Mike Parker’s love affair with locations and places began as a child. By the age of six he was collecting maps, when he reached 12 he became a roamer who travelled around England by train. He also managed to navigate himself to Paris.
His passion for digging into the layers of history and identity has never gone away. He’s the author of several guide books and the writer/presenter of a television series of travelogues as well as episodes of the Coast to Coast series. Born in England, he moved to Wales in 2000, now describing himself as a “Cymro o ddewis” (a Welshman by choice).
His writing, which explores communities and landscapes, has its origins in what has been described as his “profound sense of place”
Earliest Reading Memory
Richard Scarry books! Loved them, particularly the Busytown ones, where you had a whole load of streets and people, shops, houses, hospitals, stations and cafes. There was something almost map-like about them, and that always intrigued me.
The Author Who Changed My Mind
Slightly amazed to find myself saying this, because I’ve not read him for DECADES, but a virulent teenage Thomas Hardy habit unquestionably taught me more about life and literature than anyone else. I loved the grand sweep of his novels, their epic construction and acute social conscience. Also – do you see a theme emerging? – I adored the idea of the parallel geography of his Wessex, and how some editions mapped that in the book’s opening pages.
The Author I Keep Returning To
Jan Morris. I adore her profound and playful sense of place, the intense reaction that she had to cities, countries and their manifold histories. She was endlessly curious, funny and honest, opinionated but never boorish, and was unrivalled in finding in a place the telling detail that illuminates a far bigger picture.
She always used to say that when she died, the headlines would likely be ‘Sex Change Author Dies’, that her trans identity would be the one to eclipse all others. I’m so glad that it wasn’t. The 2020 obituaries were all about her extraordinary life and quite brilliant work, just as it should be. She was a good friend to me and many other younger writers of place, and when I want inspiration, personal or professional, it is to her work that I invariably turn. If I had to pick just one, it would be the elegiac Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere.
An Unexpected Pleasure
Texan thriller writer Joe R. Lansdale. I know nothing of the world he writes about, but I love his fierce tenderness and red-hot storytelling.
Most Recommended Book
Bad Blood by Lorna Sage, a book I’ve bought for so many people as a present. It is a masterclass in memoir, how to take the raw material of a life and sharpen it into such a powerful, witty and elegantly uncompromising read.
You Won’t Find Me Reading …
Sci-fi and fantasy. God knows, I’ve tried! I feel like I really should love this stuff, these imaginary worlds and their intricate maps, but perhaps I’m just too literal. I like my maps to be of places I can see for real, potentially visit for myself.
My Favourite Writing Place
Boring answer, but my desk. I am lucky to have the loveliest workspace, a former granary on the side of our house, an old farm. At my desk, I have a terrific view down the lane and over the rolling hills of western Montgomeryshire. I love coming into it, creaking open the door, lighting the fire, watching the kites and buzzards, the starlings in winter and the swallows in summer, the heron that regularly flies in like a pterodactyl to hang out by our pond. Sometimes I even remember to work.
The Last Book I Bought …
Kim Moore’s poetry volume, All the Men I Never Married. which recently won the Forward Prize. It’s extraordinary: visceral and fiery, unflinching in its gaze both on herself and her friends, family and lovers, but funny, funny, funny too. Hers is a voice we need to hear right now, and it’s thrilling.
I Would Love to Have Dinner/Drink With …
James Baldwin. I fear that I’d be completely tongue-tied, but it’s a risk I’d be more than willing to take. And even if I was, I’d be so happy just to listen to him. So much of what he wrote and said fifty, sixty, seventy years ago is so urgently relevant today. His humanity and generosity shine like a beacon, as does his irresistible impishness..
I Wish I’d Written …
More scripts, for theatre or TV. I did drama for my degree, but have never really used it as such, and I adore what can be done with a brilliant script. I love too, the idea of the teamwork of it.
The Author Behind The Name: Mike Parker
Mike Parker is an experienced broadcaster, occasional stand-up, failed politician and has written for the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Observer and many more outlets.
He was the co-author of the Rough Guide to Wales, and has also written books on four British cities, and on the gay scenes of Scotland, Ireland and Northern England.
His book On the Red Hill was Highly Commended in the 2020 Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing and won the non-fiction Wales Book of the Year Award. The following year he received the Glyndŵr Award for outstanding contribution to the arts in Wales.
His most recent book, All the Wide Border — Wales, England and The Places Between — was published Harper North, an imprint of Harper Collins. in March 2023.
About All The Wide Border: From the publisher
A funny, warm and timely meditation on identity and belonging, following the scenic route along the England–Wales border: Britain’s deepest faultline.
There is a line on the map: to one side Wales, small, rugged and stubborn; the other England, crucible of the most expansionist culture the world has ever seen. It is a line that has been dug, debated, defined and defended for twenty centuries.
All the Wide Border is a personal journey through the places, amongst the people, and across the divides of the border between England and Wales. Taking in some of our loveliest landscapes, and our darkest secrets, this is a region of immeasurable wonder and interest. It is there that the deepest roots and thorniest paradoxes of Britishness lie. The border between the countries, even as a concept, is ragged, jagged and many-layered.
Picking apart the many notions and clichés of Englishness, Welshness and indeed Britishness, Mike Parker plays with the very idea of borders, our fascination with them, our need for them, and our response to their power. In his hands, England–Wales border is revealed to be a border within us all, and it is fraying, fast.