Simon Parke  
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A brief life

It’s November 2022 and Simon has just seen his latest (and maybe last?) Abbot Peter mystery published, An Inconvenient Convent. It follows closely on the heels of last year’s dark mystery A Hearse at Midnight. But Simon does do other things apart from wade through blood, spite and murder.

In fact, were you to look for him now, you’d probably find him behind a closed door (do knock) seeing people one-to-one.

He’s CEO of The Mind Clinic, which takes counselling into organisations as diverse as recruitment agencies, schools, hospitals, clothes retailers, food retailers – ‘we’ve even worked with a cathedral. Our calling is to provide safe, confidential and insightful space for individuals in their work space - because life is difficult. Sometimes it’s important not to have to edit what we say. We give people that chance to take the filter off; and hold up a kind truth mirror to their lives.’

Simon’s private thersapy work is also expanding, liberated by the Covid discovery of Zoom. ‘Sitting in my garden shed, I can visit London, Amsterdam, Seville and Rotherham in a morning.’ Here’s something about this line of work.

In awe of the craft of Hilary Mantel – so sadly lost to us recently – Simon also reveals a passion for historical fiction. His most recent attempt is his ‘Jesus novel’ Gospel: Rumours of Love. ‘I’m not sure you’re ever ready to write about this man, but perhaps I’m as ready as I can be. And you’re right, it is only an attempt. Every novel is a mere attempt. Only the reader can say whether it was worth it.’

Previous to that, there was his imagined life of Julian of Norwich, The Secret Testament of Julian. She was the first woman to write a book in English; though she’s extraordinary for other reasons as well. This followed the 2017 the publication of The Soldier, the Gaoler, the Spy and her Lover – the remarkable story of the last year in the life of the imprisoned, narcissistic and philandering Charles I.

But it hasn’t always been this way; not at all. ‘Whether we wish it or not,’ says Simon, ‘life is change… and as Cardinal Newman said, “To be perfect is to have changed often.”’

Born in Sussex, Simon, as a boy, mainly wanted to be George Best, an infinitely brave and skilful footballer. But instead, he picked up a degree in history from Oxford University, which impressed no football clubs at all. It was also at uni that he became involved in the dismantling business of satire, producing scripts for TV and radio, including Spitting Image.

While there, Simon auditioned for one of Richard Curtis’ (Four Weddings, Love Actually, etc) reviews, as they were contemporaries; but someone called Rowan Atkinson got the gig instead. Whatever happened to him? ‘I’m sure Richard, despite his CBE, regrets his decision to this day,’ says Simon. A few years later, and still feeling the pain, Simon did win a Sony radio award for his script work on Simon Mayo’s Big Holy One.

Having given up the idea of being George Best – ‘It was never going to work’ - Simon was a priest in the Church of England for 20 years. ‘I had an experience of God when I was twenty one, which the church never quite managed to kill.’ He served in three London parishes, which was ‘an enormous privilege and entirely undeserved.’‘The church,’ he says, ‘has the capacity to be a remarkably kind and creative presence in the community – whether it’s Midnight Mass, a kid’s play space, a food bank or a pantomime. There was a cost, though. It was a very public role for someone who has always been a hermit. I was the failed hermit, in a way; but happy in failure, until it was time to go.’

It was a difficult when the dog-collar adventure to be over. Simon had expected to be a priest all his life and finding work away from the church was tricky. He worked for three years in a supermarket, (his fifth attempt - he’d been turned down by four others) where he stacked shelves; worked on the tills and in bakery; chaired the shop union (he was appointed in the cold store; it was a short meeting, apparently) and had a good laugh and cry with his colleagues. He also twice caught shoplifters after a chase up the street. Simon’s early morning runs finally paid off. This experience became Shelf Life, published by Random House.

He left the store with both sadness and gratitude to risk the freelance adventure and has now been a writer, therapist and retreat-giver for fifteen years. Various books have emerged over this time, including The Beautiful Life (Bloomsbury), now republished as The Journey Home; and The Enneagram: A private session with the world’s greatest psychologist (White Crow).

He wrote a weekly column in the Daily Mail for four years, and was a columnist for the Church Times for 11 years. ‘It started out as a six week slot. We never know what things will become, and that’s probably just as well.’

What else? Well, he’s had six fascinating conversations with figures from the past: Vincent van Gogh, Jesus, Mozart, Tolstoy, Meister Eckhart and Conan Doyle. Each conversation is imagined, but their words are not. Everything put in their mouths, they actually said. People have found these books a unique way to get to know these famous figures, sometimes more authentic than traditional biographies. ‘Vincent – he tells us everything! Mind you, so does Leo.’

Simon’s other books – yes, there are more, even though he claims not to be a writer - have included the popular One-Minute Mindfulness, published by Hay House; Solitude: recovering the power of alone, published by White Crow, Pippa’s Progress: a pilgrim’s journey to heaven, published by DLT, and One-minute Meditation, published by White Crow.

Simon leads occasional retreats and quiet days in various settings and works with a consortium of head teachers, providing safe space for emotional support in their demanding roles. And yes, Simon sees many people one-to-one for work support, spiritual direction and counselling. He also offers individual retreats in The Hermitage, a lovely self-contained space next to his home.

After 30 years in London, Simon, who has two children, Chloe and Harry, from his first marriage to Joy, now lives in Seaford with his wife Shellie. He enjoys running long distances, (he ran a marathon for Ukraine this summer) the changing seasons, the white cliffs, the river Thames, the island of Rhodes, Christmas trees, reading, football, frost on leaves, fish and chips, cobalt blue, roses, fire, Georgian house lines and windows, roof tops in silhouette – ‘oh, loads of things, too many to mention, way too many to mention – the grace of things!’

His favourite author is Hilary Mantel; favourite TV detective, Foyle; favourite TV comedy, The Office; favourite musical, Les Miserables – he has seen it six times; favourite painters, ‘JMW Turner, Caspar Friedrich and Van Gogh – though really many more. In fact, the very idea of favourites does no justice to the wonder and variety of human creativity. Can we stop the ‘favourites’ thing? It’s ceasing to be valid even as I speak.’

Simon has grown up with Elton John and Bernie Taupin from their first album, Empty Sky. He now likes to sit at the piano and sing a bit himself. Some of his songs are here: Songs for the journey.

He has also collaborated recently with old school friend Martin Hoile to write a musical of the life of Julian of Norwich. It’s called All Shall Be Well. The dream, held lightly, is the West End.

His hero from the past (with no recorded incidents of piano playing; we’ve checked) is Meister Eckhart, and his hero in the present? ‘Anyone who’s kind, who’s sharp, who sees things as they are, who’s brave, who listens, who holds others, who’s honest with themselves or makes me laugh. The kingdom of God is theirs.’

His ambition is to be happy in his own skin. ‘Ah, that’s the holy grail! Lost and found, lost and found.’

 
 
 

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