I don't think I ever meant to be an author, though with over ten books to my name, it could look that way. But here's another instance when appearances deceive.
I was a priest in the Church of England for twenty years, and imagined it would always be so. But then, with my feet well under the table and to my embarrassment in a way, I decided to leave. When people ask why, I say: 'I just knew the adventure was over.' And the priesthood was an adventure or it was nothing.
It was a difficult time after that, emotionally and financially, because I had nothing to go to. I remember crying on the carpet as I lost my sense of trust in life; and when trust goes, you're vulnerable. Late night conversations with my children helped to keep me going, but a middle-aged ex-priest is not the most employable of souls, and I found myself wondering how I was going to survive. Before becoming a priest, I had written satire for TV and radio, even winning a Sony radio award. But I was a long time out of that loop and had no particular desire to return there anyway.
I did try other forms of writing but became familiar with rejection letters. So I looked for supermarket work, which I had some experience of, before I was ordained. I was turned down by four, but was fifth time lucky. Yes! After so much rejection, it was a great feeling to be accepted at last, and I worked hard and happily in that busy supermarket for three years stacking shelves, chasing thieves, working on the till and chairing the shop union. I write about those days in 'Shelf Life'.
But then it felt right to jump ship again and risk the free lance adventure. I was told that every free lancer should have four strings to their bow, for at any given time, at least two would be snapping. I had perhaps one string at this time, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
'The Beautiful Life' (Bloomsbury) had been published while I was working in the shop. It was an important book for me - re-written eight times - and one or two doors began to creak open. I got myself a website (www.simonparke.com) started offering retreats, counselling and fresh writing including my supermarket diaries and 'One-Minute Mystic,' both of which went on to become long-running columns in the Daily Mail. I'd also started a weekly column in the Church Times. It was meant to last six weeks but is still going after six years. I've been very lucky.
And all the time, there was a book on the boil. An Enneagram book with Lion, was followed by 'One-Minute Mystic' and 'One-Minute Mindfulness' with Hay House. And Bloomsbury has re-printed 'The Beautiful Life' in paperback now. It's a slightly revised version of the original with a new cover and called 'The Journey Home.'
I have also had a wonderful adventure with White Crow books, in the shape of the 'Conversations with' series. They are a series of conversations with fascinating figures from history like Leo Tolstoy, Meister Eckhart, Vincent Van Gogh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Jesus of Nazareth. What's different with these conversations is that although the questions are imagined, their words are not; it is 100% them. I found it a particularly helpful way to get to know these people, and others appear to be finding the same, whether in e book, hard copy or audio. (Yes, I enjoyed the recording studio experience very much, working with such kind, creative and talented people.)
In the meantime, my counselling work has expanded with one thing leading to another. An unexpected development has been my work supervision of five social workers, which arose from one of them coming on a retreat I led. I've learned a lot from them. And the 'vicar' hasn't died completely. I still get asked to preach in churches occasionally, and to take particular funerals and weddings. And then when work was a bit quiet this summer, I worked for a landscaper and watered the struggling grass in various London parks, which was another joy.
So as I say, I really never meant to be an author, and have no particular sense of being one now. In fact, if truth be told, I'm still the eleven year old boy - aged 53 - wondering what he will be when finally he grows up. Hopefully a footballer.