: It’s not easy to balance a job that would consume very waking hour if you let it and the dogged business of writing novels. When it works, writing is a good way of switching off and relaxing. When it doesn’t, I can go days or weeks without writing and I feel like I’ve become slack and unmoored. I am fortunate that my job has allowed me to travel to some very interesting locations and meet memorable people. It is clear that has influenced my writing.

I did some of the final edits of The Saboteur in the evenings when I was in Libya last October. It’s not safe to go out at night so perfect for editing.

PAJN: In terms of Jude and Guy, do you think they will be back for a third outing? If so, do you have anything planned yet or are you working on anything different at the moment.

I’m working on a third instalment.

PAJN: The Saboteur is (I think this is correct) your seventh novel. Are you finding it easier to write as you get further in or is each a challenge in a different way?

SC: Yes, I think that it is becoming easier to write. I’m more confident of my skill. I spend less time agonising over the edit and as a consequence I’m more assured with the knife.

PAJN: The Stranger garnered some outstanding reviews and this must have been really pleasing. Has that changed how you approached the sequel and are you now under greater pressure for this instalment?

SC: I suppose I feel some pressure to keep up the pace.

Simon Conway has worked for The Halo Trust since 1998 clearing landmines all over the world.

PAJN: Does seeing landmines which have been placed indiscriminately by both governments and non-state actors, sometimes just to terrorise a populace, colour your view of human nature? Can you maintain a positive view of the world with the things you see in this role?

SC: It’s not an easy question to answer. By nature, I’m an optimist. I believe that it is possible to make the world better with sustained effort. I’ve seen evidence of that but my writing seems to tap into a more cynical and world-wearier vein. I worry that most people would burn their neighbour’s house down if goaded into it. That’s why those in power carry such a huge responsibility not to feed peoples’ worst prejudices.

PAJN: June this year saw an appalling loss of life in your team in Afghanistan. I was obviously so sorry to read about it and can only imagine how difficult it must have been. Is there anything practical that readers of yours can do to help and how are things out there now?

SC: In June this year eleven of my colleagues died in an attack on a remote demining camp in Baghlan Province. Later Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack although it was more likely an armed robbery that went wrong.

We are all very concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and the safety of the two and half thousand HALO staff there, however we have been clearing mines and saving lives in Afghanistan for thirty years, including under Taliban rule, and we have weathered tough times before. Just because we don’t have troops there anymore doesn’t mean that the west can just give up on Afghanistan. No good will come of that. It is important that our government recognises that. Tell your MP!

Slightly less serious questions:

PAJN: What colour is Monday?

SC: Monday is blue, obvs

Who had the idea of coming up with a whisky to go with the advanced reader copies? Because it’s a superb idea!

SC: My editor at Hodder, Nick Sayers, is responsible for the whisky. He is being mysterious about how he acquired them.

PAJN: Last time I asked you what was the question you wished interviewers and readers would ask but never do and your answer was “is it possible to entertain and inform”. Has lockdown and the success of The Stranger altered the questions you get asked and how readers treat you?

SC: I have no idea why I thought that was a good question. I certainly don’t know the answer.

Author Bio

Simon Conway is a former British Army officer and international aid worker. He has cleared landmines and the other debris of war across the world.

As Co-Chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition he successfully campaigned to achieve an international ban on cluster bombs.

He is currently working as Director of Capability for The HALO Trust.

He lives in Edinburgh with his wife the journalist and broadcaster Sarah Smith. He has two daughters. (Biography courtesy of