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Friday, May 01, 2009

SUCCESS IS ENTIRELY DEPENDENT UPON CONSTANCY OF PURPOSE...

I use the above quote (courtesy of Benjamin Disraeli) for good reason. A couple of days ago I did an interview with a very good friend of mine - Ali Karim (he of inimitable taste and style, he of Shots, Deadly Pleasures, CrimeSpree et al), and one of the questions he asked me was about advice for aspiring writers. I have a very simplistic view regarding aspiring writers, and because I went through so many years and so many books 'aspiring' I believe that for once I can be an authority.
Constancy of purpose. It's not complicated.
Hard work. That's even less complicated.
Truth of the matter is that all published authors were unpublished authors the day before they were published. What was the difference between those guys and anyone else? They stuck at it.
The other point that I made was that hard work - in and of itself - is quite addictive. For me it's like heroin. If I don't have enough to do I go find more things to do. I have just done three trips to Paris (one for the award, one for the film - more about that later, and one for the Quais Du Polar Festival in Lyon). I have just agreed to a week in Cumbria, a day there, a day back, and four days in the middle where I will do twelve library events. I spent three days last week at the London Book Fair, meeting overseas publishers, doing what has to be done at such events, and I agreed to go to Dubia, Germany, Finland, Holland, Portugal and back to Paris. I received an e-mail when I got back from London asking if I would do an evening event at the Scottish Association of Writers. I e-mailed back to ask how long the event was. Three days, they said. So why can't I come for three days and do seminars, workshops, readings, spend some time in Scotland and get to know some people? You can, they replied, somewhat suprised. Good, I said. Put my name down for three days. I am also going out to New York in July for Thrillerfest, and then Indianapolis in October for Bouchercon (with Ali, of course!)
Last year I did more than a hundred events. This year I plan to do more. Whether it be a small readers' group in a curry house in Harborne (which I did last night, and it was great!), to the Dubai Literary Festival, the facts are the same. You don't own a readership. You earn it. You don't keep readers because you are charming, because they like you, or anything else. You keep them because you work very hard at the next book, trying all the while to make what you're doing better than what you did before, and you understand that you continue to be published because of the good grace of your publisher and the fiction readers of the world. Forget that, and as far as I'm concerned, you might as well pack your suitcase and go home.
There is nothing that pleases me more than meeting readers, old and new. I love the debates, the questions, the challenges, the disagreements, the criticisms, the suggestions about how I can do my job better. I don't ever do 'readings' at these events, not unless they are requested specifically. That's not what people come to events for. They come to ask questions, to get answers, to find out what I like to read, to share their favourite books, and we all go away with a much rejuvenated love of good fiction.
Anyway, as I was asked the question by Ali, that's how I answered it. Hard work, constancy of purpose, recognition that you have a responsibility to entertain, to evoke an emotion, perhaps to edify, intrigue, educate, counfound or challenge. That's what good fiction is all about.
So, to other matters.
As you know I went to Paris back in March at the request of Olivier Dahan, writer/director of 'La Vie En Rose', the Oscar-winning biopic about Edith Piaf. Olivier had just returned from America where he had completed filming his first English-speaking film, 'My Own Love Song', a film that stars Renee Zelwegger, Nick Nolte and Forest Whittaker. The film has also been scored by Bob Dylan, no less. Olivier had read the French translation of A Quiet Belief In Angels, and he asked me whether I would be interested in working on the screenplay for a film of the book. Yes, I said, of course I would. We spent three days together. He showed some of the great sights of Paris. We ate some great food, and we talked about making AQBIA work as a film. I left with the agreement that he would talk to his production company, and if they were as enthusiastic about the project as he and I obviously were, then he would have them speak to my agent and work out a deal.
Last week we did the deal. Last week Legende Films came back to us and I signed the contract to write the screenplay. I have started work on it already, and have put together three hundred and twenty-two scenes which cover the basic structure and storyline of the book. It has been a very interesting experience, to say the least. And though I am quite prepared for the fact that the film might not necessarily be how I imagined it, I know that it will be a great film, and I feel very privileged and honoured to have been asked to do this by such a gifted and eminent filmmaker.
So to the London Book Fair. I went to LBF last week to meet James Patterson, and to thank him for the very kind words he has quoted for the American release of A Quiet Belief In Angels in September. AQBIA is being published by a firm called Overlook Press out of New York. They are a truly wonderful teams over there, headed up by Peter Mayer, a legend in the publishing industry. My editor, Aaron Schlecter, the publicity director, Jack Lamplough, and the sales director, David Falk, have been working extraordinarily hard. They have sent the proof copies of the US version out to many, many authors, and already we have received very complimentary quotes from James Patterson, Ken Bruen, David Stone, Alan Furst, Val McDermid and Clive Cussler. All of these authors are world-class, they are people I respect and admire enormously, and it is a great honour to be told that they have enjoyed the book. By the way, James Patterson is one of the most magnanimous and kind-hearted people you could ever hope to meet, an exceptionally hard-working writer, and regardless of whether or not you enjoy his books, he is still testament to the quote I used at the start of this blog. The amount of time and money and energy and effort he dedicates to literacy programs and supporting libraries all over the place is staggering just by itself.
Well, where are we now? I got a message from a producer at the BBC (the lady I went to Washington with) to say that she had just completed an interview with Lee Child. I met Lee in Baltimore last year and he was tremendously kind. He was very generous with his time and advice regarding securing the services of a US agent and publisher, and he helped no end. Anyway, she told me that he passed on his best wishes, and that she should let me know that he had a copy of 'A Simple Act of Violence' in the car, which he had bought! I thought 'For God's sake, you'd just have to e-mail me or the publisher and we'd send you one!', but no, it seems he went and bought a copy.
As I said, I am off to NY in July for Thrillerfest, Bouchercon in Indianapolis in October, back to Paris for three days at the end of June for the promotion of the new book ('A Quiet Vendetta' is being released in France in September of this year), and besides that I am done with 'The Anniversary Man' (out here in September), have sent the second draft of 'The Darkest River' (for 2010) to my publisher, and I am about three-quarters of the way through 'The Saints of New York' for 2011. Otherwise, I will be travelling, event-ing, working on the AQBIA screenplay, and generally continuing to act ridiculous and irresponsible as is my wont.
Aside from that, the summer is on the way. The troublemakers are doing their utmost to upset us all with swine flu, just as they are doing with global warming, just as they tried to do with bird flu and God knows what else they spend their time cooking up in the drug company laboratories (don't get me started!), and there are a million stories out there all waiting to be told.
Writing is writing. It is an individual activity. Renard said that writing was one profession where no-one considered you ridiculous if you earned no money. So go earn no money. I did for over twenty years. Not advised, of course, but still a fact. Writing is not dependent upon your mood, the time of day, the weather, other people, or anything else. So for those of you with questions about what to do and how to do it, please send those questions to me, and I will do my best to answer them. But I have to leave you with Disraeli's quote above, and also a few words from Walt Disney, who said 'Do what you do so well that people come back, and bring their friends'.
I trust all's well with you, and I send my best wishes as always,
Roger.

7 comments:

Adam Bird said...

Hi Roger,

Wow you certainly have been busy, fuelled on caffeine?

I must say, I am incredibly excited about the film version of AQBIA! Do you have anymore details, production dates, casting? I realise it is very early days. Do you have anyone in mind to play Joseph Vaughan? I guess that there will have to be some kind of "Benjamin Button" ageing effects used!

It is incredibly difficult to find a good adaptation of a book to a film, especially one in which the reader has invested so much emotional involement. I feel that the main element of the story is the setting, the sense of ambiance, of time and place. Somehow conveying all that across on the silver screen isn't something I would wish upon anybody!

R J Ellory said...

Well, as far as actual production stuff is concerned, I have no involvement at all. There's an old saying 'On a film set a writer is less important than a cateter', and I can understand that completely. I am willing to accept the fact that there's no way to squash the entirety of that book into two hours. It will also be someone else's vision of how things are and how the characters look, and that's very subjective. Neverthless it is something that I am very excited to be involved in. My job now, as you so very rightly observe, is to do all I can to ensure that the humanity, pathos, atmosphere, ambience and humour somehow filter through. I said to the director that if all we accomplish is that people leaving the film have the same emotional reaction as people finishing the book then we will have done our job.

martin said...

Hi Roger,

What fantastic news concerning the proposed filming of AQBIA. And to be able to write the screenplay, must be such a priviledge. I imagine it is quite a different kettle of fish to write a screenplay than a novel. I wondered what control you have over what happens in the film. Will you stay faithful to the book, or do the film people have a say in how it has to be done? I know virtually every film made of a book is altered. I hope you can follow the book, because it would be spoilt otherwise. But whatever happens, it will certainly put you on the map. Hopefully they may film other books. My personal favourite after AQBIA would be Ghostheart, althought they all would make great films.
As regards aspiring writers, and as you know I am one of them,I find the way to being published ever more difficult. I agree totally that it is all down to hard work, lots of reading and lots and lots of writing, and as you are aware I have the tenacity,but even that is not enough. Virtually no agents are taking on new authors, and while it is nice to see your work in print via POD, and on Amazon, W H Smith and Waterstone websites,how will anyone know about it except by word of mouth? I would never blow my own trumpet, but I consider myself Ok as a writer, but there must be lots of very talented writers out there, destined never to be published. Sad, really. Thankfully, the more rejections I get, the more I'm spured on.
Anyway it's great what is happening to you. It'll be great if you can crack the American market, and more success you get the more confident you become to write even better. Meeting all these great authors and to have them champion your work, must give you a great buzz.
I imagine it'll be at least a couple of years before the film comes out, but hopefully it will turn out as you intended.
Best Wishes
Martin

R J Ellory said...

Well, as far as books to films are concerned, it seems that there is a scene of some significance in a book about every 1000 words, and there is a scene of some significance in a film about every three minutes. Average book is 100,000 words plus. Average film in 90-120 minutes. So it doesn't work. Average book has about 120 scenes. Average film has 30-40. Something has to be sacrificed somewhere. The thing I said to the director when we spoke was that what I hoped was that when people watched the film they would hopefully experience the same emotional reaction as people who had read the book. I think that's the best I can hope for.
And as far as agents and publishers are concerned, I spent three days at the London Book Fair last week. They are still taking on authors, and they are still buying books. The ones that end up getting published are the ones that stay the course I think. I believe that both of us have enough experience with that to know it's true.

martin said...

Hi Roger,

it's very interesting to hear what you say about how you transfer a book to film. I understand how you will need to condense the scenes down for the film. And having read about the french director, I think he will certainly do your book justice. What I really wanted to know really was do you have total control over what happens in the film? I know for a fact, some films have a totally different ending to the book. And when the book AQBIA comes out in America, I can imagine it will probably have a different sleeve, but will the book remain the same, or do you have to make changes for the American market?
It's good to know Agents and publishers are still taking on new authors, although I think you'll agree that because of the economic climate, less so. I also agree when you say the people who succeed are those that stay with it and are prepared to work hard. That's something I would always do. Having read somewhere that you wrote your 22 novels for six years without stopping without being published, and then stopped writing altogether for eight years, i just wondered where you found the motivation to start again? I, and probably a lot of other excellent writers do suffer frustration at times, but I think what happened to you is an example to us all.
Cheers
Martin

R J Ellory said...

Ultimately the director has control over what happens in the film, but having spent three days with him I really feel that his mission is to stick to it as best he can within the time constraints. And as far as the US version of the book is concerned, they are using the same cover (but they have changed the church slightly so it is more obviously a church), and as far as the American translation is concerned, it's very subtle. Slightly different synonyms and syntax here and there. Nothing major at all really.

Russell said...

Congratulations Roger - it all sounds fabulous but you've earned it. You deserve the greatest success. Just a note to say that I've been in touch with 'Debbie Wiltshire' - can't wait to see her in The Anniversary Man!