RJ Ellory, The Devil and The River


As you know, I recently completed the book for 2014, as yet untitled. I also received proof copies of the book that is being released in June of this year, entitled ‘The Devil and The River’. Contractually speaking, I am not now required to submit another book until the middle of 2014. This is – frankly – an utterly impossible scenario for me!

I am a writer. I write all the time. During the last ten years I have published eleven books, but I’ve written somewhere in the region of sixteen or seventeen. Beyond that, I still have twenty-five unpublished novels in my loft. I once asked my wife what we were going to do when we reached our mid-sixties and we had no money because she had spent it all on shoes. Her response was immediate and very specific: ‘I’ll just take all those manuscripts in the loft and put them on e-bay,’ she said, ‘and then I’ll buy more shoes.’

And so I am at a loss for a while. I will start a new book sometime in the forthcoming weeks, and – all being well – that will then be published in 2015. The simple truth is that whatever we do – when we create on an individual basis, and when we are creating out of a vocational passion – then it is not something that can be turned on and off like a tap.

Leo Rosten said that the only reason for being a professional writer is that you just can't help it.

I think it’s just the same for musicians, athletes, painters, photographers, ballet dancers, architects, and anyone else who occupies that frame of mind where – in essence – they create something from nothing. That was my conclusion when I thought about it…that there is a type of personality or mind-set that is compelled to create. My mother was a dancer and singer, my grandmother a ballet teacher, and every time I travel and meet people who pursue some sort of aesthetically- or artistically-orientated activity, I find a common denominator. The simple fact is that the creative mind never really stops working. John Lennon said ‘Find something you love and you’ll never work another day’. I would concur. Even though writing a book is a considerable amount of work, even though it consumes your attention every waking hour (and sometimes your sleeping hours as well!), it is nevertheless a tremendously pleasurable activity, even at its most frustrating.

An athlete’s training program, the work involved in choreographing a ballet, the thousands of hours needed to attain competence with any musical instrument (as I know all too well, and the battle goes on!), a photographer’s efforts in putting together a portfolio are all the same. Even after finding a publisher (which took fifteen years and twenty-three novels), my desire to write the best book I can is still as strong as ever. And when we embark upon such activities – not knowing whether it will ever come to fruition, unaware of what the future might hold for us – it takes an enormous amount of persistence and willingness to continue despite the inevitable obstacles and frustrations.

I remember a quote that I read many years ago, and this quote really inspired me to go back to writing after an eight-year break during which I had almost given up on the idea of ever finding a publisher. The quote came from Benjamin Disraeli, and he said, ‘Success is entirely dependent upon constancy of purpose.’ Such a thing has been said before, and will be said again in different ways, but the message is the same.

I also remember something my grandmother used to say to me when I was a child. “Never be one of those people who lead a ‘What if?’ life.” Essentially, don’t get to the end of your life and wonder what would have happened if you had asked that girl to marry you, if you had taken that job offer in Minnesota, if you had decided that no, you wouldn’t continue in a job that made you miserable just for the salary.

I have made mistakes, as we all have. Hindsight is always the cruelest and most astute advisor. It is inevitable that we face situations where the outcome is unknown, and we just have to trust our intuition. It is inevitable that we might find ourselves in situations where we react or respond in an irresponsible or inappropriate manner. This is life. None of us are faultless, and none of us are saints. The true test, I feel, is recognizing when you are wrong, doing everything you can to rectify the damage caused, and then – as the rodeo guys say – ‘Dust yourself off and get back on that horse’. The horse isn’t going away, figuratively speaking. Well, you know what I mean, right?

Unfortunate as it may be in some instances, you don't get to practice your life before you live it.  It is an unrehearsed performance, live, off-the-cuff, often improvised. Of course we are going to miss cues or fall off the edge of the stage. The question is, do we get back on the stage and press on regardless? The show, as they say, must go on.

So, to the year ahead. I will start a new book. I will nag and harass and annoy my bass player and drummer back into rehearsals and get this damned band on the road once and for all. And if they don’t straighten up and fly right, then I’ll find some other musicians to work with and we’ll make a different sound. That is inevitable. As I have often said, I am not sure whether writing is my religion and music is my philosophy, or if music is my religion and writing is my philosophy. Sometimes they feel interchangeable, and I know that if I was ever prevented from writing, or if something occurred that made the publication of further books impossible, then I would pursue a songwriting and performing career with as much enthusiasm and drive as I pursued my goal to write.

My wife of twenty-four years, who happens to be my best friend and the person who knows me better than anyone else, has stopped asking me when I will make some time to relax. She knows the answer will always be the same. ‘Relax from what?’ I don’t do holidays, never have, and probably never will. I travel, of course, and have been fortunate enough to see many dozens of cities all over the world, but I have always been there for professional reasons. That, as far as I am concerned, is reason enough.

Last week I was in Holland for the release of ‘Bad Signs’, and then I flew straight to a town called Wick in Caithness, Scotland. I was honoured to have been invited to run a writers’ workshop for the Caithness Writers’ Association. So there I was in a hotel, just fifteen miles or so from John O’ Groats (and for those of you who don’t know, John O’ Groats is the northernmost point of the highlands and is the demarcation point for the very end of the British Isles), and I had the great pleasure of delivering a workshop to a host of truly wonderful people. I came away with a half dozen different ideas for novels and short stories, and I got to see some truly incredible countryside as well.

Beyond further touring, there will be more short stories to write, perhaps another novella like ‘Three Days in Chicagoland’, and some of the film possibilities that have been floating around for several months might actually come to be. I am sure I will get back in the studio and record some more music, and I am looking forward to the French release and attendant tour for ‘Bad Signs’ in October. I have agreed dates for Bouchercon in Albany, and I will also be at the second Knowlton Festival in Canada in May.

There are many exciting things on the horizon, but possibly – at least for me – none more so than the release of ‘The Devil and The River’ in June.

The blurb, issued by my publisher, says the following:

'When the rains came they found the girl's face. Just her face. At least that was how it appeared…'

On a perfect summer evening in 1954, sixteen-year-old Nancy Denton walked into the woods of her hometown of Whytesburg, Mississippi. She was never seen again.

Two decades on, in July of 1974, Sheriff John Gaines witnesses a harrowing discovery. A young woman has been unearthed from the riverbank, her body perfectly preserved, and yet she bears the brutal evidence of a ritualistic voodoo killing.

Nancy has come home at last, but her return does not bring closure to her family, nor to the townsfolk of Whytesburg.

Already haunted by his experiences in Vietnam, Gaines struggles to cope as a new chapter of disturbance and horror is unleashed.

Stretching his investigative skills and personal capabilities to the limit, the smalltown Sheriff finds himself pushed ever closer to his own mental and emotional breaking point.

What really took place on that summer evening twenty years before? Why won’t Nancy’s friends talk? What actually happened to the beautiful and vivacious teenager that everybody loved so much?

As Gaines closes in on the truth, he is forced to confront not only his own demons, but to unearth secrets that have long remained hidden in Whytesburg. And that truth, so much darker than he could ever have imagined, may be the one thing that finally destroys him.

Intense, gripping and hauntingly atmospheric, The Devil and the River is the stunning new thriller from bestselling author R.J. Ellory.

And I really do hope you find it stunning!

I remember when I started writing it, and my editor asked me what I was working on. I told him that I was writing a book that was ‘somewhere between Angel Heart and Apocalypse Now’ so that’s what you have in store.

So, for now, that is all. I shall endeavour to write more blogs as I now have a little more time on my hands, but – knowing me – I am sure that something will come along very soon that will engage my attentions and energies to the exclusion of all else!

I trust you are well, and I send all my best wishes, as always.

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