Monday, 9 January 2012

PUSH-UPS: R J Ellory

So, what you pushing right now?
Well, ‘Bad Signs’ was released last October, and there is a new book called ‘A Dark and Broken Heart’ coming out in May 2012. There are also another couple of writing projects I am working on, one of which is longer-term, the other much shorter-term and likely to appear before May, but I have been sworn to secrecy on both counts! I am also working on the book for 2013, entitled ‘The Devil and The River’, and this is the story of a very strange, almost occult murder investigation carried out by a smalltown Mississippi Sheriff, himself a Vietnam veteran. It’s a very dark and brooding story, very southern, very atmospheric, as the central character not only deals with the murder and all its complications, but also battles with his own internal demons, many of them as a result of his war experiences. Lastly, the band I am in – called ‘The Whiskey Poets’ – are rehearsing in preparation for gigs and tours. We recorded a four-track EP on CD, and those four tracks are available as a CD or as a download from the website.

What’s the hook?

The hook of the new book, out in May? Well, it’s a tough question as there is a twist right at the start that I defy anyone to predict! Let’s just give the blurb, and then you can read the book and let me know if you guessed the way it was going to turn out.

It should have been so easy for Vincent Madigan. Take four hundred thousand dollars away from some thieves, and who could they go to for help? No-one at all. For Madigan is charming, effective, and knows how to look after himself. The only problem is that he's up to his neck in debts to Sandia ' the drug kingpin of Harlem, known as the 'Watermelon Man' on account of the terrible act of vengeance he inflicted against someone who betrayed him. This one heist will free Madigan from Sandia's control, and will finally give him the chance he needs to get his life back on track. But when Madigan is forced to kill his co-conspirators, he finds that not only is the stolen money marked, but an innocent child has been wounded in the crossfire. Now both Sandia and the collected might of the NYPD are looking for him. And beyond even this, the one person assigned to identify and hunt down Madigan is the very last person in the world he could have expected. Employing every deception and ruse he can think of, Madigan is engaged in a battle of wits that will test him to the very limit of his ability. Can he evade justice for what he has done, or will his own conscience become the very thing that unravels every one of his meticulous plans? Will this final lie be his salvation, or his undoing?

And why’s that floating your boat?
For the same reason that all new and upcoming books float my boat! There is always a tremendous sense of excitement and anticipation surrounding the release of a book. I spent so damned long getting into print, and now I am in print, and the books are received generally very well, and I am always eager to know what people think. I very definitely write for myself and for readers. I never wrote for a paycheck, and I never will. I write for the sheer love of it, and I just want to see the books out there and enjoyed.

When did you turn to crime?
Well, right from the get-go, crime as a genre seemed so all-encompassing, and such a great way to investigate the human psyche. I don’t really think of myself as a conventional crime novelist. My books have been called ‘human dramas’, and in France they call them ‘slow-motion thrillers’ which is a great expression. The thing about a crime novel is that you can pretty much write anything – historical, romance, murder, police procedural, family saga, organized crime, conspiracy, assassination, politics, everything and anything – and it’s still a crime novel. The other thing that truly fascinates me about writing crime novels is that here you are presenting ordinary people with an extraordinary situation, and that gives you the scope to investigate the entire range of human emotions and reactions. For me, as a reader and a writer, I am drawn into a story by the emotional engagement. The characters are all-important, and they need to engage the reader on an emotional level. I have no great concern that people should remember my name, nor the intricacies of the plotlines I write, but I want them to be able to remember how the book made them feel. For me, that is everything.

Hardboiled or Noir, classic or contemporary?
As a reader, I have to be completely honest and say that I read very little crime at all. I have not read any of the recent Scandinavian crime novels. I do not read contemporary American PI or police procedurals, nor do I read British crime fiction. I read authors that make me feel like a bad writer. I search out authors who I admire as extraordinary prose writers, and I read them as a way to constantly challenge myself, and make me work harder to be a better writer.

And, what’s blown you away lately?
‘Winter’s Bone’ by Daniel Woodrell, ‘The Outsider’ by Camus, ‘Crazy Heart’ by Thomas J. Cobb, ‘Barney’s Version’ by Mordecai Richler.

See any books as movies waiting to happen?

I have a love/hate relationship with the film industry. It is very fickle, very unpredictable, very surreal much of the time. I was commissioned to write the screenplay for ‘A Quiet Belief in Angels’ by Olivier Dahan, which I did, but I do not believe the project will go forward for reasons known only to the production company. A well-established and excellent treatment writer completed a treatment for ‘A Simple Act of Violence’. It was discussed at a very high level in one of the largest film production companies in Hollywood, and they decided against pursuing it as it was ‘intensely contentious and politically sensitive’. I have been asked to write original material for the screen, I have been asked to write the screenplay for ‘Candlemoth’, and – as yet – nothing has come of any of these projects. As a friend said to me, ‘You want six years, nothing happens, and then all of a sudden everything happens in two weeks, and it happens precisely as you didn’t want!’ We shall just have to wait and see.

Mainstream or indie - paper or digital?
Well, mainstream really, as there is nothing more satisfying to me than a beautifully bound and covered high-quality hardback. I am releasing e-books, though I do not yet have a kindle. I support e-books unconditionally though, as anything that gets more people reading has my vote. Independent book publishers and bookstores need all the support they can be given, and I also work ceaselessly doing whatever I can to acknowledge and support the ailing library system. Where my true concern lies is in the field of education, as we have just graduated the third or fourth generation of kids from school who 'do not read'. But don't even get me started on the lunacy of the education system!

Shout us a website worth visiting …
Well, selfishly, you could go to my website and check out all the blog entries about everything from writing to politics, art, music and photography (along with a vast gallery of pictures I have taken on the road), also my band website ( where you can listen to some samples, and then order the CD, but as far as other website are concerned, the only websites I use are ones that relate to whatever research I might be doing for a current writing or music project. I am not a web-trawler for pleasure, as such a vast amount of material on the net is suspect and false.

Finally, tell us any old shit about yourself …
Well, what’s there to say? I am an aspiring novelist, an even more aspiring musician, a dad, a husband, a seasoned traveller, a blues aficionado, a keen photographer and cook and painter and screenwriter, and I recently passed my driving test and I love to drive, and I collect rare vinyls, mainly from the West Coast psychedelic era, and I love music of all kinds and types, but if nailed down for half a dozen or so artistes I would have to include The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, Danny Gatton, Roy Buchanan, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Kelly Joe Phelps, Led Zeppelin, and so many others I can’t even begin to list them, and as far as authors are concerned, I love Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, Conan Doyle, Steinbeck, and I think ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote is one of the finest books ever written. I love film, and I have a vast DVD collection, but I never have enough time to keep up with the things I want to watch. I don’t watch TV series, even those that have been touted as ‘life-changing’, as I know that if I get drawn into watching a TV series I will lose many valuable hours that need to be spent writing and creating. Additionally, I have given a significant enough amount of time to some of these series, and – in the main – have found them to be a staggering anti-climax. I am constantly on the go, never seem to slow down, and always have to be doing something. No-one is awarded more time than anyone else in any given lifetime, and I have a lot of things to do!