Interview with J.G. Ellis

What is your writing process?
I'm not someone who blasts out a first draft before polishing and revising it. I polish as I go, and make changes as I go, and can spend way too long going over and over what I've already written. It's an ocd-ish approach that I try to mitigate by pushing myself to move on to the next piece of writing. If I might use painting as an artistic analogy: if you saw a painting that had progressed by, say, a tenth, with most painters you'd have a sketchy outline and a wash; with me, you'd have a tenth of the canvas complete, and crisp white space for the rest. When I'm in a scene, or exploring an idea, I want to make it perfect, and I struggle to leave it. I prefer quality over quantity. It's easy to produce volume if one doesn't care about quality.
How do you approach cover design?
I confess I worried a lot about this to begin with. My mind being somewhat straightjacketed by the idea that publishing meant traditional publishing, it's not something I imagined I'd have, or want, to do. And I admit to a slight worry that a book, particularly a serious book, might be injudiciously judged by its cover. I remember the publishing industry went through a regrettable phase of putting quite trashy and salacious covers on old classics, such as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, presumably to shift more copies. One can but hope that the readers who bought them on that basis were surprised and delighted rather than - more likely, I fear - disappointed. And how many novels have you seen with the Fifty Shades of Tripe design elements?

To answer the question more directly, I try to execute well a simple idea and design. I'd advise you do the work yourself and use your own art and/or photos. There are copyright dangers in downloading an image (no matter how commonplace) from the internet and using it as the basis for your cover.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Ah, that's a tricky one. I've never actually sat down and listed my favourite books, and I do tend to draw a distinction between fiction and non-fiction. Also, list compiled, as it were, I'm likely to think: Oh, no, how could I have forgotten...? However, some favourite books:

Vladimir Nabokov's stunning Pale Fire. Why? Because it's exquisitely written (I hate the best-seller trend towards clunking, style-less prose), and has layers and layers of meaning. You find yourself lifting your head from time to time to marvel at the magic on the page. A book that defies the plonking question: What's it about? It's about everything. The human condition, poetry, artistic vanity, the capacity for self-delusion... Indeed, I may have missed some of what it's about.

Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451. As I teenager, I loved this novel. I paced up and down in state of high excitement while reading it. Bradbury's dystopian vision is of an anti-intellectual world where possession of books is a crime and firemen are dispatched to burn them. I loved a lot of Ray Bradbury's work, and was disappointed to see him take an award from Gee Dubya Bush.

Wuthering Heights. Fevered passions, and their capacity to be all-consuming. A Gothic masterpiece. A younger me found the Brontës story utterly compelling, though it's probably been subject to a few Gothic spins of its own.

Animal Farm, though I could have gone for 1984. Orwell knows about lies and misinformation and writes about it brilliantly, though I do rather sympathise with Will Self's criticism of Orwell's views on writing.

Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. Non-fiction. Behind the mask of capitalism. Incredible book, brilliantly argued.

Well, that's five books. And I haven't mentioned Franz Kafka, or Elizabeth Taylor, or Amis or Rushdie, or Edgar Allen Poe. It's really just a case of when you ask, and what comes to mind at the time.

As a water-cooler sign-off to this question, I recently read The Casual Vacancy, an incisive dissection of Middle English pettiness and small-mindedness. Some right-leaning commentators called it a socialist manifesto. Apparently, it's okay not to want deprived people using your amenities. Some reviewers were no doubt annoyed that she had the effrontary to stray so far from Harry and Hermione.

Oh, I've forgotten The Moon and Sixpence. And I meant to mention Carrie (I still think it's King's best book), and The Blind Watchmaker (Dawkins before he went strident), and what about Jane Austen... dear Jane.
What do you read for pleasure?
Anything that takes my fancy in a fairly random way. Books on politics and science. Crime novels (I've passed a lot of commutes reading Ruth Rendell and Colin Dexter), and literary novels, though I wish they wouldn't call them that. Literature seems to be the name of the genre that something fits into if it doesn't fit another genre. I used to think it had something to do with the standard of writing no matter what the genre. Oh, well.

One has to be in the mood for things. I recently read a "classic crime" novel (it said so on the cover) called The Moving Toyshop, and it irritated me enormously - probably because, at the time of reading, I was thinking about world events, and the absurd cosy Englishness of a professor and poet gadding about Oxford (on foot and in a ridiculous car) to solve a silly mystery grated on me.
When did you first start writing?
I'm tempted to say something like when I was eighteen - just because authors tend to be wilfully ambiguous on this point. Answers like: "I've always wanted to write," or "For as long as I can remember," are not uncommon. What they're doing, of course, is suggesting they've been touched by the magic wand of the writing fairy.

I like to use language in a creative and nuanced way to play with interesting ideas. And writing is an obvious outlet for this. Some people just want the job title "Writer". Fair enough, but it has to be conceded that some of the richest and most successful of these are actually just churning rubbish for money. James Patterson, anyone? I don't want to be that kind of writer. And I don't want to read that kind of writer.
Are you working on a novel now? If so, what's it about?
The one I'm currently writing is about entitlement, and how far someone will go to protect their ambition and position. Human weakness makes us self-justify. We like to believe we deserve our good fortune, that we've earned it. We don't like the idea that some of us are just lucky while others have been dealt a bad hand - because that doesn't make us feel good about ourselves. It's a state of mind that leads to victim-blaming in the social and political arena: the poor are not poor because of some systemic unfairness; no, no, the papers and politicos tell us, they're poor because they're feckless and weak and don't work hard enough. Rich and powerful people don't want to be apologising all the time for their good fortune, so they convince themselves they deserve it and are entitled to it.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Fourteen rejections from traditional agents. I also wanted to break the grip that the traditional publishing model has on my mind. Why shouldn't this be the way to publish books? Why shouldn't people put their work out there and try and build a following around it? That's what musicians and other performers do, after all. In this light, it's possible to see the traditional publishing model as a kind of censorship. Neither are they any guarantee of quality, since most of what they publish is rubbish.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Mostly the fact that you can't stay in it. Try it. Try staying in bed all day; try doing nothing. It's not easy. It's the problem of being alive.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
More a compulsion than a joy. You want to say something particular about the world in a particular way, and it's a pleasure to attempt and achieve this. Banality banally expressed is the antithesis of this, and is the purview of the bad writer and artist. Art and writing should take risks. It should teeter on the edge of the absurd; and if it falls in sometimes - well, that's far better than the dull and commonplace.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Hmm. I should perhaps admit that the word "marketing" rather makes me twitch with distaste and think fondly (too fondly perhaps) of the Bill Hicks routine in which he tells anyone involved in advertising and marketing to kill themselves. Marketing shifts the crap and pap and keeps the corporate coffers filled. I write, and I want people to read and enjoy what I've written - to be stimulated and provoked by it. This (rather obviously) involves getting heard above the crowd, and staking a claim to being uniquely deserving in the notice-me-please department. I hope it can be achieved with a degree of seemliness and grace, though the business of selling is always slightly undignified.

Look at me, world! All these voices crying to be heard. How poignant it is. Surely no voice deserves to go entirely unheard. One day, there will, perhaps, be a science of digital archaeology, and here we'll all be, interred and entombed.
What do your fans mean to you?
A few discerning readers would mean a very great deal.
Published 2014-10-12.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

An Individual Will
Price: Free! Words: 62,900. Language: English. Published: October 4, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Women Sleuths
DCI Barbara Black investigates the curious death of Adrian Mansfield, an artistic young man cast adrift in a boat on Amberton lake. He has been tied into a sitting position with an insulting sign hung about his neck. Murder is assumed, but Barbara's investigations take us into escalating family tragedy and Adrian's dark, antinatalist philosophy. Thought-provoking detective fiction.