THE FRENCH INTERVIEW
Recently, on a trip to France, I met a wonderful lady called Catherine Dô-duc. She and I had been in touch by e-mail, and then I met her in La Garenne Colombe, and we started talking about books and music and life, as is always the case when you meet people of like mind! Anyway, she asked if I would do an interview for her blog and website, and I agreed, Over the subsequent few days, once I had returned to the UK, she sent me a series of questions and we completed the interview in four parts. This interview (in French, of course!), has been posted on her website. She was kind enough to send me a complete transcript in English, and I reproduce it here for anyone who might be interested.
QUESTIONS TO RJ ELLORY
Inverview published in April 2011 on the Blog du polar
Interviewing Roger Jon Ellory is sheer pleasure, but it is also a heavy responsibility, for his numerous fans are waiting round the corner...
Here is part one of our 4 episodes interview. You happy readers will spend April in the company of RJ Ellory... In this first episode, we'll talk about... writing. Next time, we'll talk about writers, then movies and music.
Writing... and writing
LBdP :When I start reading one of your books, I always have this strange ambiguous feeling : your words seem to flow out like a torrent of emotions and images, with a powerful drive and energy. And at the same time, when I read again, the words are so carefully chosen, the sentences have such a flow, the editing is so visual that it is almost cinematographic, I can't help wondering how much work it must have been. And yet you say you almost never rewrite nor modify, with a few minor exceptions. How do you explain that ?Experience ? Or do you carry your novels living "within" you for so long that once you start writing, the whole work's almost done.
RJE :A great question! Well yes, for me it seems that this is a very organic and immediate process. As you know, I wrote a great many books before I was published, and I think this experience was very valuable. I do not write a synopsis or an outline for a book, but I do carry the book around in my head all the time. When I am working on a novel I am thinking about it all the time – where am I going, what should happen next, if this happens then how would this other thing happen, you know? I change my mind, I go in different directions, and only when I am finished and I understand how the book has ended can I then resolve all the little details from the start of the novel. I work as quickly as I can – writing perhaps 50,000 words a month, and in this way a book is finished in its first draft in about two or three months. Then I step away for a few days, and when I go back to it I spend a couple of days just tidying the areas where it needs some attention, and then I am done.
LBdP :You're a virtuoso as far as structure is concerned. For example, in A Simple Act of Violence, the progression of the story is very much influenced by the pages in italics, where the reader gets acquainted with the story of John and Catherine. The reader's vision undergoes an impressive shift from the initial fear to more and more understanding and even empathy. In fact, the sensation of horror shifts from the criminal to the system that made him/her a criminal. At the same time, the investigation follows a slower path ("slow motion thriller" like !). And yet you never lose your reader ! How do you work on that? Is the rhythm an intrinsic part of your writing project right from the start, or does it impose itself while writing?
RJE :No, I think it is an intrinsic part of the process, and I think about it like a piece of music, a symphony with many parts perhaps, and each part adds to the whole, but as each part progresses you hear repetitions of earlier themes, you hear melodies that you heard before but perhaps in a different key, and then you start to understand the whole piece. Also, as you progress you feel the tension of it, and you have an idea where it will end and how you will feel as the conclusion. This is not always the case, and sometimes it takes you to a different place than you expected. There is an old saying that the journey is always far more interesting than the destination, and I think this is perhaps the truth with my books.
LBdP :Always in A Simple Act of Violence, the CIA "shepherd" convinces his future agents by evoking the duality between morals and ethics. What's your position about this?
RJE :I think there is a great confusion between ethics and morals. I think morals are those rules established by a society that dictate what we can and cannot do, based on the society’s belief in what will be right for the survival of the majority of people. Ethics is a personal thing, however. Morally it is wrong to kill another human being. But ethically, if that person is a kidnapper or a killer and they are threatening the well-being of your children, then is it wrong to kill them in self-defence? Well, the answer is not as obvious as it seems. This is also the way society looks at it. Morals are social, ethics are individual, and where we have difficulty is where the society tries to regulate the ethical decisions of individuals without appreciating the circumstances and situation of that individual.
LBdP :You are very much involved in educational and culture issues. Do you feel that lack of culture leads to fanatism or terrorism? Is this one of the issues you wanted to deal with A Simple Act of Violence?
RJE :I feel that lack of education leads to all of society’s ills. Intolerance and racism, bigotry and fear of others is founded in ignorance, and lack of education is the cause of ignorance. Educated people, whether they are self-educated or formally educated are the most tolerant, the most aware, the most respectful of other people. And yes, I think I am always trying to give both sides of the story with my novels. A Quiet Vendetta for example, started with the idea of writing about the worst kind of person I could think of, and yet by the end of the book you felt a certain sympathy and empathy for him, almost as if you could forgive him. Why? Because you could now understand him if not morally, then at least ethically.
LBdP :You say that a writer should not only write about what he knows, but about what he's interested in. Would you envisage to write a novel with, let's say, a feminine viewpoint ?! Or where the main character would be a woman?
RJE :I said that a writer should not only write about what he knows, but also what he is interested in. And I have written a book with a central female character. It was the second book to be published in the UK, and it is called Ghostheart’
LBdP :Your novels are always located in the US. And yet, you have a somewhat terrifying vision of the system that underlies the functioning of this country. How do you deal with this?
RJE :I think I was weaned out of infancy on American culture. I grew up watching Starsky and Hutch, Hawaii Five-O, Kojak, all those kinds of things. I loved the atmosphere, the diversity of culture. The politics fascinated me. America is a new country compared to England, and it just seems to me that there was so much colour and life inherent in its society. I have visited a good number of times, and I honestly feel like I’m going home in a strange kind of way, a bit like 'deja vu', if you know what I mean. And I believe that as a non-American there are many things about American culture that I can look at as a spectator. The difficulty with writing about an area that you are very familiar with is that you tend to stop noticing things. You take things for granted. The odd or interesting things about the people and the area cease to be odd and interesting. As an outsider you never lose that viewpoint of seeing things for the first time, and for me that is very important. Also many writers are told to write about the things with which they are familiar. I don’t think this is wrong, but I think it can be very limiting. I believe you should also write about the things that fascinate you. I think in that way you have a chance to let your passion and enthusiasm for the subject come through in your prose. I also believe that you should challenge yourself with each new book. Take on different and varied subjects. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of writing things to a formula. I think any author wants to write great novels. I don’t think anyone – in their heart of hearts – writes because it’s a sensible choice of profession, or for financial gain. I just love to write, and though the subject matter that I want to write about takes me to the States, it is nevertheless more important to me to write something that can move someone emotionally, perhaps change a view about life, and at the same time to try and write it as beautifully as I can. I also want to write about subjects – whether they be political conspiracies, serial killings, race relations, political assassinations or FBI and CIA investigations – that could only work in the USA. The kind of novels I want to write just wouldn’t work in small, green, leafy villages where you find Hobbits! And as far as my terrifying vision of this country, I think this same vision could be shown in any country. I think I could write about the UK or France or South Africa or Brazil in the same way. Every culture and society has its shadows, and we are simply directing a light towards those shadows.
LBdP :Stephen King's French translator, William Desmond, says that one of King's strength lies in his ability to reconnect the reader to his childhood emotions and feelings, to dig a hole in the multiple layers an adult has to build on top of his childhood. In a recent radio interview, you said something rather similar when you talked about one of the first books you read when you where a teenager. When I said that my first reading of A Quiet Belief in Angels, immediately made me think of Mark Twain, I thought of that aspect, that ability that you have to restore childhood innocence and to revive long gone emotions in your reader. Do you think that this could be one of the secrets behind the success of your books?
RJE :With me, the most important thing about any novel is the emotion it evokes. The reason for writing about the subjects I do is simply that such subjects give me the greatest opportunity to write about real people and how they deal with real situations. There is nothing in life more interesting than people, and one of the most interesting aspects of people is their ability to overcome difficulty and survive. I think I write ‘human dramas’, and in those dramas I feel I have sufficient canvas to paint the whole spectrum of human emotions, and this is what captures my attention. I once heard that non-fiction possesses, as its primary purpose, the conveying of information, whereas fiction possessed the primary purpose of evoking an emotion in the reader. I love writers that make me feel something – an emotion, whatever it might be – but I want to feel something as I read the book. There are millions of great books out there, all of them written very well, but they are mechanical in their plotting and style. Three weeks after reading them you might not recall anything about them. That is not meant as a criticism, because that degree of clever plotting takes a great intellect, and is probably something I just could not do well. However, the books that really get me are the ones I remember months later. I might not recall the names of the characters or the intricacies of the plot, but I remember how they made me feel. For me, that’s all important.
I have done, and still do, a tremendous amount of research. It was always very, very important to me to ensure that everything mentioned in the book was genuine and correct as far as the time and place were concerned. It can be quite a task. There is an old adage as far as writing is concerned – ‘Wear your learning lightly’ – meaning that you cannot bury your fictional work beneath a ton of facts. I have to be careful of that too; to make sure that the history and the cultural aspects necessary to give a sincere reflection of the time and place weren’t so overwhelming that the story beneath was lost. Some facts are hard to find, others somewhat easier, but still the responsibility lies with the author to make his or her work as sincere and genuine as possible.
LBdP :Related to the previous question, have you ever been asked psycho-analysis related questions about this childhood reminiscing faculty? How do you react to such interpretations?
RJE :I spent many years reading a great many books about the mind, life, people, human psychology and the way in which we work. I don’t think anyone has a monopoly on the truth. I don’t believe there is any science or religion or philosophy that knows all the answers to all of man’s difficulties. I have never undergone psychoanalysis, but I think I have asked myself a lot of these questions, and always with my brother and my friends we are discussing such subjects. It is an area of great fascination for me, and I often think about the effect of the past on the present, and how the past influences who we are and the way we live our lives.
To be completely honest, I think I don’t remember a lot from my childhood, but I must do. I think the emotional effect of my childhood experiences are there inside me, and when I write I sort of subconsciously draw on those experiences and emotions all the time.
I have often said that the French, more than anyone I know, look at everything twice. They see something for what it is, and then they look beyond. I think this is a fantastic quality, never taking anything completely at face value. This is something I try to do also, and I think it serves to help us understand ourselves and understand life far better. And the more we understand, the better we can survive and achieve a quality of life.
Writing and writers
LBdP :It seems that international crime writers form a kind of itinerant group travelling from Salons to Bookfairs all over the world, from Paris to Dubai, New York, Montreal... What do you think of this "globalization" of literature ? Do you appreciate meeting your "friendly competitors" in such occasions?
RJE :I do enjoy meeting other writers, and I do enjoy this globalization of literature, but the thing that I enjoy more than all of this is the fact that I have the privilege of meeting readers from so many different cultures, and seeing where one aspect of literature is important to one culture, and yet in a different culture it is something else.
LBdP :Are there any contemporary writers with whom you feel a particular connection ? Be it in literary approach, themes or other common points?
RJE :Well, there are contemporary writers I have met who I feel a sense of familiarity with, if for no other reason than we look at life in a similar way. I very much enjoyed spending time with Don Winslow, also with Daniel Woodrell. I talk to John Connolly, and he and I share a great many similar viewpoints about writing. I have met Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos, Robert Crais, Walter Mosley, and found them to be very intelligent, very perceptive, very human people, and I enjoy spending time with them very much.
LBdP :In France, we have at least one bad habit : that of overcategorizing literature. Your books must have come as a relief to the unfortunate so-called "intellectual" readers who still had to hide away if they wanted to read crime fiction. With your novels, they can proudly claim that they read literature ! Is this evolution common to many countries, or is it peculiar to France?
RJE :No, it is common to a lot of places, but perhaps in France there is a greater understanding of this than anywhere else. The reception I have received in France has been extraordinary and very special. I love to visit France. I love to speak with French readers. For me it is a great honour to have been so warmly received, and I hope this relationship and friendship will grow more and more as the years progress. The terms ‘human drama’ and ‘slow-motion thriller’ were coined in France, and this said a great deal to me. It said to me that you care, that you are interested, that such things are important, and though I am not too concerned whether I am writing thrillers or crime fiction or human dramas, it is great to be able to talk to people who just appreciate the books for what they are, as opposed to trying to justify why they are reading them! I do not think you need a reason to enjoy a book. Books are like wine: if it tastes good, then it is a good wine, no matter the year or the vineyard!
LBdP :Stephen King, in a florilege of texts consisting in advice to would-be writers, provided a bibliography of ca. 70 books in which only one was non-American. Do you think this is representative of the vision Americans have of world culture ? Do you feel, as some do, that European writers have somehow lost contact with the world as it is ?
RJE :I think there is a revolution going on. American literature – certainly in the fields of crime – has seemed to dominate the last thirty or forty years of publishing, but now, with the prominence of Scandinavian fiction, I think that publishers are now looking to South America, to Europe, elsewhere for ‘the next big thing’. I think this will serve to break down some of the barriers and get a lot more wonderful non-English writers translated into English and distributed around the world. Personally, anything that gets more readers reading, regardless of language, genre, subject or nationality, is the most important thing.
LBdP :What do you think of e-books ?
RJE :As far as e-books are concerned, I don't use one, probably never will, but anything that gets people reading is fine by me. E-books will never take the place of hard-copy books.
The tactile quality is important, the disposability, the fact that you can lose them, give them away, read them right until the plane touches down (as opposed to having to turn off electronic devices half an hour before landing), you can leave them on your sunlounger while you take a dip in the pool, and come back to find they are still there. Books never run out of charge, and physical books say something about you, and you can decorate a house with them!
Writing and movies
LBdP :Can you give us any news about the movie adaptation of A Quiet Belief in Angels by Olivier Dahan ?
RJE :I can’t tell you anything at all! I wrote the screenplay for Olivier, and he has had it for the better part of two years. I thought it was a good screenplay. I thought it really captured the emotional essence of the novel. But I think Mr.Dahan has lost interest in the project. I think we are now going to work on getting it into the hands of some other directors, directors who possess a sensitivity for the emotion of the story, and who are not afraid to make a ‘slow-motion thriller’!
LBdP : Did you enjoy the experience?
In very simple terms, especially when we are dealing with novels that travel a little deeper than your average action-thriller, we are working with a great deal of thought and internal monologue on the part of the central characters. What they think and feel constitutes a significant part of the story. Therefore, in the field of novel adaptation, we are facing an inherent contradiction. Books focus, in the main part, on what our characters think and feel, whereas films focus on what people do and say. Often the difficulty in transcribing from book to film is that scenes have to be created that tell us aspects of the story that were entirely individual and personal in the minds of the characters throughout the book.
Additionally, a book – in general – has a scene of some significance every one thousand words. It is not a law, of course, but every three or four pages there is the introduction of a new character, some aspect of dialogue necessary to the plot, a conflict, a resolution, a red herring etc. In film, we are dealing with a scene of some significance every three or four minutes. Any more than that and the viewer becomes overwhelmed with information. There is too much to absorb. So here we have the conundrum. A book of one hundred to one hundred and fifty thousand words will give us a hundred to a hundred and fifty scenes. A film will present us with a scene about once every three minutes, and a film, on the whole is ninety to one hundred and twenty minutes long.
The work of the treatment writer and the screenplay writer is to take one hundred and fifty scenes, all of them important to the story, and collapse them into thirty or forty scenes of a film. How is that done, also taking into consideration that additional scenes have to be added in order to tell us aspects of the story that were only thoughts and feelings in the novel? It’s a tough job.
When I was commissioned to write the screenplay for ‘A Quiet Belief in Angels’, the director told me that he knew many aspects of the novel would have to disappear, but all he wished to accomplish was that a filmgoer, leaving the cinema, would perhaps feel the same emotional impact as a reader having finished the book. That made a great deal of sense to me, and was an idea I could work with. I wrote the screenplay, and it taught me a great deal about succinctness, about clarity in dialogue. It taught me a great deal about how to say more with less words, and was a very valuable learning experience. Whether the film will ever be made is a different story!
LBdP :Many of your readers think that your novels seem to be written to become movies. How do you react ?
RJE :Reviews and criticisms are different animals. Reviews tend to give the reader an overview of the story, and are quite specific, in that the reviewer is often careful to highlight the fact that what they are saying is very much their personal opinion. Criticism is generally a more hostile and censorious affair, making a point of stressing what the reader did not like about the book. Critical comments can be very effective in introverting the author’s attention, contributing to that ever-present spectre of self-criticism that all creative people suffer. We criticise ourselves and our own work all the time; do we really need people to also remind us of our own failings? Perhaps, perhaps not. I read an article a while back that suggested that creative people, irrespective of genre or media, were composed of fifty percent ego and fifty percent insecurity. They possessed sufficient ego and arrogance to consider that what they created was worth sharing with the world, and at the same time they were terrified that what they created would be hated and despised. Artists, musicians, dancers, writers, poets, actors – I think they all suffer the same ghosts. I think it is – to a degree – a necessary affliction, though some artists take it very seriously. I think the trap that artists can fall into is when they start to take themselves very seriously. It is perfectly acceptable to be serious about one’s work, but when you became serious about yourself you run into difficulty. When you become too precious and conceited about your own work, then criticism becomes almost painful, I should imagine.
I know from personal experience, and also from talking to many other authors – both successful and not so successful – that the natural human error in all cases seems to be gravitating towards the negative, rather than the positive. Faced with two hundred reviews on amazon, the author focuses on the three very negative and harsh reviews rather than more than a hundred and fifty glowing reviews. Is that human nature in general, or is that just the case with those who attempt to do something creative? I believe it was Oscar Wilde who said, ‘I don’t care what people say about me, just as long as they spell my name correctly...’, but I think this was bravado and bluff. I do care what people say about me, and I am sure Wilde did as well; the trick is not to care too much, so that others’ negative and critical viewpoints do not take over your own self-belief in what you are doing. I try not to concentrate on the negative. I try not to concern myself with how much better my fellow writers might be doing, for – as Krishnamurti said – ‘A life of comparison is a life of misery’.
LBdP :You said you'd thought about Clint Eastwood for the adaptation of A Quiet Belief in Angels. What would you think of Martin Scorsese for A Quiet Vendetta, or Michael Mann for A Simple Act of Violence ? Any other ideas ?
RJE :Those were my exact ideas! How strange that we have the same choices exactly! I also like very much the work of David Fincher, and also I think that Ben Affleck shows a great talent with such films as Gone Baby, Gone and The Town.
LBdP :Usually, crime fiction fans have a particular taste for the Golden forties of "film noir" (Big Sleep, Maltese Falcon, Asphalt Jungle...). Which movies would you take with you on a desert island and why?
RJE :I love these movies – the writing, the dialogue, the tension, the strength of character. I love movies that tell many stories within one story. Not only crime stories, but human dramas as well. I love movies that invoke feelings across the entire spectrum of human emotions. I love movies that make you think, make you work hard to understand what is happening, and for this reason I will choose ten movies as follows:
• The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
• White Heat
• North by Northwest
• Strangers on a Train
• Twelve Angry Men
• All The President’s Men
• Three Days of the Condor
• The French Connection
That is a very hard list to make, but that gives you an idea of the sort of film I am interested in.
LBdP :Your approach to writing, your will to suggest specific emotions in the reader made me think of the Actors' Studio approach to acting. Does this method grossly consisting in "stocking" inside you emotions and feelings that have marked your real life in order to be able to call them back when needed has anything to do with the way you work when you write ?
RJE :I think those emotions are already there. I think I continue to live life with a viewpoint of experiencing as much as I can.
I often say that if you are not prepared to do something at least once a month that would embarrass your family, then you are going to lose your sense of humour. Life is not a rehearsal, it is the main performance! I think this attitude contributes greatly to the speed, the intensity, the immediacy, the spontaneity, the organic way in which I write. I write. I just write. I do not think about what I have written until after it is finished. I think I live life like this, always trying to make things happen the best what, but not afraid to get it wrong. Sometimes getting it wrong is the best way to learn how to get it right.
Writing and music
This is the last episode of our interview with RJ Ellory. This week, music is on ! RJ speaks about his passion and has made the remarkable effort of selecting his 20 favorite albums, those he'd take with him on a desert island. That was not an easy thing to do.
And as a final fireworks, the Blog dared ask RJ to answer a « revisited » version of Proust's questionnaire. Some of you might find it a terrible cliché. We thought these questions were very revealing. After all, this questionnaire has become a monument ! In the final lines of this episode, RJE talks about his projects, which will give us the opportunity to ask him more questions in the near future...
LBdP :You're a guitar player, rather into blues rock if I heard you well. Did this kind of music impose itself naturally as a spontaneous choice because, for example, of the way blues bands can take on long improvisations in which the musician (especially the guitarist) can express himself freely (provided he stays in tune !!) ?
RJE :Well, I have always been passionate about music, and just as I found a great empathy in American literature, so I found a great empathy in jazz and blues and country music. I have had long discussions about this very subject with my friend, Antoine de Caunes! Someone once said to me that music was the way in which one person translated their emotions into sounds, and then gave those sounds to someone else who translated them back into emotion for themselves. I agree with this. I think good literature works on an emotional level, and I definitely feel that good music works on an emotional level. As far as long improvisations are concerned, I am not so much this kind of musician. I like to conceive of a song that I write as delivering an emotional message, and when the message is delivered the song is done.
LbdP : Have you been influenced by the "white blues" wave of the 60s-70s in England (Clapton, Mayall, Alexis Korner and so on), or rather by "roots" blues players ?
RJE :Yes, of course. Influenced by both. I listen to everything from Son House and Blind Willie McTell to Led Zeppelin (from Birmingham!), and everything in between. You cannot understand any form of contemporary western music without appreciating Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Bob Wills, Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins, Howlin’ Wolf – they are all there in the pot, everything from zydeco to rap, and they are all important.
LbdP : Do you read music ?
RJE :I do not read music for the guitar, but I read music for the trumpet, though I do not play trumpet any more. It is hard to sing and play trumpet together!
LbdP : How would you describe the difference (if any) between music and writing as a mode of expression ?
RJE :I think they are very much the same. Literature is evoking an emotion with words. Music is evoking an emotion with sounds. I think writing a song is like writing a chapter, and writing an album is like writing a book. Both are there to deliver an emotional message, and both can accomplish this but in different ways.
LbdP :Elliott Murphy said in one of his interviews : "If you play blues the other way round, you get out of jail, your wife comes back to you and you find a new job !" Does it work ??
RJE :Ha, that’s wonderful! And if I play country music backwards do I get my dog and my pickup truck back as well? I shall try it and let you know, though I don’t think I want my first wife to come back!
LbdP :How many members are there in your band, the Whiskey Poets ? Any projects, any chance to see you on stage one day ?
RJE :There are three of us, and we are relatively new. We are rehearsing songs to record in May, and we will record five or six tracks. And then we hope to be on the road.
LbdP :20 albums you'd take with you on a desert island ?
• Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland
• The Thirteenth Floor Elevators – Bull of the Woods
• Gene Casey & The Lone Sharks – Rhythm ‘n’ Twang
• The Gun Club – The Las Vegas Story
• Jeffrey Lee Pierce Quintet – Wildweed
• Bo Diddley – Hey! Bo Diddley
• Captain Beefheart& The Magic Band – Safe as Milk
• Cream – Disraeli Gears
• The Doors – The Doors
• Sir Douglas Quintet – Mendocino
• Dr. John – Gris-Gris
• Elvis Presley – The Sun Recordings
• Holly Beth Vincent – Holly & The Italians
• Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow
• John Martyn – Solid Air
• Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
• Kelly Joe Phelps – Shine-Eyed Mister Zen
• Led Zeppelin – Led Zep 1
• Paul Butterfield Blues Band – The Elektra Years
• Roky Erickson & The Aliens – The Evil One
LbdP : What about your projects ?
RJE :Saints of New York will be published in France at the beginning of 2012. I'm working on a novel set in Tennessee in 1974 at the end of the Watergate era. The central character is a young Sheriff investigating the bizarre, almost ritualistic killing of a young teenager, and while investigating this murder he is also dealing very much with the ghosts of his Vietnam war experiences. I hope for it to be somewhere between Apocalypse Now and Angel Heart!
Proust's questionnaire revisited
Your favourite virtue
Integrity, the willingness to hold a position against disagreement and criticism
Your favourite qualities in a man.
Commitment to an agreement
Your favourite qualities in a woman.
Your chief characteristic.
What you appreciate the most in your friends
Your main fault
Your favourite occupation.
Your idea of happiness.
Good friends, good food, good wine, good music, good conversation.
Your idea of misery.
The emotion attendant to a recognition of personal failure.
If not yourself, who would you be?
Kelly Joe Phelps, or some other blues guitarist and singer.
Where would you like to live?
Upstate New York.
Your favourite colour
Your favoUrite bird.
Your favourite prose authors.
John Steinbeck, Annie Proulx, Tim O’Brien, Cormac McCarthy, Raymond Chandler, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, and on and on and on...
Your favourite poets.
William Carlos Williams, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson
Your favourite heroes in fiction.
Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, Sergeant Bilko, Bad Blake (from ‘Crazy Heart’ by Thomas Cobb)
Your favourite heroines in fiction.
Irene Adler, Sophie (William Styron), Thelma and Louise
Your favourite painters and composers.
Velasquez, Caravaggio, Turner, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov, Gershwin
What characters in history do you most dislike.
Hitler, Hesse, Goebbels, Himmler, Eichmann, Mengele etc., Tony Blair, George Bush, George W. Bush, Hoover, Harold Wilson, Stalin.
Your favourite food and drink.
Jack Daniels and Buffalo wings!
World history characters I hate the most
Apart from the above, there are very few others. I do my utmost not to hate people, but some can’t help but deserve it!
The natural talent I'd like to be gifted with
An extraordinary ability to play the guitar
How I wish to die
Very old, but still working!
What is your present state of mind.
For what fault have you most tolerance
Your favourite motto.
Success is entirely dependent upon constancy of purpose. (Benjamin Disraeli)
RJ Ellory answers to readers' questions
Questions from Pierre F.
Don't you think culture can lead to intolerance ? Some extreme right leaders are very intelligent.
I think lack of culture and lack of education is far more likely to be a causative factor in intolerance. Fear is ordinarily founded on ignorance, in my opinion, and the common denominator in cases of intolerance, racism and bigotry seems to be lack of understanding and lack of education about that which you are intolerant of. If culture was the cause of intolerance, then the solution to intolerance would be to return to the state of a completely uncultured race, and I don’t think that would be a realistic solution. I feel that lack of awareness and lack of culture are far more likely to foster and encourage intolerance and racism than the reverse.
About A Quiet Belief in Angels : which novels influenced you in writing this book ?
I think In Cold Blood was the only novel that really influenced my outlook when I was writing A Quiet Belief In Angels, and in a way it was more to do with Capote as a character than the book itself. He was raised in the Deep South and moved to New York, just as was the case with Joseph. People have commented that the novel seems Steinbeckian in its style, but I have read only ‘Cannery Row by Steinbeck and there seems to be no similarity to me at all in the style. A novelist I greatly admire is Annie Proulx, and I think The Shipping News and her short story collections were influential in my work when I was writing ‘Angels’. I am also inspired by poetry, especially such poets as Robert Frost, Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams.
About A Quiet Vendetta, are your characters purely fictional or have you been acquainted to similar people in terms of behavior or attitude ?
Well, the fictional characters of Hartmann and Perez are definitely characters of my own creation, though the story is obviously littered with real characters from the history of the Mafia. I have had no first-hand experience of individuals who deal in such circles, so they are purely from my imagination.
About A Simple Act of Violence, some readers have compared it to Don Winslow's The Power of the Dog. Have you read it ? Was it part of your sources when you researched your books ?
I came across The Power of the Dog in late 2008. A Simple Act of Violence was written in early 2005. I have now read The Power of the Dog, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it is a very, very different type of book from mine. It was not part of my sources when I researched my novel. My sources are invariably non-fiction when it comes to the factual/historical background of a book.
How do you explain that A Quiet Belief in Angels is categorized among crime novels, since the murderer has no real motive ?
Well, the genre of a novel is entirely subjective. I just intended to write a good story about something I was interested in. I consider them human dramas, not crime novels as such. It was the French who coined the phrase ‘the slow-motion thriller’, and I think this is a wonderful expression. I am not much concerned about slotting into some predetermined pattern or pigeonhole, and I think my books are crime dramas, in a way, but they are crime dramas where the crime is secondary to the effects of that crime on families, communities and societies. I think there is also some degree of explanation postulated by Joseph as to the killer’s motives and rationale as he is waiting in the hotel room at the end of the book, but it is Joseph’s thoughts that we get. I am not a psychologist, and I do not presume to try and explain the reality of a serial killer. I think some books have done that well, and a lot have done that very badly, and I never wanted to write a novel from the killer’s perspective. I wanted to write the biography of a young boy, so influenced by traumas in his early life, that he dedicated his life to discovering the truth, regardless of what obstacles he met. I did not want to write a psychological text on why Man is capable of doing such things.
From Catherine S.
Would you consider writing a novel that would not involve any criminal action ?
Yes, I would. The thing that interests me more than anything is people. I like the drama that is created between people when they try to survive and overcome personal difficulties, so yes, I might one day write a novel that has no crime in it, except perhaps a crime of the heart (a betrayal, a deception etc., something that generates tension and friction between the characters).