Ah, summer. A time for sunshine (hopefully), for barbeques and cold white wine, for jumping in a pool and, of course, a time for a nice bit of reading. Well, if you’re stuck for a good book this summer, look no further than local, award-winning author Penny Parkes, whose latest novel, Practice Makes Perfect, is out on 29th June. And to celebrate the book, you are cordially invited to its launch at Waterstones, Cirencester on Thursday 29th June at 7p.m for an evening of fizz-filled book fun.
But first, a bit of background. Practice Makes Perfect is Penny’s second novel in her popular Practice series. In 2016, her debut novel, Out of Practice (Simon & Schuster) was not only a best seller, but earlier in 2017 it won Penny the coveted Romantic Novelists’ Association Award for Romantic Comedy of the Year - a prestigious accolade that recognises the very highest standards of romantic fiction and attracts best-selling authors from around the world, including the global success, Jojo Moyes.
Eager to find out more, I caught up with Penny in the run up to her launch...
Practice Makes Perfect is based in the wonderfully fictional village of Larkford and centers on a GP surgery filled with doctors and their complex (love) lives. I asked Penny what was in store for us in this delicious new summer read. “Well,” Penny says, “following Out of Practice, now with Practice Makes Perfect it’s back to The Practice in Larkford this year for more dishy doctors, dogs and devilment. The team have been nominated as a Model Surgery and, with the new structure in place – 4 partners, 2 couples – it seems like a risky gambit: as we know, shining a spotlight on things does tend to emphasise the flaws!”
So far, so perfect (you’re welcome.) And what about the characters? We love the Larkford team, but who’s new in the second novel? “Well, we also get to meet the wonderful Dr. Alice Walker,” says Penny. “She joins the team, along with her medical detection dog, Coco. Thankfully, as the pressure rises, she’s on the same page as Dr. Holly Graham, when it comes to prioritizing patients over plaudits. And of course, Larkford wouldn’t be the same without resident celebrity Elsie Townsend stirring up some trouble of her own.”
It’s a delight to hear Penny talk about her characters because, to us, they seem so real. So we wondered, what gave Penny the idea for her best selling book series? Says Penny, “Well, I have often joked that, as a family, we are a multi-generational drain on the NHS. It has to be said though, that if you spend any time surrounded by these wonderfully empathetic and caring medical professionals, it’s only logical to start thinking about what these same people might be like when they’re off duty – I certainly appreciate the way they use humour to cope with the stresses of their work. Sneaking behind the scenes seemed like a wonderful way to explore the ups and downs, the lights and darks, of a career in medicine. And of course, it had to be set in the Cotswolds!”
With all this expertise in medicine oozing from her books, you may be surprised to find that Penny herself is not actually a doctor, which just goes to show the extent of Penny’s talent at creating such believable worlds. As for Penny’s own career, it’s been full and varied. Before turning her attention to novel writing, Penny 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 – thereby ensuring that she was never short of travel opportunities, freelance writing projects or entertaining anecdotes. The perfect (if you pardon the pun) ground for writing best selling romantic comedy novels, it seems.
So, has Penny always wanted to write? “I think my love of writing really began with an overwhelming passion for reading,” she says. “I certainly used to use the entire family’s library tickets to keep stocked up over the school holidays as a child. It was blissful escapism, coupled with a nosey curiosity to experience vicariously how other people lived and felt in certain situations. Writing became a natural extension of that, although I talked about writing for a long time before I actually plucked up the courage to commit to a project.”
Of course, every writer leans to others for support, and Penny is no exception. Based between Stroud and Cirencester, Penny is part of a growing group of Gloucestershire writers and authors who are taking on the world. Indeed, Penny counts Sunday Times bestselling author, Stroud-based Katie Fforde as a close personal friend (Fun fact: Penny originally met Katie at a talk run by Katie at the Cheltenham Literary Festival a few years back, and Katie encouraged Penny to submit a manuscript.)
So, when times get tough, where does Penny draw on support to keep on writing? “I find that my fellow writer friends are the best support system in this crazy new world I find myself in,” says Penny. “They really ‘get’ what it’s like to have spent all day working and to have deleted more words than you’ve written, or indeed those few days when The Edit begins when all confidence deserts you. Luckily, we’re a sociable bunch and I consider myself very fortunate to have some truly inspirational writers that I can call on for support, cocktails, or general distraction!”
Indeed, when Penny – who cites Jilly Cooper, Jane Fallon, Katie Fforde and Marian Keyes as her key writing influences - won her prestigious RNA Romantic Novel of the Year Award earlier this year, those writers were very much there for her. So, how did winning such a coveted award make Penny feel? “It was utterly wonderful, although I confess it took me rather by surprise. It was particularly special to be honoured by the RNA, as they have been so instrumental in getting me started on the path to publication.”
And it’s a path that just keeps on rolling out. Right now, fans will be pleased to hear that there are four confirmed books in the Practice series, with Penny currently busy cooking up next year’s offering. After that, Penny says of the next steps, “I guess we’ll have to see whether Dan and Taffy, Holly and Elsie are still capturing the hearts and imaginations of my readers.”
With Penny’s wonderful writing talent and her ability to create warm, engaging characters that make you laugh and cry all the way, something tells us that readers will certainly want more from the wonderful doctors and residents of Larkford very, very soon.
In conjunction with the release we have obtained an exclusive extract! Click the button below to read the first chapter:
Practice Makes Perfect is available to pre-order now from all good booksellers and online retailers. It will be available in the bookshops and supermarkets from 29th June. The book launch takes place at Waterstones, Cirencester at 7p.m. on Thursday 29th July. Tickets are £3 per person and can be redeemed against book purchase price. To reserve a ticket, contact Waterstones, Cirecenester on 01285 658998.
Nikki Owen is an author and writer. Her third and final book in the Project Trilogy – The Girl Who Ran (Harper Collins), is out now. Follow her on twitter @nikkiwriter and nikkiowenauthor.com