with Roger Ellory
was fortunate to meet Roger at an event in Norwich Forum
Library. Myself and Anne are pictured with him above
reviews of the novels of Roger Ellory
Ellory kindly agreed to answer a number of questions
in a special electronic interview. Hopefully this will
give an insight into a very talented author who
connects with his fans in a very genuine and open way.
Roger It is rather
unusual for an Englishman to write American novels.
How did this come about and why do you set your
books in the USA?
In all honesty, it
never felt right to write about anything else. I
remember reading an article by Stephen King where he
talked about the importance of writing about those
things in which you were interested, and this really
makes sense to me. I think I have done that
without really thinking about it. I have always
been fascinated by US politics and culture during the
latter half of the twentieth century, and it always
seemed to me that there was so much more material in
this setting. My first book was a Death Row
thriller, my second dealt with New York gangland
underworld characters during the 50s, 60s and 70s.
The third was a 500-page Mafia epic, the fourth a bank
heist thriller, the fifth was set in rural Georgia
during the war, and the sixth deals with both serial
killings in Washington and the CIA’s involvement in
the war in Nicaragua. These are the kind of
things I am in interested in, and they just wouldn’t
work in Stroud or Chichester or Plymouth, wonderful
places though they are!
Did you always feel that someday you would make it and write
I always felt that if I just persisted and persisted and
persisted I would get a book published. The goal was to be
published, not to be ‘a bestseller’. Now I have been
published my goals have changed.
How much is writing a bestseller ability and how much being
in the right place at the right time?
I can only assume that both are factors, but I believe that
ability has to be superior by a huge percentage. I am of
the belief that if you do, or can write a good book then as long
as you persist in sending that book out, and work to get an
agent to represent you, then you will eventually see it in
When you were receiving rejection letters did you ever feel
like giving up?
Yes, of course. I think everyone who goes through that
amount of rejection (twenty two rejected novels over six years;
in excess of four hundred rejection letters from more that a
hundred publishers) would feel like giving up at some point!
But that was the belief I had: that as long as I carried on I
would eventually get there.
How did you feel when Candlemoth was accepted for
The only way I have been able to describe it, as I have been
asked this question many times before, is that if you can
imagine finding the love of your life, and you know that this
person is unquestionably the love of your life, and you ask them
to marry you every day for fifteen years and they never reply.
And then one day, right out of left field, they say ‘Yes’.
That was how it felt. It was the final vindication and
acknowledgement after fifteen years of tremendous intention, and
finally I arrived.
You mention the large number of novels you had rejected. Can
you tell me what kind of books they were and will they ever see
the light of day?
Primarily they were supernatural thrillers, but I did a couple
of straight crime thrillers as well, and a legal thriller. They
won’t see the light of day. At least I don’t see that
they will at this stage. They are good in places, but I
also feel that the amount of work necessary to make them
publishable would be no less than the amount of work to write a
new book, and I am always an awful lot more interested in what I
am doing now than what I have done in the past.
Many people have commented on the huge amount of research
that goes into your books. How do you go about this?
I research as I go, finding out the things I need to know as
I’m writing the book. Often I might leave blanks in the
script for dates and names and such things as I don’t want to
interrupt the flow of the material Research can be
addictive as there are so many different subjects one can become
interested in. My agent once made a tremendously valid
point. He said ‘Wear your learning
lightly’, meaning that you should never bury your
fictional storyline beneath a tonnage of fact. You’re
not writing a textbook, you’re writing something that has
entertainment as its primary purpose.
Do you visit the USA regularly? If not how can you be so
authoritative on that country?
Once again, by paying attention to what I read and what I see,
and when I do go to the States I make notes, take photos, do my
own ‘location’ research if you like. I have been
enough times to absorb the feel of the place, certainly from my
own perspective, and my view is that a novel is not a guide
book. You’re not trying to give someone a tour of New
York. You’re simply trying to evoke a feeling, to create
an atmosphere, and that can be done without guide maps and
Would you like to live in America?
In its current state, no. Not unless something very
significant occurs with the entire framework of American
Is there such a thing as the Great American Novel? If so who
has written it? If not who has come the closest?
I can only imagine that there are dozens of Great American
novels! I don’t believe there is such a thing as the
one. You have Harper Lee, Capote, Hemingway, McCullers,
Cather, Steinbeck, Styron and the list goes on and on and on and
on. You have contemporary writers also such as Mailer, Philip
Roth, TC Boyle, Annie Proulx…all of them extraordinary
writers, and all of them publishing books that will stand the
test of time. All of them are great, and perhaps we should
stop looking for something else and realise that we have it
Is it possible for an Englishman to truly evoke the feel of
I think I am the wrong person to answer that! I think the
readers should be asked such a question.
How can an English writer so effectively write in the
I am of a generation that was raised on The Streets of San
Francisco, Kojak, Hawaii Five-O, Starsky and Hutch. The TV
and movies that we were brought up with were Hollywood.
That was the world we were given as children, and I think I was
always intensely interested in such things, and I think I
absorbed a great deal of it without even being aware that that
was what I was doing.
What stirred your love of the USA?
I honestly don’t know, to tell you the truth. I spent
nine years at boarding school after my mother died, and I
occupied my time by reading a great deal. The books I was
drawn to were American, primarily Southern, and I always found
the use of language so creative and ‘different’. Perhaps it
started there, I’m not sure, but I have never lost that
Where do your ideas come from? Do you start with the
beginning and work forwards or start with the ending and work
I think every individual working in any creative field either
has an ‘ear’ or an ‘eye’ that is different. We
talk about a photographer’s eye, and I believe that
choreographers, painters, architects and designers have the
same. It’s the way they look at life. The way they see
things and translate them into ideas. I think authors are
the same, but they read things into conversations. They hear
phrases and seem to be able to extrapolate ideas from such
phrases. To tell you the truth I don’t actually ‘look’ for
ideas. I just have ideas come and I look them over, turn them
over and around and upside-down, and sometimes the ideas stick
with me, and sometimes I discard them. The ones that stick with
me wind up as novels.
When you start a book do you know how it will end or do you
let the characters direct you?
I have no plan for the end of a book, no. I wouldn’t say that
I ‘let’ the characters direct the end of a book as such, but
the characters definitely become more real and thus can’t help
but inform and influence the way a book finishes. Ordinarily I
get three quarters of the way through a book and then start to
realistically work out how it will end.
How and where do you write? Do you have set times for
I used to write longhand, and then transcribe onto a manual
typewriter. Now I have a computer. I write at home.
I shared the front room with my family, and late at night I
would work when no-one was watching TV. Now I have moved house
and I have a study, and I can shut myself in there and get on
with things. I tend to write while my son is at school,
but these days – with the vast predominance of public events
and appearances – I have to write whenever I can!
Due to their subject matter there is an aggressive feel to
your novels? Is this something that comes from your own
No, I don’t believe I am aggressive in nature, but I do
believe that they very worst type of book is the one that makes
you feel nothing in particular. As Sol Stein once said, the
primary purpose of non-fiction is to convey information, whereas
the primary purpose of fiction is to evoke an emotion. I
am always working towards the emotional effect that can be
created, and if that requires challenging people then so be it.
If someone reads one of my books and then cannot remember the
intricacies of the plot or the characters’ names then I
don’t mind, but I’d like them to be at least able to
remember the way the book made them feel.
How difficult is it to maintain your obvious literary merit
when writing thrillers/crime orientated novels?
I don’t think there’s a distinction. I think there’s
far too much snobbery about books. Books are either great
stories or they’re not. They’re either well-written or
they’re not. I don’t think there should be such a
focus on whether or not it’s genre fiction or literary
fiction. It should be just ‘fiction’, and you either
like it or you don’t!
Would you agree that your novels should not be pigeon-holed
as thrillers, crime novels, Americana?
I would agree, yes. But then I would agree with a complete
dissolution of all separation between genre and literature.
We should just have sections for different types of stories –
romances, thrillers, horror, sci-fi, westerns – and recognize
that those people who read and enjoy those types of books
understand that – at least for them – it is great fiction,
What does the future hold for Roger Ellory? What are your
To continue to write. To always be writing. To be still working
on a book when I finally give up the ghost! This is my
vocation, and I feel extraordinarily fortunate to be in a
position where I can earn a living and have a career doing
something that I love. John Lennon said something like ‘Find
something you love to do and you’ll never work another day in
your life’. I concur. And what does the future hold?
What I hope for is an ever-increasing readership where I have
the opportunity to be read
and enjoyed by people who like good stories, and a chance to go
out and see them in libraries and bookstores and do whatever I
can to push the necessity and importance of books.
What are your feelings when you go into a book shop and see a
display of your own work?
The first few times it was very exciting. Nowadays you
think things like ‘I want it to be a bigger pile. I want
it to be nearer the door.’ I mean that half-heartedly,
but once you have been published your attention turns away from
thoughts of your own accomplishment to the necessity to do
whatever has to be done to get people to read the books.
Have you ever bought one of your own books?
Yes, it is now a tradition. On the day of publication I go in
and buy a copy of my own book (without telling anyone in the
store that I wrote it, of course). That would just be painfully
egotistical and shallow!
Would you recommend Ellory novels to other people?
Good God no, they’re dreadful pulp! No, of course I would
recommend them, if only one or two, just to see whether a
slightly different take on crime fiction is something that would
appeal. I think you should give every type of book a go.
How would you describe your writing style?
Literary, contemporary, and yet also accessible. A lot of people
e-mail me and tell me that they’re not really ‘crime
thrillers’ but more like human dramas where the crime is not
the focus, but rather the effect the crime has on the people
involved. I like that idea – the human drama. Perhaps
there’s a new genre category in the making.
You make numerous personal appearances, how important are
your readers to you and do you feel you have a special
relationship/bond with them?
Vitally, vitally, vitally important. Nothing more important. To
go out and see people, to speak to people about books in
general, to make new friends, to share the love of other authors
and the books they have written is so much a part of the quality
of life enjoyed by readers (of which I am one, of course) that
to not have that opportunity would be a huge loss. And
yes, I believe there is a very special relationship. It is
simply that you have written something, you have attempted to
analytically and emotionally, and they then come back to you and
say ‘Yes, I got it. That worked for me’. That is
an irreplaceable thing, and so much a part of being an author.
Do negative comments about your work upset you?
I don’t think they upset me as such. Not now, because negative
comments are always such a minority. Generally speaking I
have not suffered a great deal of negativity from reviewers and
Are you now writing full time?
No, I am still working as much as I can in charitable fields and
I am obviously doing a lot of touring (I am at home for all of
three days in October!). I have become aware of the fact
that I need to backtrack a little and spend some more time
behind the desk, but I will get that organised as soon as
November comes around.
What is your advice to would be authors?
I have a website blog called ‘The Ellory Journal ‘. You can
access it through the homepage (wwww.rjellory.com). In the
archives section under August 2006 is an article I wrote called
‘How Do You Get Published?’ It’s quite long and
quite specific, and to save reprinting it here I recommend that
you read it. That gives my take on what an aspiring author
should do once they have
completed a story that they feel they would like to publish.
If you could identify with any character from your novels who
would it be?
Honestly, I think there’s a little bit of me (in fact I know
there is!) in every male lead character in my books, and perhaps
even a little of me in Annie O’Neill (Ghostheart).
Who has inspired and/or influenced you?
Steinbeck, Hemingway, Tim O’Brien, Capote, Harper Lee, Stephen
King, Annie Proulx, TC Boyle, William Styron, Hubbard, Moorcock,
Chandler, James Ellroy…and that is an unfair question, because
there’s so many great authors out there!
Who are your favourite authors?
Impossible to answer, but I have to include Truman Capote, Annie
Proulx and John Steinbeck.
Other than literature what are your interests?
Music, photography, cooking, reading, movies, travel, meeting
Do you have a favourite novel of yours? If so which
I don't have a favourite book of my own. It's really not
possible to say one is better than another, at least for me.
All of them were the most important one while I was doing
them, and when I was done they ceased to be the most important
because then I was working on something new!
Do you have a favourite all time novel? If so what is
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Your novels often have a panoramic sweep? Did you set
out to write epic vistas?
Yes. The idea of a tiny, tiny story set in a tiny, tiny
world doesn’t appeal to me.
How much do you draw on your own experiences when writing?
I think we must do, all of us. Perhaps not specifically
from the events we are involved in directly, but certainly from
our own emotional reaction to the world around us. I
don’t think such a thing is avoidable.
Do you think your work will ever be published in the USA?
Yes, I do. I am going to Baltimore for a week on Wednesday to
attend the Bouchercon Crime Festival. I have already had a
couple of tentative advances from US publishers, and I am going
there to see what interest I can drum up. I think I just
have to be patient…exactly as I was when I first started to
try and get published in the UK!