Novelist Adele Parks built the dream home she drew on a napkin

‘I saw it being very white, with lots of windows’ (Picture: Daniel Lynch)

When the invasion of Ukraine began the war felt heartbreakingly close to home for the novelist Adele Parks. Her student son had just spent several months in Russia, and had visited Ukraine as part of his modern languages degree. That, plus blanket newspaper and TV coverage of the unfolding horror, persuaded her and her husband Jim that they had to act.

So they went online to find out what they could do and ended up inviting two young Ukrainian women, recent graduates who had managed to escape the fighting in Kiev, to move into their home.

‘I don’t want to talk about it much, I’m not trying to say I’m some sort of saint,’ said Adele. ‘But we all get on very well, and although you have to offer a home for a minimum of six months, as far as we are concerned they will be staying for the foreseeable future.’

With Adele’s son, Conrad, just returned from his travels, and Lilac the cat making up the family, life is hectic in the Parks home (Jim, a website designer, thoughtfully took his wife’s surname when they married). Luckily their modern house in Guildford was designed to hold a crowd.

When the couple met, Jim was already living in the leafy market town. Adele had a flat in Chiswick, west London, and they flitted between homes. But as Conrad got older they decided to set up home together in Surrey, and Adele saw a chance to realise a childhood ambition.

‘I have always wanted to build a home, since I was very young,’ she says. ‘I grew up in Yarm, a very traditional town in north Yorkshire. Most of the houses were Georgian, but right at the end of the high street there were these white houses, which looked very LA to me. I remember being very little and pressing my nose up against the gate and thinking, “They are perfect.”’

Adele never forgot those houses. While she was working in London, in advertising, she created a series of mood boards as inspiration for the home she would one day build. Adele and Jim were keen to crack on with their project and originally intended to rent a house while they found a plot to build on – until they worked out that paying a mortgage would actually be cheaper.

Metro Home : Adele Parks Top British author Adele Parks, MBE photographed at her home in Guilford, Surrey. Credit: Daniel Lynch 07941 594 556.

The grand design was long in the making (Picture: Daniel Lynch)

So they bought a house, which was meant to be just a stopgap while they found a plot of land to build on, but with parenting and working and the sheer lack of suitable plots on the market they ended up staying put for six years.

It was not until Adele, who is 52, was in South Africa on a book tour in 2010 that their grand design finally began to take shape. Jim called to tell her he had spotted a house for sale which he thought had the potential to be redeveloped.

It was a risk since the dated 1920s property in no way resembled the modern, airy home Adele dreamed of, and they couldn’t be sure they’d get planning permission to replace it with something more contemporary.

But they went ahead anyway and over the next 18 months drew up plans for their 7,000sq ft, three-storey home.

‘As a novelist I am very imaginative, and I can visualise things very clearly,’ says Adele. ‘I knew what I wanted, I plotted out the ground floor on a napkin and passed it to the architect. What we have ended up with is actually very similar to what I drew.

‘I saw it being very white, lots of windows, very open plan – I like to know where everybody is – and I wanted it to be a party house.’

The only contribution of husband Jim was the metal coffee table (Picture: Daniel Lynch)
‘I saw [my home] being very white, with lots of windows’ (Picture: Daniel Lynch)

With planning permission in place the couple took a hands-on approach to the 18-month build, turning up at the site as soon as the builders had knocked off to spend a couple of hours tidying up and prepping for the following day’s work. They also mucked in with painting, wallpapering, and tiling – Adele proudly shows off the black slate wall in the principal bathroom which she put up herself.

When it came to the finishing touches, Adele also chose every colour and every piece of furniture and picture herself. Jim’s sole aesthetic contribution, she says, was choosing the dark wood and metal coffee table in the living room.

‘Luckily, I really liked it too,’ she says.

With plenty of space the couple decided to design themselves a room each – Adele opted for a library with a wall of (colour coded) books and the huge leather sofa which she bought with her first book advance two decades ago, while Jim wanted a cinema room.

While the colour scheme is ultra-neutral – white walls, timber or tiled floors, and dozens of shades of greys, beiges, taupes, and greiges – the sheer lightness of the house, plus the way its large open living area is zoned into areas for watching TV, eating, and simply hanging out means it feels comfortably relaxed rather than scarily minimal.

Appropriately for a writer, Adele likes pieces with a backstory.

Adele’s home features colourful and notable objects against a neutral background (Picture: Daniel Lynch)
Adele loves being surrounded by childhood books (Picture: Daniel Lynch)

There is the 1920s cabinet in the living room which she upcycled herself, staining it black and filling it with childhood books.

The art deco mirror in her dressing room – by some distance the untidiest room in the house – had belonged to her grandmother and makes her smile every time she looks into it.

Adele works from an upstairs office, overlooking the garden. A wall of bookshelves recently built by Jim contains copies of her 21 novels, which have been translated into 30 languages. Her latest, One Last Secret, tells the story of sex worker Dora, and is set partly in London and partly in the south of France.

It is, Adele says, her darkest novel to date, as streetwise Dora’s past catches up with her. With a self-imposed goal of writing a book a year Adele has developed a tried-and-tested work regime.

Mornings are spent writing, a minimum of 1,000 words, ideally 2,000. In the afternoon she turns her attention to the business side of being a bestselling writer: doing interviews, working on her social media, looking at dust jacket designs, and answering emails.

At any one time she is juggling three books. Right now she is promoting One Last Secret, working on its almost-complete follow up which will be published next year, and plotting a story for the one after that. ‘It is a rolling situation,’ she says.

Adele Parks’ thrilling new novel One Last Secret is published on July 7 in hardback, ebook and audio download (HQ, £14.99).

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