It’s Author Interview Thursday…Woohoo! Now I have to admit that I have been looking forward to today’s interview for months. First of all, I got introduced to today’s special guest by Matt Posner who surely most have an underground lair where some very creative beings congregate to sip on their favourite beverages and exchange ideas. Our guest on the hot seat made a worthy contribution on Matt’s book ‘How to Write Dialogue.’ What I found intriguing was the fact that our special guest comes from my neck of the woods here in England and also writes in a genre I’m currently feasting on – Mystery/Crime Thrillers. His Richards & Parish series are selling very well on Amazon UK and the first book in the series (which I’ve read and you can see My A Life for a Life Review) has more than 200 glowing reviews. He was Amazon KDP’s special guest at their stand at the London Book Fair 2014 and it’s such a shame I didn’t meet him because I was there too! I actually just found a photo (which you’ll see at the end of this interview) that I took at the London Book Fair and you can see Tim’s photo in the background and I think that guy the arrow is pointing at is Tim! Well, we all get to meet him today. I believe his experience and forthrightness will flush out any cobwebs holding you back and give you wings to soar to another level. Without further ado, please join me in welcoming the one and only Tim Ellis.
Can you tell us about the first time someone complemented you on something you had written?
In the early days – 2008–2011 – as well as writing novels, I also wrote short stories, which I entered into competitions. My first success was with ‘The Expedition’ (included in my short story collection – Untended Treasures) for the Wind in the Willows centenary run by the River & Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames. I was awarded 3rd prize, and was invited to the Museum for the presentation. I took my wife and we had a lovely day out. Certainly, 3rd prize is a complement, and it made me feel as though I was shuffling in the right direction.
You’ve successfully written in different genres. Can you tell us the advantages and disadvantages of this?
I don’t know whether there are any advantages or disadvantages to writing in different genres. Some people suggest that the readers will become confused about what type of writer I am. I think we have to give readers some credit for understanding that some writers – like myself – are multi-genre writers as well as readers. I particularly like The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov (Science Fiction); Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (Fantasy); The Emperor series by Conn Iggulden (Historical Fiction) to name a few. Sometimes, readers who have enjoyed my writing in one genre will try my books in another genre, so that’s a distinct advantage to both the reader and myself. I did think of using a pseudonym, but life’s complicated enough without having multiple personalities.
Someone mentioned not too long ago that the font I used on my covers wasn’t very good. After I’d picked myself up off the floor and penned a strong letter of complaint, I decided they were right. In fact, I realised that the covers themselves weren’t much good either. I did plan to get someone else to design the covers for me, but I felt that designing my own covers was part of the creative process – I usually have to have a title and a cover before I start writing.
Anyway, I did plenty of research and re-designed them all myself. I found a font that I particularly liked, then I discovered a site which allows the free use of photographs. I download the pictures, crop them to the correct size in Paint (free with Windows), modify them to my liking and add my name, title and anything else in Picasa (the free photo-editing software by Google), and hey presto – eBook covers.
You have multiple published books in the ‘Richard and Parish’ series. Was it a conscious decision to write a series and what led you to do it?
On the downwards slope of the 13th Parish and Richards book now: In the Twinkling of an Eye. Yes, it was a conscious decision. I suppose, what led me to do it, was because I like to read series myself such as, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and RD Wingfield’s Frost series. In fact, the majority of my books are series. The only standalones are the novellas, but I always leave the door open to make them into a series if the opportunity arises.
I think there’s lots of advice out there about the ingredients of a good crime/mystery novel – a seemingly unsolvable crime, a likeable protagonist(s) faced with apparently insurmountable obstacles, a depraved villain of the worst kind, lashings of danger and tension as the protagonist(s) moves ever closer to solving the crime(s) and confronting the villain. Let me tell you what I think. Yes, include all of that, but you have to hook the reader with the first sentence. I start my latest with a question: “What’s that?” Richards has bought something from a stall at the car boot sale, but she’s not telling Parish what it is – a minor mystery at the beginning that mushrooms into an ongoing thread and a bigger mystery. I like to write multiple threads running in parallel throughout the book – readers get two, three or four investigations instead of one. I write in scenes, making sure they’re lean and mean. I like to see lots of white space – dialogue. Whole blocks of text turns people off – they turn me off, so why inflict them on others. Keep description to a minimum – readers like to use their imaginations. Cut out the boring bits that people skim over and keep moving the story forward with dialogue and action.
You made a worthy contribution on Matt Posner’s ‘How to Write Dialogue‘ book. What in your opinion makes great dialogue?
Dialogue is important. My books are dialogue heavy. Stories are about people. The reader wants to immerse themselves in a story, root for believable characters and not be bothered by authorial interference. Keep focused on the characters, give them voices that the reader can associate with each character, make it flow – abbreviate where necessary. Gurus say: “Listen to people talk.” I don’t think that’s helpful really, unless you’re trying to get dialect right, which should be kept to a minimum because it makes for hard reading. Other gurus say: “Read aloud.” Yeah, all right, if you must, but I can hear the characters speaking the dialogue I’m writing in my head. I don’t hear Parish saying: “What is that?” I hear him say: “What’s that?” So, my advice, is to write what the characters are saying in your head – or maybe it’s just me hearing voices! “Aye, what’s that?”
I’ve already mentioned dialect. Sometimes it can be funny though – I use dialect in a couple of my books, but make sure readers can understand it, or they’ll give up very quickly. Second, don’t use adverbs to qualify speech tags – he said loudly. Related to this, I’m a great believer in a picture telling a thousand words. Use body language or actions to convey a character’s behaviour.
Have you ever struggled to give a character a distinct voice and what did you do to solve this?
I must admit, I don’t struggle much nowadays. After having written so many books, writing is second nature. I don’t get writer’s block, I’m never stuck for ideas and I always enjoy sitting down to write. As I said earlier, I see and hear the characters inside my head like a roll of film that I can stop, pause or rewind when I want. I think I’ve got the knack of creating memorable characters by now, and giving them a distinct voice and personality.
What book or film has the best dialogue that inspires you to be a better writer and why?
Conn Iggulden writes good dialogue (No he didn’t pay me to say that). When I go in a book shop (if I can one these days), I read the blurb on the back, and I riffle through the pages to see if there’s loads of dialogue. If there’s chunks of text, I don’t bother. RJ Ellory is another who writes good dialogue, you can tell he’s thought about what his characters will say. As for films – Lord of the Rings, of course; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Jack Nicholson is brilliant with Nurse Ratchett. What a name – Nurse Ratchett for a psychiatric nurse! It make you want to re-name all your evil characters with names from a toolbox.
Your first book ‘WARRIOR: PATH OF DESTINY (GENGHIS KHAN)’ was published in November 2010 and you’ve gone on to write more than 30 books. Can you recommend a book or course that gave you a good grounding as you began your writing odyssey?
I started writing, and then I read the instructions on how to write. I suppose men have this inability to admit that sometimes they know nothing. There were four triggers early on. 1) After reading the Emperor series by Conn Iggulden I thought: I can do that. Reading those books were a joy. Through his writing, he made reading effortless; 2) Les Edgerton’s book: Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers on Page One and Never Lets Them Go; 3) Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham; and 4) the peer review site: youwriteon.com, which is free to join and you learn through peer reviews, how to write, what works and what doesn’t.
If you could be a cabinet minister in the Government, which Ministry would you like to head and why?
Sad to say, politics doesn’t interest me. In fact, talking about politicians makes me want to kill a few off. As a nation – we’ve become too nice, and in the process lost some of our Englishness. If there isn’t a Ministry of Englishness already, they should create one and re-establish national pride.
In the Twinkling of an Eye (Parish & Richards 13). Parish and Richards are trying to solve the case of a gifted boy murdered on the fourteenth green at the local golf course; Richards is also trying to find out if a 1966 diary, written by a captive 15 year-old girl called Loveday that she bought at a car boot sale, is genuine; Stick and Xena are working to solve the case of a young woman’s thawing body found in a wood. Jerry Kowalski is back, and she becomes involved in the trial of an architect who is accused of murdering his wife. His barrister is going to get him acquitted, but Jerry has seen something in his eyes and she knows he’s guilty, so she calls Cookie.
Any advice for authors out there who are either just starting out or getting frustrated with the industry?
As the saying goes – just do it. If you’ve got a book gathering dust on your hard drive – publish it. Create a cover, write a blurb, upload it to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) – it couldn’t be easier. Agents and publishers are no longer the gatekeepers who say what can and can’t be published, and what readers can and can’t read. Now, we’re all masters of our own destiny. If your book is no good, the readers will soon let you know, so make sure it’s the best it can be.
Thanks for spending time with us today Tim. There is just such a wealth of information you’ve shared today that I know will be beneficial to readers of this blog. I’ve gone ahead and added the books you recommended to my Amazon basket. Can’t wait to devour them. Tim and I would love to hear your questions and comments. As you can see, Tim is very generous and it’d mean a lot to hear what part of the interview really resonated with you. I’m also happy to announce that Tim’s latest book – In the Twinkling of an Eye got released earlier this week. You can grab it and all Tim’s books plus connect with him at one of the links below
Website – http://timellis.weebly.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tim-Ellis
Twitter – https://twitter.com/timellis13
Amazon – Tim Ellis Books on Amazon