Saturday, 2 July 2016

A Memorable event - Harry Parker talks about Anatomy of a Soldier

Last Friday, the day of the Finchley Literary Festival, I awoke to a text from my daughter to tell me that the UK had voted to leave the EU. I thought she was joking. I couldn't really take it in as I'd overslept and had to rush up to Finchley High Road, to collect cheques for the short story competition winners. I'm only now beginning to understand the awful consequences of that vote. But on the day, I had no time to think as we had a festival to run.

Having collected the cheques, I ran home, grabbed cat food on the way, and suddenly heard somebody call my name. It was Carol Sampson, on her way to mine. I jumped in the car and was home in two minutes. No sooner had we arrived, than there was a knock on the door, and it was Lindsay Bamfield. We set off and picked up Mr Greenacres, on our way to the library for the FLF second event. We had to get out of the car, empty it of its contents so Mr Greenacres, could re-pack his equipment. Many moons ago, he used to play in a band so is very good at packing and stacking stuff in other people's cars or vans.
Harry Parker with his book
Anatomy of a Soldier

At Church End Library, we were greeted by the new library manager, Richard. And soon our first author for the second event arrived, Harry Parker, to talk to Carol about his novel Anatomy of a Soldier.

To find out more about the first event and the lit fest from Lindsay's perspective, see here.

Harry spoke about the inspiration for the novel, his own experiences in the army in Afghanistan and Iraq. 'Nothing good comes out of war. I came back to a country that looked after me and that gave me hope.' [Our wonderful NHS always deserve a plug]

Anatomy of a Soldier tells the story of Capt Tom Barnes and his near death encounter with a landmine. The story is told from the viewpoints of 45 objects – helmet, bicycle, dog tags, rifle round, rug, medical instruments, handbag, medal, snowflake, drone – before, during and after the explosion.

While writing the book, he was thinking about chapters being blown up in the air and falling in any order, mimicking the disorientation that a soldier goes through. Part of the disorientation for Harry meant working out what each object was. Soldiers can often feel a bit like an object so he tried to make the objects solve problems - joining the army is all about solving problems. Harry loved the way the objects could move in a different way to humans. Move through a country and could even rot and die. His first reading was from the perspective of an infection:

I was inside your leg, deep among flesh that was torn and churned. I lived there for a week and wanted to take root, but it wasn't easy. Some of my spores were washed away with the dirt from your wounds, others were cut out with necrotic tissue, and some were destroyed by a barrage of your white blood cells.
   I struggled to survive.

After recovering, learning how to walk again, and returning to work, he had a desk job filling in spreadsheets, but all the while he was thinking about the book that was a'growing in his imagination. Eventually, he quit his job and the army. When soldiers leave, they are offered some sort of course to help them on their way. Harry asked if he could do a writing course. He was told they had never been asked for that before but they agreed. Harry went to Arvon. When he came back he wrote the Anatomy of a Soldier in twelve weeks, though it was a few years before it was published.

Carol Sampson interviewing
Harry Parker
In writing Anatomy of a Soldier, Harry says, ‘I set myself rules. The objects don’t have emotion, they can’t speak. There were rules along the lines of, they can only know what someone is thinking if they are touching them. The rules don’t really matter for the reader but they mattered for me as a writer to keep a structure.’

Before the book was published, he shared the script with his father, who is a General, he gave his approval and told Harry to go ahead and put it out into the world.

Harry was asked by a member of the audience whether the accident had made him a writer.

Harry said: 'I would have still been in the army and feel lucky to be here,' and he supposed, yes it had contributed to him becoming a writer. However, his background is as a creative, he was an artist, and recently completed a postgraduate course in fine art. So one must presume his army experience would have found its way onto the page in some form or other.

When he was in hospital recovering from the explosion, he was told, when you're better you'll treasure every day. Harry didn't believe the person who told him that at the time. And at that very moment, Harry's baby daughter, Sophie, who was in the audience, started gurgling. It was very apt, because of course his beautiful daughter is all about hope and the future.

Harry Parker grew up in Wiltshire. He was educated at Falmouth College of Art and University College London. He joined the British Army when he was 23 and served in Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2009 as a Captain. He is now a writer and artist and lives in London with his wife and daughter.

Anatomy of a Soldier is published by: Faber and Faber

You can follow Harry on Twitter: @harrybparker

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

I'm reading Anatomy of A Soldier at the moment - it's brilliant. I'll be recommending it.