Man and Boy is a modern classic. The title has sold more than 1.1 million copies, according to Nielsen BookScan, and was number 16 in the Top 20 bestselling adult novels of the Noughties.
The story of Harry Silver, a contemporary man who finds himself a single, unemployed father after his marriage fails, appeared to resonate with many readers. Tony Parsons explains: "It connected with people and they didn't see my life or me in there, they saw their own life, and they saw their own families and their own parents and their own children."
Parsons revisited Harry and his son Pat a few years later in the 2002 follow-up, Man and Wife. Eleven years on from the original, he has decided to return to Harry and Pat one more time. There is a lot to live up to, he explains. "A book like Man and Boy casts a long shadow. It's what you dream of. It has changed my life."
Parsons says he has often wondered how the characters were getting on after leaving such a sizeable gap since the last instalment. "I felt confident I could make a good fist of it and write a book I could be proud of— that would stand next to the others. I don't want to let people down."
Men from the Boys (HarperCollins, May) is a story he hopes fans will fall in love with once more. The novel follows a school year in the life of 15-year-old Pat and the hapless Harry. Harry, now 40, has a seemingly perfect life, with a happy family and a successful career. However, the re-emergence of his ex-wife Gina, the onslaught of the economic downturn and school-ground bullies could chime with readers just as Man and Boy did.
Punching sailors in bars
Parsons' love of writing blossomed from a young age. His parents conceived after they had lost all hope of having children. "I came along when they'd given up. My mum was so happy to have a baby—she would just sit me on her lap and read to me... until I was about 39," reminisces Parsons. "I think my mum's lap is where I fell in love with stories, because I always wanted to write." It was because of this love of books that Parsons left school at the age of 16. "It was a good school, but I thought: 'I'm going to be a writer, I should be punching sailors in bars. I can't do A-Levels, writers don't do A-Levels."
Parsons began work at Gordon's Gin distillery on City Road, London, and during this time he wrote his first novel, The Kids. The book helped him get his first job in journalism on the NME after replying to an advert by submitting a copy of his novel.
Parsons describes his time there as "wild" and says it was a job that many young men would have loved. "It was like doing your National Service," says Parsons. "You were there for a few years, they took the boy and turned you into a man— and then kicked you back into the real world where no one was interested in you and no one had ever heard of you."
After leaving NME, Parsons struggled to find work throughout the '80s and says he was grateful for any freelance work thrown his way. By 1984 he was divorced from fellow journalist Julie Burchill and living as a -single father.
He was commissioned by friends in the industry to write articles on topics such as commitment and romance for a variety of publications including Elle and the Guardian and found something other than music that he enjoyed writing about.
He continues to write a weekly and monthly column for the Sun and GQ respectively. He explains that his columns help him with writing novels. "I find they help each other. Writing the novels helps the journalism— it helps you dig a little deeper. Writing the journalism helps the fiction— it keeps you sharp."
When Parsons' mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in the late '90s, the same illness his father had died of in 1987, he felt inspired to pen the book that later became Man and Boy. "Writing it was therapeutic," he says, and he often wept while writing. He believes one reason the book was successful was because there was "real unfabricated, authentic raw emotion in there".
"When I wrote Man and Boy I felt poised between the two generations. I felt like somebody's son and somebody's father in a way that I never did before or since."
The similarities between Parsons and his protagonist are striking. Like Harry, Parsons is a family man. His Hampstead home is scattered with pictures of his daughter whom he says loves reading Enid Blyton.
"I don't know where we differ," he says of Harry. "He's probably a nicer guy than me, he's more charming, he's got that bumbling charm about him that I don't have," he says. But Parsons adds: "I'm closer to Harry than I'll ever be to any other fictional character."
And based on the huge sales of both Man and Boy and Man and Wife it appears that countless others can identify with Harry too.
- Vaddey Ratner | "A memoir seems to somehow put too much focus on my own life and that’s not what I want to do with this book"
- Dara O'Briain | "There are splinters under my fingernails from the scraping of the barrel that is my life."
- Jeffery Deaver | "I live to fool people, it's my goal in life"
- Sean Taylor & Hannah Shaw | "I like my stories to have a bit of fierceness in them, that's down to my taste, but I know it's also something that interests children."
- "A foul taste of book..."