Penny Parkes has joined me today to talk about her new book, Practice Makes Perfect (released by Simon & Schuster on 29th June 2017.) Thank you for joining me today and congratulations for your new book. Can you tell me a little about Practice Makes Perfect?
Well, Practice Makes Perfect takes us to the fictional Cotswold market town of Larkford, where we sneak behind the scenes of the medical centre there – The Larkford Practice. There’s a whole new management structure in place. In fact, the four senior doctors are not only entwined professionally, but also personally: 4 partners, 2 couples. So, I’m sure you can imagine how the boundaries between personal and professional become ever more blurry.
On the surface it might seem like the perfect situation and the powers-that-be certainly think so, because they’ve nominated Larkford as a Model Practice. But, as is often the case, if you shine a spotlight on things, it does rather tend to emphasise the flaws…
And, as always in Larkford, we get to see the doctors as a crucial part of their community – in good times and in bad. For Dr Holly Graham, in particular, that relationship works in both directions, as resident celebrity Elsie Townsend makes it her mission to help Holly find balance and fulfilment.
I’m hoping it will be like visiting old friends for those returning to the series after Out Of Practice and also stand alone as a wonderfully rural escapade for those new to the Larkford Valley.
What’s your writing day and routine like? Any rituals?
I have to be fairly flexible, to be honest, to fit around family life, but that doesn’t stop me having an ‘ideal day’ that I try to work towards. I normally see the kids off to school and then have my breakfast – an excellent excuse to muck about on social media while I top up my caffeine levels. Then, The Ginger Ninja and I like to have a little stroll, and this mainly serves not only to wear her out, but also to give me time to think about what I want to write that day. I have found (to my cost) that I am much more efficient if I sit down to type with an idea of where I want the story to go… Even if my characters don’t always behave themselves accordingly once I get started!
What type of writer are you in terms of planning and editing?
I’d have to say that I’m a little of both – I like to sketch out a loose framework and then just let the plotlines develop on their own with a first draft. Only then will I start looking at the balance of points of view and more specific character arcs etc. and of course that’s where my incredibly insightful and lovely Editor, Jo, comes in with some much needed objectivity!
Do you have any advice for anyone experiencing writer’s block?
I think the only thing to be aware of is that, creatively, you can’t drink from an empty cup – if you’re exhausted or ill or hammering out the words simply to up the word count, I think it shows in the quality of those words. Half the time, the days when I’ve pushed through writing with the flu, for example, all those pages have ended up on the cutting room floor anyway! Sometimes better to step away – rest, recover, see a friend – and then suddenly a chance comment in the queue at the supermarket will set my enquiring mind off on a roll… Inspiration is everywhere really, except possibly staring at a blank screen!
What elements do you believe make good characters and plot?
I personally like to see a balance of light and dark in all my characters – even the secondary ones. For me, nobody is entirely one or the other, even in real life, and I like to understand why somebody behaves the way they do – and if the characters are authentic, then I hope the plotlines have a more relatable and enjoyable quality as a result.
Which fictional character would you like to spend time with and why?
Oh that’s so tricky – and, slightly out of left field, I would have to say Sherlock Holmes. I’m drawn to his brilliance and its juxtaposition to the accompanying social awkwardness. One could certainly never accuse him of being predictable and I like to be surprised.
Which authors do you admire?
There have been several authors that I return to time and time again – often the ones that make me laugh, even while they’re making me cry. Obviously Marian Keyes is a consummate professional in that department and any new book of hers immediately goes to the top of my TBR pile.
What’s your favourite word?
Until you asked this question, I wasn’t even aware that I had one! Then the word mellifluous popped into my head, so I’m going with that…
What advice do you have for new writers?
Write the story that you need to tell – you’re going to be spending an awful lot of time with that manuscript – why not write something you feel passionately about, rather than bending yourself around like a pretzel to fit into some idea of how you ‘should write’? And then persevere!
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.
Penny lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and two children. She will often be found plotting epic train journeys through the Alps or baking gluten-free goodies. Her new book, Practice Makes Perfect is available to buy in most UK book shops and online, Simon & Schuster, June 2017.
She can be found on Twitter: @CotswoldPenny
My verdict on Practice Makes Perfect:
Practice Makes Perfect is the latest novel in the Larkford series (the previous one being Out of Practice.) This is my introduction to Penny Parkes. I do love it when I discover a new author and immediately love their book (and if you’ve not guessed, this was the case with this book.)
I’ve not read Out of Practice but this certainly did not hinder the enjoyment of this book. Enough backstory is given without slowing down the current plot.
The main characters, Holly, Julia, Dan and Taffy are all so different and all developed well.
There are traits in all of them that readers will identity with. Each character is dealing with their own ups and downs and twists and turns. I did have a soft spot for Taffy and Elsie.
The book is told from the point of view of these four characters. The plot progresses well and at a good pace through the book. The four main characters as well as the supporting characters have a lot they need to deal with throughout the course of the story. It felt real and relatable.
Many emotions and issues are explored including dealing with a relationship that is failing, ambition, deciding to take a leap of faith (allowing yourself to let go of the past and embrace the future) and an alcoholic parent.
The writing style feels effortless and is charming. One of the things I loved the most about this book is the overall feeling I had when reading. I felt fully immersed in this lovely community surrounded by the characters warmth, humour and flaws.
If you’ve read Out of Practice, I am sure this will be a welcome edition to the series for you. If, like me, you’re new to Larkford, I really recommend you pick up this latest book by Penny Parkes.
Practice Makes Perfect is a great summer read. I loved, loved, loved this book. More visits to Larkford please Penny. Pretty please?