Sunday, August 03, 2008


With ‘A Quiet Belief In Angels’ having reached sales of 250,000, translations ongoing in fifteen languages, and the publication of the new book ‘A Simple Act Of Violence’ on the 2nd of October, I have found myself being asked to do more and more author-related events. I took a moment to review my schedule for October, and beginning with a visit to Walsall Leather Museum for an event in co-ordination with Walsall Central Library on the 1st, I then have the first live reading of the short story I was commissioned to write by the Arts Council of Great Britain on the 2nd, an appearance at Cadbury College on the 6th, and then on the 8th I leave for Baltimore in Maryland for the Bouchercon Crime Festival. Returning on the 13th, I take a day’s breathing space, and then I am at the Morley Literary Festival in Leeds on the 15th, the Guildford Book Festival on the 18th, Bedford Central Library on the 21st, and Baglan Library in Port Talbot on the 23rd. It goes quiet until the 30th when I am at a Writers’ Group in Essex, and then I am in London on the 31st for a meeting with my publisher.

Which begs the question – when do I write?

Fortunately I have been industrious. The novel for 2009 is done, and I am 125,000 words into the novel for 2010. I still try to get at least 10,000 words a week written, sometimes more, and I have to get this done in between all the other ‘business’ that goes on around being a published author. I watched a movie last night – ‘The Score’ with Robert De Niro and Ed Norton – and there was a line that De Niro came out with when discussing his life as a thief. He said ‘There’s a great deal of people out there with a great deal of talent. And the truth of the matter is that they’ll never get anyplace, because they don’t have the discipline.’

Well, without in any way trying to sound knowledgeable on the subject, I think that that is a very true observation for any field of endeavour. I never had the nerve to rob banks or carry out high-tech art heists, but I did have a desire to write. The thing that twenty-two unpublished novels taught me was a work ethic, for want of a better expression. It’s the sense of certainty that if you just keep going, if you just keep working, if you just keep trying to get better and better and better, then – eventually – it’ll come right in the end. It’s that old saw about how there’s no real thing as failure, there’s just people who quit.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, especially when you hear of such things as ‘overnight successes’. There’s some fellow who’s penned his first novel, submitted it nonchalantly to the first publisher he could think of, and all of a sudden he’s not only received a £250,000 advance, but it’s an automatic bestseller, topping the charts everywhere you look. Well, such things can be categorised as ‘urban myths’. They happen, but they are rare, and in many such instances the novel, once published, is an anticlimax. It is also true to say that such ‘overnight successes’ are short-lived and rapidly forgotten. I know of many ‘new Steinbecks’ who never wrote a second novel.

Anyway, I dug up a list of quotes that I came across some time ago regarding writers and writing, and I thought – for amusement if nothing else – that it would be good to share them with you. They are not necessarily true, of course, but they do go somewhat towards acknowledging the fact that a great many people take the business of writing far too seriously. Perhaps those who take it the least seriously are the writers themselves, as evidenced by the selection I have given below…

The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn't require any.
Russell Baker

It's none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.
Ernest Hemingway

To the composition of novels and romances, nothing is necessary but paper, pens, and ink, with the manual capacity of using them.
Henry Fielding

The only reason for being a professional writer is that you just can't help it.
Leo Rosten

There's no such thing as writer's block. That was invented by people in California who couldn't write.
Terry Pratchett

There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are.
Somerset Maugham

There is probably no hell for authors in the next world -- they suffer so much from critics and publishers in this.
C. N. Bovee

Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.
Christopher Hampton

Pay no attention to what the critics say; no statue has ever been erected to a critic.
Jean Sibelius

What a blessed thing it is that nature, when she invented, manufactured and patented her authors, contrived to make critics out of the chips that were left!
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Confronted by an absolutely infuriating review it is sometimes helpful for the victim to do a little personal research on the critic. Is there any truth to the rumor that he had no formal education beyond the age of eleven? In any event, is he able to construct a simple English sentence? Do his participles dangle? When moved to lyricism does he write "I had a fun time"? Was he ever arrested for burglary? I don't know that you will prove anything this way, but it is perfectly harmless and quite soothing.
Jean Kerr

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.
Jules Renard

So my advice this month is simply to write, and then write some more, and when you have grown weary of writing, write something else. If it is universally acknowledged and recognised that a painter gets better the more he paints, that a car mechanic becomes that much more knowledgeable and efficient with every car he takes apart and puts back together again, then why would this not be true for writers.

You learn to write by writing, not by talking about it, not by listening to critics, and certainly not by reading books about how to write ‘bestsellers’ written by people who have never written a bestseller.

Repetitive Strain Injury is the order of the day. Write until your hands are strong enough to crush golf balls.


Mediterranean Views said...

I just finished A Quiet Belief in Angels for the English Book Club that I facilitate in Benalmadena, Malaga Spain for the local library. We are an international group with at least 6 or 7 nationalities represented, and I am from Virginia outside of Wasington DC and now regularly visit North Carolina to see my brother.
As such, I argued to a Spanish friend of mine, who is in the group, that you were no doubt from Birgingham Alabama, not England. How could someone not from the South, write such a Southern novel? It was not only the use of the language and the "jargon" of the South, but also how you captured the use of the language of the period. Several times there were terms and phrases that evoked how my grandfather and his cronies talked, and my father in certain places and conversations.
And your descriptions of those small towns, the way they change yet don't, the attitude, I know towns and people like that in the South..How did you research that? Perhaps what you have shown is that their atmosphere and attitudes are universal and what varies are the accents, typical food and surrounding countryside.
Did you spend anytime there? How much of your research was done on the internet? It was well done, congratulations.
Amy in Spain

Adam Bird said...

Hi Roger, an interesting point your mentioned about having 22 previously unpublished novels. Do you hope, now that your have some published works to revisit any of your previous stories and attempt to release them? Are there any that you feel passionately about and think that they will stand alongside your published peices?

R J Ellory said...

Amy...wonderful to hear from you, and you should e-mail me through the website 'Contact Me' option, and we can talk about this more. I had spent some time in Northern Florida, not far from Georgia, but prior to writing AQBIA I had not been there. I went in January this year and found it very much as I expected, and I think you have hit on a very salient point when you talk about such attitudes and values being universal. I think they are, but of course I did a lot of research regarding the places and ethnics and dialect also. Contemporary US history fascinates me a great deal, and I have always read about and been greatly interested in this time period and culture. I think with all my books there is that certain desire to get it right as far as history and dialect is concerned, and I always work towards making it as 'real' as possible. I hope that makes sense, but please - as I say - drop me an e-mail through the website if you want to talk about it some more. Thanks for writing, and hopefully we'll speak soon!

R J Ellory said...

Adam. How are you? Good to hear from you. Well, in answer to your question a lot of my earlier material was supernatural in its genre really, kind of Stephen King-ish, and that was really the kind of thing I was into at the time, but not so much now. I read one of the books I wrote in the early 90s a short while ago and really came to the conclusion that it would take as much work to knock that into shape to be published as it would to write another book. And writing new material is always a great deal more exciting than trawling back through earlier stuff. I don't think they'll ever see the light of day, but who knows eh?
Trust all's well with you.

Debbie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debbie said...

Hi Roger
Like the quotes!

"Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money."
Jules Renard

Did that work with your wife before you reached the bestseller status?

Just been looking at your signings and appearances and notice you're getting busy with the new book due for release shortly - any chance of something in Birmingham at the weekend so that those of us that work for a living can come and say hello (Yes I know, I keep threatening!)

PS. The Walsall Leather Museum looks interesting (Didn't know you wrote those type of books!!!! lol)

R J Ellory said...

Yes - fortunately that did work with my wife before I was published, and it still works!
Actually, now that you come to mention it, there does seem to be a shortage of Birmingham events...I will see what I can do to remedy that. Have to organize some event where you can come and carry out the threat, right?

Adam Bird said...

Hi Roger, thank you for another insightful reply. Would like to have read your take on a Stephen King style sci-fi. I haven't read much Stephen King, apart from the Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption... neither of which are very 'sci-fi'. Everything is well, am waiting patiently of course for October!

R J Ellory said...

As am I! I finished that book a year ago, and have another two completed since, so this is a long runway for me!
Coincidentally, 'The Green Mile' came about as a result of a comment made by the CEO of Orion (my publishing firm) who suggested to Stephen King that he was perhaps the only living author who could write a serialized novel and create the same sort of anticipatory effect once created by Dickens. Hence 'The Green Mile' was written and released in five or six sections, and then when all sections had been released it was published as one volume by Orion - the only Stephen King book they publish as far as I know.

mand said...

"I don't think they'll ever see the light of day, but who knows eh?" - perhaps after your death, when your executors have trawled through your papers...? (And what a task that will be.)

R J Ellory said...

Or maybe my wife will sell them on e-bay...

John said...

Hello RJ,
Whatever happens to unearthed Ms's, after an author has travelled on...

I would never recommend anyone selling them on "flea-bay". The only ones who seem to make real money from the site, are "Flea-Bay Inc.".

R J Ellory said...

A tongue-in-cheek remark, honestly! What happens to unearthed manuscripts? I have no idea. I should imagine - if the author winds up being someone of literary note - that they would be donated to the archives of some esteemed university somewhere...?

mand said...

Wouldn't it be down to who owns the copyright? - the author's estate, or whoever else.

R J Ellory said...

I suppose it would be, but doesn't an author's or creator's right to the work legally terminate fifty years after their death?

mand said...

It went up to 70 years a few years ago - but if it's willed to someone or someone, say the publisher, bought it, they still own it (think of the Tolkein Estate). (I don't pretend to understand the intricacies of copyright law but i'm pretty sure of this part.)

R J Ellory said...

Makes sense. I shall bequeath all the rights to someone suitably off-kilter!

cmtalbert said...

I love this post! I'm dilligently working on my 5000 words a week. Thanks!

R J Ellory said... me through the website. Let me know what you,re working on and how it's going.
Best, Roger.

R J Ellory said...

Let me know what you're working on rather, as I don't believe that there's such a word as 'you,re'!!