Interview – 1 book, 5 questions : The darkest season – R.J. Ellory

An interview with R.J. Ellory about  : 

The darkest season

This novel has a special place in your bibliography, since you cross the border to place the plot in Quebec. Did this choice have an impact on the story and the way of writing it?

Absolutely, yes. A very profound effect. I think it have always made a very conscious effort when writing to try and evoke an atmosphere. The location, of course, is a vital part of that. Whether it’s Louisiana in ‘Vendetta’ or Georgia in ‘Seul le Silence’, I want the reader to experience the ambience and landscape of the place where the story takes place. In essence, I think the location is also a character in the novel. For this book, the suggestion to set it in Quebec came from my French publisher. I have a strong following in French-speaking Canada, and she thought it would be a good idea to set a book in this location. Obviously, for me, there is a very definite responsibility to research each environment that I write about. Fortunately, I have been to Canada many times, and could draw on my own experiences. Nevertheless, the specific area I chose is a bleak and desolate place, perhaps one of the coldest inhabited places on Earth, and it has a very pronounced climate and appearance. I read a lot of material, but I was also fortunate to know someone who lived there. Once the book was finished, he kindly read the manuscript for me to make sure that I hadn’t made any terrible errors. I am happy to say that he not only enjoyed the novel itself, but felt that it was accurately representative of where it took place. And then, of course, the location informs and influences the characters and the action, and that has to be taken into consideration. As with all these literary endeavours, you have to place yourself in the shoes of the people you’re writing about, and that had its own challenges.

Your main character is not a bad guy, but he made bad choices. After several decades, life offers him the opportunity to deal with it. So, can we say that it is a story of redemption?

I want the characters I create to feel like real people. I want the events that occur to be believable. I want my characters to react and respond to those events in a way that seems credible and authentic. It is a story of redemption, yes, as is the case with many of my books. Life is people. If you’re not interested in people, then you’re not interested in life. When I finish a book, I want to feel that I am leaving behind people I have really come to understand and empathise with, and I want a reader to feel the same way. I guess we are all looking for some sort of redemption, or perhaps that’s just me!

“Each and every one of us is broken, though not in the same places”. The first sentence of the book sets the tone. Are these the cracks of each one that you wanted to explore?

I think this sentence defines my approach with every book I write. In a way, they are all an exploration of the human psyche. The human condition – how we think, what we feel, the decisions we make, how we deal with the consequences of those decisions – fascinates me. It always has. With each new element of the story, I am asking myself the same question: If this was me, what would I do? I invest my own attitude and philosophy into the process. I think every writer does this in their own way. Consequently, there is always that element of autobiography in the people I introduce. You cannot read a book without then knowing something of the author.

You have chosen a more straightforward writing. The chapters are short like a thriller, but the main thing is the atmosphere you create, and especially the emotions you make us feel, right?

I think, beyond anything else, the thing that I have learned – and continue to learn – as I write, is how to say more with less words. I look at my earlier work, and if I were to write those novels again they would be considerably shorter. For the first five or six novels, I think I was always wondering if I would have a chance to write another one. Even now, as I finish writing the book that will be released in the UK in 2024, I wonder whether this will be the last one. That’s not because I don’t have more books to write, but because I am very aware of the commercial aspect of this business. I know a great many authors who are no longer published. As Steinbeck said, ‘Compared to writing novels, horse-racing and poker are good, solid business ventures’. I am at the mercy of publishers and readers. I continue to be published only because people continue to read. That is a fragile relationship, and so – with each book – I am not only trying to tell a story that I believe is important, but I am working towards establishing a wider readership so I can have the opportunity to continue. It is a strange way to live your life, but I don’t want to live any other way.

Without saying too much about the plot, the novel is also an opportunity to study the creation of a myth…

It is, yes, and there are very specific parameters you are obliged to stay inside if you want to write about the myth you’re talking about. The element of myth is – in essence – protected by the society in which it exists. You have to honour that myth and not address it in a derogatory way. You have to be respectful of beliefs. For me, that is not difficult as I am profoundly conscious of the need to respect others, but it is also something I really wanted to study and understand to ensure that I didn’t inadvertently write something that could be misconstrued or taken out of context in a critical way. We are dealing here with a very old idea that has cultural roots that have existed for centuries. We are dealing with history, faith, superstition and – in a way – magic. I hope that I have given it the importance and substance that it deserves.

Catégories :Interviews littéraires

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