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Saturday, October 02, 2010

AIR MILES...

I while back I read an interview, I believe it was BB King, though it could have been someone else. Let’s say it was him. Anyway, he was asked – after so many decades as a professional touring musician – of his most memorable recollection of all those years on the road. The gigs he’d played, the musicians he’d jammed with, the sights he’d seen... Out of this wealth of extraordinary experience, what was his most abiding memory.

He paused, smiled wryly, looked away for a moment, and then said, ‘Airport waiting rooms...’

I know how he feels, and I am half his age.

It is the 1st of October. I find myself again in Paris. I have just flown from Birmingham, and now I have a three-hour wait before a four-hour train journey to Avignon in the south. I have been told that it is a truly beautiful place, and I have no doubt that it is, but I was in Paris for three days last weekend, and when I return home this coming Monday it will be merely a week before I leave again for Bouchercon Crime Fiction Festival in San Francisco. From San Francisco I fly directly to Toronto, and there I begin another eight days of touring before I am home once more. After Canada I have another week in France and Switzerland, and then the European Writers’ Parliament in Istanbul, and then there is only Italy before the end of the year.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining! I love to travel, I love to meet new people, I love to spend my time with writers and readers. After all, as I keep saying, writers and readers are simply the best people in the world. Just to highlight the point, I came off the plane at Paris-CDG, and there I was hauled up by a man and his wife, both of whom had attended the Lincoln Festival last year. I refrain from giving their names here, simply to acknowledge their right to privacy, but both truly lovely people, and it is moments like this that make you feel that what you are doing has some significance and importance.

So, what is it that I am saying?

I’ll share with you another little anecdote. Bear with me...

A few weekends ago, my son – now thirteen – had three of his friends come over to stay. For the sake of this little anecdote we’ll call them Groucho, Chico and Harpo. What can I say about my son? An extraordinary young man, now taller than his mother, with a line in Wilde-ish sardonic humour the like of which you have never heard from the mouth of a teenager. Bright, inquisitive, a voracious reader (thank God!), who can sit and explain the difference between ‘sarcasm’ and ‘irony’ better than anyone I know. This is the guy – after years of tolerating my verbosity and tendency to talk too much – who will ask me a question, and then – quickly, before I have a chance to respond – will add, ‘But please dad, an answer and not a lecture this time, okay?’ Anyway, he has his three friends over. Groucho, Chico and Harpo. These are kids who’ve gone to school with my son for the past three years. They love to come and stay with us. They get to watch the movies they want, to sleep in, and though my son marshals forces to ensure they assist him with his assigned domestic chores, they also appreciate that my wife and I are not – by any stretch of the imagination – ‘normal’ parents. As an example, my son has to come down two or three times a day to tell me to ‘turn the bloody guitar down, will you? I can’t hear my X-Box!’ Sometimes I think we have a reverse relationship. He tells me to grow up, will you? every once in a while as well. Anyway, I digress. It is Sunday morning. The three friends have stayed over. They are having breakfast. They all want different things. No problem. My wife does breakfast. I do dinner, sometimes lunch, but breakfast is my wife’s territory. So Groucho wants cereal, followed by five pieces of toast with Nutella, and after that some fruit. Chico wants pizza. Harpo wants left-over Chinese takeaway. Good enough. Breakfast is on the way! My son, the thirteen-year old who will eat two bowls of dynamite chilli before he goes to school, goes upstairs to get something. In his absence, one of the young friends asks me a question.

‘What is that you do?’ he ventures.

I smile, somewhat bemused. These are kids my son has gone to school with for several years.

‘Sorry?’ I say. ‘I beg your pardon...’

‘Well,’ he says. “Like for a job. I mean, you’re either here all the time doing whatever you like, or you’re not here at all. We were just wondering whether you had a job...or something?’

‘I have a something,” I reply. ‘Yes, I definitely have a something.’
The three of them look at me blankly.

I am thinking: Has my son never told his friends what I do?

I say what I am thinking: ‘Er...well, has my son never told you what I do?’

Groucho looks at Harpo, Harpo looks at Chico, Chico looks at Groucho...

They start to smile, almost simultaneously. They snigger. There’s an inside joke. A thirteen-year olds’ joke which I probably won’t get.

‘What did he say?’ I ask. ‘Come on, spill the beans guys...what did my son say?’

Groucho speaks first. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘He just told us to ignore you. That you were pretty harmless, and that we should ignore you.’

‘Ignore me?’ I ask. “Why would he think you needed to ignore me?’

‘He said we should ignore you because you were a crazy old man...’

They knew I wouldn’t get mad. I don’t do getting mad. I found it funny. Hilarious, in fact.

A crazy old man.

Mmmm, I’m thinking, Never a truer word spoken in jest...

So here I sit, in the SNCF Gare at Paris-CDG. Another couple of hours’ wait, and then a four-hour train journey to spend two days in Avignon and Villeneuve answering French questions. I love France. I love the French. I love French readers the most. The questions I am asked in France are comparable to no other questions I am asked anywhere in the world.

Do an event, a festival, a library appearance in the UK, in the USA, in Australia, and I am asked such things as, ‘Where do you get your ideas from? and ‘When did you start writing?’ In France, they say things like, ‘Drawing an analogy between the first five chapters of your novel and the Parsifalian legend, can you justify the representative symbology you employ in delineating the relationship between the antagonist and protagonist, and from this can you hypothesize the direction your novel might have taken if the roles had been more Freudian than Jungian?’

In a word, ‘No, I can’t...’, and besides, I stopped justifying things somewhere in my late twenties.

However, despite the fact that I sometimes find the questions a little challenging, there is nowhere in the world where I have been greeted and appreciated like France.

‘A Quiet Belief In Angels’(Seul Le Silence) has been out for a while here, and that was followed by ‘A Quiet Vendetta’ (Vendetta), and on October 7th, they are releasing ‘A Simple Act of Violence’ (Les Anonymes). Last week I was in Paris to do some press interviews and receive the Livre De Poche Award for Seul Le Silence, and tomorrow I will receive the Villeneuve Detection Fiction Festival Readers’ Award for Vendetta.

If the response I get in France was replicated elsewhere, the UK, the USA as well, I would be a happy man.

Or would I?

This raises a question. I question I have long asked myself. What is happiness? Some say it is the journey, some the destination, others simply overcoming the obstacles attendant to pursuing a goal or aspiration, and once the goal is accomplished you need to find another goal with obstacles to overcome otherwise you will be simply unhappy again.

I know I get frustrated. Why, only this morning I tried three different WHSmiths outlets at the airport in Birmingham, and none of them had copies of ‘Saints of New York’, and this is a book that was released only yesterday! Unfortunately, I do not sell enough books to warrant the cost of putting my book in WHSmiths. It is a Catch-22 situation. Sell enough books and you can afford promotional campaigns and placement in bookshops. But how do you sell enough books to justify the staggering expense of such things when the books you write are not available in bookshops, and nor are they advertised or promoted anywhere? Like I said, a Catch-22 situation.

It comes down to word-of-mouth, and there’s no predicting those books that catch peoples’ imaginations, those books that people start talking about.

It is – without question – a crazy old business, and who better than a crazy old man to get involved in it.

However, regardless of my gripes and grievances, I love writing. It is all I ever wanted to do. That, and play music. Like Lennon said, ‘Find something you love and you’ll never work another day...’, and I have found something I love, and consider myself profoundly fortunate to be in a situation where I can earn a living doing something that actually doesn’t feel like work.

So I have done Dubai, and Holland, and France three or four times, and Australia and New Zealand and Montreal and New York so far, and I have more France, more Canada, the US West Coast, Istanbul and Italy yet to go...

And there are lots more flights, and lots more trains, and lots more waiting rooms...
And there are lots more restaurants within which to eat alone, and lots more anonymous hotel rooms and intermittent web connections, and trying to keep up with the e-mails (often the highlight of my day, by the way!), and all the while working on new material, and writing new songs, and getting on with this ridiculous business of being a professional writer...

I had a conversation with another writer a few weeks ago. God knows where we were. He said he’d read an article about artists, those individuals who create something and then put it out three for the world to admire and enjoy. This article postulated that artists – whether they be writers, painters, ballet dancers, musicians – were composed, personality-wise, on the basis of fifty-percent ego, fifty-percent insecurity.

That made sense. Arrogant enough to consider that what they have created is something that everyone will appreciate and enjoy, but maniacally insecure and hoping like mad that people do actually enjoy it.

I think I feel like that most of the time.

So ‘Saints of New York’ has been released. Not very many copies. Not a very big print run. Irrespective of how many copies of ‘A Quiet Belief In Angels’ might have sold as a result of the Richard & Judy Book Club promotion, the fact remains that those readers that buy R&J books are not loyal to the authors, but to the list. They don’t want the next ‘Ellory’, they want the next R&J selection. Makes sense. R&J was/is a fantastic method of getting people out of the reading comfort zones. So, ‘Saints of New York’ might sell five percent of the number of copies of ‘Angels’, but still it is out there, and people will read it, and they will give their verdict.

I have completed ‘Bad Signs’ for June 2011, and two days ago I completed the novel for 2012. As a working title, it is called ‘A Dark and Broken Heart’, though – as in many instances before, it may not keep that title.

I wait, insecurity intact and fully-formed, to hear what the UK makes of ‘Saints of New York’, as I will also wait patiently to see what they think of ‘Bad Signs’, and all the rest of them. I have spoken to authors who sell a million copies in every country they’re published, authors who are releasing their tenth or fifteenth or twentieth book, and the insecurity doesn’t go away. Not ever. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps that’s what makes you try as hard as you can with every book you write.

And so I am going now. It is a new day. I arrived last night in Villeneuve, and I took some snaps and posted them on facebook. It is Saturday morning, and I am looking forward to the events I have to do this weekend, and the questions, the unmistakably French questions...

‘Monsieur Ellory...looking at the relationship of Ernesto Perez and Detective Robert Miller, I am struck by the similarity of Miller’s journey into the world of Perez and the legend of Orpheus into the Underworld. Can you please explain...’

Sure I can, I can hear myself saying. It’s like this...

20 comments:

Michael Malone said...

Saints of New York is in my local Waterstones. And you're only a wee bit crazy, Roger.

C. N. Nevets said...

So, as I was reading Candlemoth I could help but think of the similarities with Mersault's sense of alienation and isolation of the individual within a social reality that regards the subjective as if it were universal and yet subjugates the acknowledged subjective to the presumed objective, thereby enforcing the walls which separate one individual from truly understanding another in Camus' the Stranger. How do you think this compares to the sense we get from Aristophanes' The Birds, which suggests that an individual forming social articulations with other individuals can draw on their collective subjective analysis to assume concrete power over objective reality and attain to almost divine standards of authority and respect, and how do you justify your choice?

*ahem*

Come to Indiana sometime, and I'll make sure to come up with confusing questions, too. ;)

Brian said...

A quite Brilliant posting, Roger. I dont know about bookshops in the UK and the like. But what I can say that here in Waterford Ireland the Book was piled high in a prominent location first thing in the morning on day of release. As for Author Loyalty, Its simple you are the best writer/storyteller that I have some across in the last 5 years.

martin said...

Coming late to your work (just finished 'The Anniversary Man') I'm ordering the rest from Amazon after I post this. I live in the Seychelles where we don't even have a proper book shop but if we ever do I'll be leading the campaign to insure that all of your books are window-featured, piled on the floor so customers trip over them and, if all else fails, thrown at their heads to get their attention. It will, after all, be for their own good.

R J Ellory said...

Michael...glad to hear it's there, and very keen to know what you think of it, as and when you get time to give it a look. Hope all is well with you.

R J Ellory said...

C.N. Nevets (what is your name, by the way?) You are a genius! Are you French, perhaps? If not, you should be. Regardless of your nationality you should move to Paris immediately and become a journalist!

R J Ellory said...

Brian...you are too kind, and I really, really, really have to come to Ireland next year! Twice we have arranged it, and twice it has been postponed. Makes me mad! Thanks for all your support and your kind words.

R J Ellory said...

Martin...and when you're arrested and jailed, call me and I'll pay your bail! Thank you Sir, you are a true gentleman!

C. N. Nevets said...

Most people just call me Nevets. Boarding-school style. Why, I don't know. I'm American and never went to a private school with or without boarding.

And my father is German (b. Hamburg) so I think it would come as a great shock to my European family if I moved to Paris.

Might be worth it, just for that, if nothing else...

R J Ellory said...

Nevets...well, as I say, if you don't do something that would either shock or embarrass your family at least once a month, then you're likely to lose your sense of humour!

R J Ellory said...

Nevets...by the way, I need to be informed immediately when either 'Sublimation' or 'Ennui and Malaise' are published. The quotes I have read are superb, especially the one about the relationship between God and the Devil and why they create 'sin'... Do you have a literary agent? E-mail me on roger@rjellory.com and tell me what's going on with these books when you get a chance.

C. N. Nevets said...

Thanks for your kind words. I will e-mail you momentarily.

I think I shock and embarrass my family with just about everything I write. It's a bit much for most of them to digest. :)

Michael Malone said...

Roger, my review of Saints has now gone live over at crimesquad.com. BTW - it was SO cool to see my reviews for your older books quoted in the blurb of Saints. Made my day.

R J Ellory said...

Oh, those quotes had to go in Michael - no question about it! Many thanks, as always. Your support is hugely appreciated!

martin said...

Hi Roger,

I enjoyed reading your latest blog. Your frustrations aboout all the events and travelling you now do was just the point I was trying to make some months ago. Although the places you've seen, the people you've met must be some compensation.
It's disappointing to read you had a smaller print run for TSONY, but I'm sure it will sell well. I've seen it in every book I've been to in Birmingham and West Midlands. It's a shame that quality writing doesn't always sell as well as it should.
I think if and when the film of AQBIA is made, it will make a big difference to your career.
Of course there is no guarantee your readers will stay loyal to you, no matter how good your last book is. Many factors can affect it, but the people have to know it's out there to buy.
I am as you know, a great fan of your books, have read every one apart from the new one, which I'm due to start shortly, but if I didn't like it as much as i hoped, it might make me reconsider buying the next one. After all there are thousands of good writers out there - I could always try someone else. The pressure to keep producing fantastic books must be immense.
Loved your marx brothers story with your son. It made me smile.
I'll post my comments aboutthe new one in a couple of weeks or so, but my first impressions are very good.
Hey, I put one of my books on Amazon Kindle, and sold my first copy. I'm going on a world cruise with the proceeds. No seriously, I'm warming to E Readers, I have one myself and I now think it's going to give the publishing industry a real boost.

Keep up the good work

martin

R J Ellory said...

Martin,
Great to hear from you, and good news about your book going on Kindle, and you sold one! Excellent.
And yes, I know what you mean about reader loyalty, and I keep hearing this thing about 'An author cannot keep consistently writing good books...he/she has to fail at some point and write something that people don't like...' I hope never to do that! From initial responses and reviews on amazon, it seems that 'Saints of New York' is being well-received, and if you're not writing for the people that read you, well there's no point in writing. I just keep trying to produce the best book I can, and I hope that people continue to enjoy them. Stay in touch, let me know how your own writing progresses, and hopefully we'll catch up in person soon.
Best, always,
Roger.

Battycuss said...

Hi RJ...

If I were you I would play your guitar as loud as you wish. I do!

Also, when youngsters call me an old man (They are right), I remind them that although they have more to look forward to than I, 'Tomorrow is promised to no one.'

So on the whole, I would prefer to sit down and reflect on all I have seen, heard and done, safe in the knowledge I have 'been there'. If the 'young ones' are just half as lucky, then I am happy.

Thanks.

John

R J Ellory said...

Hi John,
An excellent philosophy! Yes, couldn't agree more. Thanks for these words of wisdom.
Best wishes,
Roger.

Colin said...

Hi Roger,

Picked up a signed copy of the anniversery man in Partners in Crime in New York and to be honest one of the best novels I have read (not jus saying that). Just bought a Quiet Belief and Ghostheart which I am going to start once i finish Denise Mina's Latest. I am originally from Scotland but out here in USA now so going to get my brother to send a copy of Saints over. Enjoying the blogs also.

Take Care,
Colin

R J Ellory said...

Colin,
That's really great to hear, and I am so pleased that you enjoyed 'Anniversary Man'. AQBIA and TAM are the only two that have been released as USA originals as yet, but the rest are coming. There's eight in the UK now, the last one called 'Saints of New York'. Stay in touch. Let me know what you think of the others. And you can always e-mail me direct through the 'contact' option on the website.
Thanks again for your kind words. Really appreciated.
Best, Roger.