Tony Parsons becomes Heathrow airport's new bard of baggage reclaim

BAA will distribute 5,000 copies of the book to customers at Heathrow. Parsons will receive a flat fee

Rob Sharp
Wednesday 02 November 2011 11:44
Tony Parsons will draw inspiration from the drama of flight
Tony Parsons will draw inspiration from the drama of flight

Maybe he will be inspired by Terminal 5's cutting-edge architecture. Perhaps he'll reflect on an airport's mixture of languages and cultures. Or more likely, for a man who has made a career out of writing about domestic relationships and emotional anxiety, he will seek out the intimacy and anger sparked off by delays and sleeping on floors.

Tony Parsons, the NME journalist turned bestselling author of Man and Boy, has begun a week-long tenure as Heathrow's writer-in-residence. From today, he will speak to passengers and security guards and venture into budget hotels and through customs control to inform a short story collection based on Heathrow, to be published in October. Parsons is following in the footsteps of the philosopher Alain de Botton, who wrote 2009's A Week at the Airport, as the airport's first in-house writer. "I loved the book that Alain de Botton wrote and the idea of writing some fiction about the airport just seemed very appealing," Parsons told The Independent. "It's a great opportunity and I hope I can do it justice."

De Botton used florid prose to describe everyday incidents like the parting of lovers – "she was shaking with sorrowful disbelief, he was cradling her in his arms, stroking her short blonde hair," he wrote – but received mostly positive reviews. Parsons said two Australian friends of his were leaving the country this week, and were staying at a Heathrow hotel before their departure. "The human drama of that appeals to me," he said.

Parsons said he has "extremely good access" to the facilities, including beyond passport control. "I still feel a sense of wonder about flight," he continued. "When you're in the air traffic control tower you feel like you're at the centre of the planet".

BAA will distribute 5,000 copies of the book to customers at Heathrow. In return Parsons will receive an undisclosed flat fee.

Parsons said BAA had no editorial control over the contents of his book.

Residency programmes can be mutually beneficial for host and writer. While some are asked to produced work relating to the institution, others have free rein. Last month, Flintshire's Gladstone Library, the country's only residential library, announced its first writer-in-residence as author Naomi Alderman. Her brief is simply to "engage with liberal values".

"I think writers in residence have genuine artistic merit," said Peter Francis, Gladstone Library's warden. "We don't mind what they write; that's why they get chosen. We have to trust that during their time with us they will fulfil the brief."

A writer in the house

The Savoy, Fay Weldon, 2002

For three months Weldon became the hotel's first writer-in-residence. Her commitments included working on her new novel, speaking at three literary dinners and writing for the hotel's in-house magazine. In exchange, she was entitled to a £350-a-nightroom, plus breakfast, at the Savoy for a year.

London Zoo, Tobias Hill, 1998

Sponsored by the Poetry Society, poet and novelist Hill's tenureinspired his 2007 collection Zoo. "The Poetry Society's placement means a lot to me," he said at the time. "It is meat and drink for my writing, and it's the way to let the tiger get under the skins of 12,000 people every day."

Tim Turnbull, Edinburgh prison, 2006-2009

In a residency organised by the Edinburgh Unesco City of Literature project, Turnbull worked with inmates and staff to increase literacy skills and inspire inmates to produce their own creative writing magazine.

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