Episode 46 - Harry Parker: Part 1


Harry Parker is a painter and, thanks to his debut Anatomy of a Soldier, a novelist. Before he was either of those, he served in the British Army, first in Iraq and later Afghanistan. His experiences form the basis for his first book - above all the day he stepped on a landmine planted near his camp in Helmand Province. Parker lost both his legs and endured years of intensive physiotherapy. These absorbing and moving scenes tell only part of Tom Barnes' fictional story. Anatomy of a Soldier is a courageous novel is all sorts of ways. It is narrated from the perspective of over 40 objects, ranging from shoes to bombs, infections to a handbag. It also attempts to present the occupation from the point of view of the occupiers - insurgents and moderates alike.

When we met at Faber & Faber's London offices, we began by discussing the challenges of writing a first book. 'I definitely felt like a beginner...I am not that well read.' Parker recalled dictating sections using transcription software in an attempt to get the story moving. From there we moved to:

  • his first attempts at writing
  • undertaking an Arvon course with Toby Litt
  • to autobiography or not to autobiography
  • the power of inanimate objects
  • 'I tried to write a book about animals and it was pretty knickers'
  • life v fiction: Harry Parker v Tom Barnes
  • 'Is it memoir? Not for me...'
  • a precis of Anatomy of a Soldier
  • occupiers or the occupied?
  • how autobiographical is Anatomy of a Soldier
  • 'I didn't want to write about conflict in a way that sentimentalised it...but I did want to capture some of the excitement'
  • 'I made a mistake': Parker's injuries
  • how war objectifies