Thursday, August 13, 2009

We're back with RJ Ellory

...and we've flash forwarded to the present.

RJ: Now, here we are, seven years on. My seventh book is due out in England. My fifth book, A Quiet Belief in Angels, the one that is being published first in the USA, has already been translated into twenty-two languages. I have been contracted to write the screenplay for this book by the Oscar-winning director of ‘La Vie En Rose’, Olivier Dahan, and I am now answering another question, and that is ‘Why the South? Why write a book set in Georgia of all places? What is the appeal of this as a setting for a crime novel?’

Well, that question has a very simple answer as well.

I went to visit a friend of mine in Austria, and while I was there I came across a copy of Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’. Though I had read ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’ I had not read Capote’s non-fiction novel masterpiece. I devoured it. I read it a second time, and then became very, very interested in Capote, how the book came about, who he was etc etc. I read his published works again, some articles about him, saw the film ‘Capote’ starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, and I came to the conclusion that here was a writer who gave his life for a book. The book 'In Cold Blood' made him very rich, very respected, the most famous author in America for many, many years, but ultimately it killed him. Afterwards he never really published another word, and certainly never completed another novel, and he drank himself to death. So there was the thing: A book could save someone's life, but it could also kill them. The other aspect of it was the fact that Capote left Monroeville, Alabama as a child and went to New York.

The 'In Cold Blood' research (which he undertook with his childhood friend and neighbor Harper Lee) took him from New York back to smalltown, mid-west America, namely Holcomb, Kansas. So there was the other interesting idea: the juxtaposition of two worlds - smalltown mid-west America and bigtown New York. Those were the basic threads of inspiration that started me thinking about writing the book. And I wanted to write something that would (hopefully!) make people feel the way I had felt when I read such things as To Kill a Mockingbird, In Cold Blood, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter etc etc. A Southern drama. A sweaty, sticky, intense, almost claustrophobic drama that dealt with the seeming indomitability of the human spirit against all odds. I didn't want to write a book where a Police investigation resulted in the apprehension of a killer, the three pages of psychological revelation about why the killer did what he did, the jealousy, the mother complex, the desperate attempts to kill someone who represented some other significant figure in the killer's earlier life etc. I didn't want the story to be about the killer, but the effect that the killer's actions had - not on those he killed - but on the people whose lives he touched, both directly and indirectly.

There is yet another question about fiction, and that is how much of a writer’s work is autobiographical. Yes, I did lose my parents very early in my life, as did my central character. Yes, I did go to prison (though I went for poaching, not for murder!), and yes, I suppose I always did want to be a writer. But that’s where the similarity ends.

A Quiet Belief In Angels was written out of a love for the south, a love of great literature, a passion for language and prose and perplexing mysteries! It was not written to exorcise personal demons, though I can say something about this book that makes it special to me. I think it was Hemingway who talked about losing things. He said that if you lost something bad, then the hole it left behind just filled up naturally with the good experiences of life. However, if you lost something or someone good, then the hole it left behind…well, you had to work hard to fill it up. With every other book I have written I came away feeling that I had added something to myself, that I now knew something more about a subject, that my perspective and experience was somehow enhanced. With ‘A Quiet Belief In Angels’ it was quite different. When I finished the book I really felt like I’d left something of myself behind. And that – whatever it might be – is what I hope you find when you read it.

Thanks for guest blogging Roger - see you in Indy!
Visit RJ Ellory's website


  1. Very interesting. I also enjoyed Capote's book and found his life tragic. I found it fascinating that he and Harper Lee were childhood friends, wrote famous novels, and never really continued writing for publication after a certain point. (Harper Lee's bio, "Mockingbird: a Portrait of Harper Lee" cross-references Capote and is wonderful.)

    Thanks for the info on "Quiet Belief in Angels"--I'll definitely check it out.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. I have really enjoyed this interview. (Maybe being English and living in the US makes it more poignant for me too.) The book sounds wonderful.