Interview – 1 book in 5 questions : Carnival of Shadows – R.J. Ellory

An interview with R.J. Ellory about  : 

Carnival of Shadows

My review (in french)

This investigation by an FBI agent is going to turn out to be much more astonishing than it looks…

Well, as you know, nothing is ever as it seems in my books! This is one of the trilogy of grand-scale books that include ‘Vendetta’ and ‘Les Anonymes’. I had written about the Mafia and the CIA, and I didn’t want the FBI to feel that they had been forgotten! For me, the subjects I write about always have to be personally interesting. Writing one of the big, fact-based novels requires a tremendous amount of research. If I am not fascinated by the theme and subject matter, then it could never be done. Like all my other books, there was no specific outline or synopsis. I knew what I wanted to write about, I decided on Kansas as a location (‘The Wizard of Oz’, right?), and then it was just a matter of starting the project and seeing where the journey took me. As I write I research further, and thus I discover new threads to weave into the complete fabric of the thing. It always becomes so much bigger and broader in its scope, and then – about two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through – I begin to think about how it might end, what might happen to these people, how it will conclude, you know? Not a ‘happily ever after’ Hollywood ending, but something that could be realistic considering the journey that has been taken. So, in truth, it is as much of a discovery for me as it is for the reader because the end is unknown until I reach the final pages.

Your main character, Agent Travis, has his way of thinking heavily questioned…

Yes, for sure. That was the primary goal. I wanted to create a character that had a very set way of thinking. He has his attitudes, his viewpoints, his own personal philosophy about life, and then suddenly he is thrown into an unpredictable situation where everything he believes to be true is questioned, deconstructed, turned upside-down. The book, more than anything else, is about our ideas of life, how we are influenced by parents, education, society, and what happens when we discover that so very much of what we have been told is untrue. In a way, when we look at works of fiction reflecting the personal lives of the writer, I can see how my own ‘education’ through school and church and all these things was just someone else’s idea of how I should think and what I should believe. It was only later – as a teenager and into my early twenties – that I began to really read and learn and discover that so many things I took for granted about the mechanics of life and society were not correct. The answers to who we are, what we’re doing, why we’re here, where we’re going etc., have been written about by great men and women throughout the last ten thousand years. This has always been an intensely fascinating subject, and something I have continued to study for the last forty years. That study will never end, of course, and it was an interesting challenge to make that journey part of a fictional story. I think it would be true to say that a great deal of what Edgar Doyle tells Agent Travis about the human condition is aligned with my own attitudes and viewpoints.

As always, you took great care to bring life to your characters. However, I must say that the ones of this circus troupe are particularly striking…

This, for me, is the most important aspect of any book I write. Human character, human emotions, real people in unusual circumstances and situations that could have actually happened. I never want to think that a reader will be thrown out of the story by something that seems too unlikely or unrealistic or ‘coincidental’. I want to write characters that you come to know and understand, and when the book is finished I want you to feel as though you have experienced a journey with these people. Most of all, I want you to feel as though you are leaving old and familiar friends behind. Sometimes I will read a book and feel that I can’t really connect to a character. They don’t seem like a real person. Perhaps they are too clever. Perhaps they get things right too many times. Real people are not like that. We get things wrong and we make mistakes all the time. I think you create tension in a story by making a reader feel that they are emotionally involved with a character, and that means that the character has to feel and sound and think like a real person. They have to have flaws, they have to be complex, they have to do irrational things, you know? Just like us. And then you feel like you want to know what happens to them, and that makes you turn the next page, and then the next page. Many times when I am writing I put myself in the shoes of the character and I ask myself how I would feel and what I would do if I was in that situation. Sometimes I surprise myself with the answer, and some of those answers go in the book. That also explains why I don’t like to write outlines before I begin a novel. I want it be an adventure for me too, and I want to feel like I am making the same journey, meeting these people, finding out about them as we all move together towards the conclusion. Sometimes it feels like I am part of some crazy extended family, but that is okay by me!

There is a specific atmosphere with a certain magic all over the novel…

Yes, absolutely. That, again, was the intention. I wanted to write a book where the things that were very certain for Travis became very uncertain. I wanted him to find out about life and about himself. I wanted him to be a very different person at the end of the book, and all because of the questions he was forced to ask himself and the answers he found. Travis has specific ideas about who he is, and these are governed by his memory of the past. When he discovers that the past was not what he thought he has to re-evaluate everything, and this causes him to learn more about his own identity than he imagined possible.

The late 1950s in the United States, a time when the methods of government agencies were rapidly evolving. The start of profiling, but not only…

Exactly. The Cold War, the development of espionage techniques, the investigation into human capability that had first been addressed by Eastern philosophy and religion. Just the areas of out-of-body experiences and ‘remote viewing’ were suddenly of interest to some very crazy and very dangerous people. Individuals within the espionage and political community wanted to subvert and take advantage of this idea that there was more to a human being than just his body and his brain. They wanted to use these areas of research for their own vested interests and destructive purposes, and that was why Edgar Doyle finally had to free himself from these connections. All of these experiments actually took place and are documented. Using the ‘power of the mind’ for harmful and profitable enterprises became a subject of real exploration and an enormous amount of government funding.

This book is released in France in 2021. You wrote it in 2013, how do you see it in retrospect and these past years?

Well, it is difficult to remember the research and writing process, of course. With each new book I become completely buried in the subject, and everything I have done before sort of fades into the background. As is always the case, when I am publishing an earlier book in France I go back and read some of the book to refresh my memory. Sometimes it feels like I am reading a book that was written by someone else. I also see how I could have written it differently. One thing I keep learning is that you can say more with fewer words. However, I am happy with the book. The central theme that I wanted to explore is there. Travis’s mental, emotional and spiritual journey is there. The corruption and criminality in the intelligence community and the political framework behind it is there. Of course, it could have been approached in a different way, but I have enjoyed reminding myself of this work, and I really hope it is well-received by my very loyal and supportive readers in France!



Catégories :Interviews littéraires

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1 réponse

  1. Yeah. 💓

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