Interview – 1 book in 5 questions : Ghostheart – R.J. Ellory

An interview with R.J. Ellory about  : 

Ghost Heart

English cover / French cover

Actually, this book is your second novel, never published in France before 2018. How do you look at it today ?

It is interesting as we recently released Candlemoth in France (in the UK published in 2003), so I am talking about books that were written fifteen years ago.  I have changed.  My attitude to writing has changed.  I look at storytelling with a different viewpoint.  I often tell people – when I am talking about writing in general – that if you read something you wrote six months ago and cannot see how you would do it better, then you have not improved as a writer.  We tend to be critical of things we have written in the past, but it is merely that we have become a more accomplished writer or storyteller.  So, how do I feel about these books?  I value them greatly.  I would write them differently now, but I don’t know that I would tell the story any better.  They were not the first books I had written, of course, because I wrote many books before I was published, but this one – Ghostheart – is interesting because it was the first book I wrote as a contracted author.  I wrote it knowing that it would be published.  That changed my attitude, and I think it contributed to my being a little more certain and confident, a little braver in the scope of the story.  I think the awareness that it was going to be read by people made me start to challenge my own ability as a writer.  I wanted to challenge readers as well. I didn’t want to be ‘safe’ and ‘careful’ about what I was doing.  I wanted to begin that adventure of really just writing the biggest, most embracive novels I could imagine.  The books covers decades of events in both Europe and America.  It addresses aspects of history and factual events that were very significant, both politically and culturally.  It took a great deal of research, and it really allowed me to exercise my imagination.  I think this book – and the way it was received – confirmed the path I would take with further books like A quiet Vendetta and A simple act of violence.  That blend of fact and fiction was the thing in which I was interested, and I found out that readers were interested too.

This story is specific, partly because the main character is a woman…

 Yes, for sure.  An interesting challenge!  That’s what I really loved about this book.  I asked myself right at the beginning whether or not I thought I could write a credible, real, believable female central character.  I was uncertain, of course, but once I had the idea in my mind I couldn’t let go of it. Following on from A quit belief in Angels it is the book about which I receive the most letters and e-mails, the vast majority of them from women, and they all deal with this issue of Annie O’Neill.  She is very real.  She has a very particular personality.  She is an exceptionally strong character.  She is very easy to fall in love with.  She is fragile and vulnerable, but she grows and changes in the book, and that is really the central theme of the book.  I began it with the idea of telling a story about how a book can change a life.  Annie lives in my memory, and I remember her with great affection.  I guess, in a way, I thought of her like the sister I never had.  My instinct, even as I wrote about her, was to take care of her, to make sure she was okay, but – at the same time – to give her independence and understand that she was more than capable of taking care of herself.  Annie was fragile, but that was only an apparency.  In truth, she was a great deal tougher than even she believed, and proves herself stronger, more capable and more resilient than anyone else in the novel.  I am very interested to see how this book will be received, especially by female readers!

This book is a dark novel, but love had never been this much present in your work…

It is interesting that you say that!  Yes, it is a novel about the love between a man and a child, even when that child is not his own.  It is a novel about a girl’s love for a father she never knew.  There is a love story within the novel as Annie finds David, but it is also about the love one finds for literature, for emotion itself, for life.  Annie believes that she will forever be lonely, and you wonder if she is just too damaged to survive.  Actually, her experiences do not strengthen her.  Her experiences merely reveal the strength that was already there within her, and of which she was unaware.  In a way, also, it is a book about how she finally learns to love herself.

Could books really change a life’s path ? 

You are asking me this?  You know the answer!  Of course, yes.  I believe this completely.  You are living one life right now, but if you read books you can live a thousand lives at the same time.  Reading changes everything.  Reading makes you think, it makes you see, it gives you understanding of things that you would never otherwise comprehend.  It opens your eyes and your mind to the entire history of creation and experience.  If you do not read, then the potential for gaining a better understanding of anything is very limited.  My life has been changed by books, and I am sure it will continue to change again and again in the future.

Even though the story is contemporary, we perceive your fascination for History  (with a big H) and its consequences in the characters’s everyday life…

Yes, most definitely.  I think is common through all my books.  I think you find two basic themes running through every novel I have written.  The first is that Hitchcock idea of an ordinary human being in an extraordinary situation, and the second is that I am putting fictional characters into locations and events that are historically significant or recognisable.  Here we have the history of Poland, the end of the Second World War, the liberation of the concentration camps, American gangland warfare, and all the way up to modern-day New York as an iconic character in itself.  I am a research junkie.  I read non-fiction endlessly.  I like to view history as just part of the ever-changing but ongoing human story, and see how we both learn and fail to learn from past experiences.  I think the past will always play a part in my work.  The past is not only a catalogue of tremendously fascinating stories in itself, but also an inspiration and motivation for everything that happens as a result.

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Catégories :Interviews littéraires

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