Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author JK Ellem about his life and career, what inspires him, and his crime thriller series with the latest book release, Ravenwood.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Hi JJ, thanks for having me here at “The Table Read”.
For those who don’t know, me, my name is JK Ellem and I am the bestselling author of the #1 UK & US Amazon Thriller, Mill Point Road.
I was born and grew up in Sussex, London and spent a lot of my formative years preferring to read books and comics rather than doing my homework. I have a dry sense of humour that tends to get me into a lot of trouble with my wife and three adult children. I am a very proud Englishman in a household of very parochial Australians!
I have been self-publishing crime/mystery/suspense thrillers through Amazon Publishing since 2017.
I like writing thrillers that are unpredictable, have multiple layers and sub-plots that tend to lead my readers down the wrong path with twists and turns that they cannot see coming. I write in the genres of crime, mystery, suspense and psychological thrillers.
In 2020, my independently published crime thriller, MILL POINT ROAD, climbed to #1 globally in the Amazon Kindle Store in the categories of Crime Fiction, Thriller Fiction, Financial Thrillers, Heist Crime, Kidnapping Crime Fiction and Noir. This was achieved with no agent, no publicist, and no publishing company behind me. Just me and my wife Jennifer, who looks after my marketing and social media.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I tried writing a techno-thriller back in the 1990s but it was terrible. I had no idea how to write and thought it would be easy. It wasn’t. So I pushed that muse to the backburner for about fifteen or so years then decided around 2016 that it was something I really wanted to do.
When did you take a step to start writing?
In 2016, I started writing part-time while running my accounting practice. My first venture into publishing was with my dystopian thriller, Octagon. I just wanted to dabble in writing so I squeezed it in when I could around my work and family commitments. This meant a lot of early mornings and late nights when I could steal some time away and write.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
It took me about six months. I’m a fairly disciplined person who enjoys routine and deadlines. And once I put my mind to something, I tend to follow it through to the end. So I set a daily word count, how long it would take to rewrite the first draft and then worked forward and set an end date and just put in the work each day to hit that deadline. I figured this is what real (yes, I that time I didn’t consider myself to be a real author) authors do when they’re on a deadline set by their agent and publisher. So I mimicked the process and kept going. Over the years I’ve honed the process and streamlined it as much as I can.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
Ravenwood took me just over four months to release, from sitting down to outline and plot the manuscript to its release date on Amazon. While I can produce a book in a shorter time, I do not want the quality to suffer.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Ravenwood?
I wrote Ravenwood, because so many of my readers emailed and messaged me on Facebook asking if there would be a sequel to Mill Point Road.
Originally this wasn’t the plan. Mill Point Road was always designed as a standalone. By the end of the story, there are a few “loose-ends” but the plot and character arcs are pretty much tied up.
Mill Point Road took off and from the overwhelming feedback from my readers, I realized that I had to continue the series. So I guess you go where the success takes you, so much so, that book three in the series, The Sisterhood will be released in April this year with a fourth book in the pipeline.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Ravenwood?
My biggest challenge in writing Ravenwood was hoping it lives up to readers expectations and that it is just as successful as the first book in the series, Mill Point Road. In nearly every endeavor, such as sport and also in writing, you hear of those stories of a person winning a major event just once or writing a bestselling novel right out of the gate or winning an Oscar after a few movies then you never hear from them again. I didn’t want to be a ‘one hit wonder’ and that was a real fear. So I had to make sure it was better than the first or at least as compelling to read.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
I like writing about strong, determined female characters. These women tend to be ordinary people being thrust into extraordinary circumstances and how they react. In Ravenwood, Haley Perez is a newly promoted detective who is pitted against the mentor of the Eden Killer, who she caught twelve months ago, the resentment of her fellow detectives, and childhood fears that threaten to consume her.
My protagonists tend to evolve during the plot, in that they must endure and go beyond their current capabilities in order to survive. So I liken them to a stretched spring, they are forever changed from the ordeal they go through in the book, both in good and in bad ways.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Strange as it seems, evil doesn’t inspire me. I’ve never understood when you describe someone as ‘evil’ or ‘bad’. Few people are truly evil just for the sake of it. You need to look inherently into why a person behaves the way they do, and you need to (also strange as it seems) empathize to a certain extent with their motivations.
My villains are ordinary people that you would never suspect and more importantly, they believe they are justified in their actions and are doing no wrong.
What is the inciting incident and main conflict of Ravenwood?
For Ravenwood the main conflict and incident is a murder. However, there is also a continuing underlying theme in the book in relation to the relationship between the remaining women of Mill Point Road and how they deal with a villain who ultimately wants to kill them all.
Did you plot Ravenwood in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
Most of the time I do outline a chapter I’m about to write. But I’m not a big proponent of outlining an entire story. At the start I’ll have a rough idea where the story is going but that tends to change hugely after I’m deep in the weeds. I have to let the characters drive the direction of the story, not me. And as such then can be an unruly, unpredictable bunch.
When I do outline, I like to at times leave my desk and scribble away on a notebook in coffee shops, or in a park. Getting outside away from my desk really does help my creativity.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Ravenwood need?
I always get every manuscript copy edited by a professional editor. I also get the manuscript proofread by a professional proofreader as well as by members of my Advance Reader Group. I really think having a professional editor and proofreader is MUST.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Write what you want to read yourself. Don’t just follow trends because they seem fashionable. If your stumped as what to write, then go to your bookcase and see all the books you have read or are on your TBR list. That’s you clue. Follow you passion. Writing is hard, so you might as well write what you enjoy reading.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
In the Ravenwood Series, Ravenwood is a fictitious small town in Maryland where my #1 US & UK bestselling thriller, Mill Point Road is set. It is also the title of the sequel. These two books form the start of series. I am currently in the process of writing, THE SISTERHOOD, book three in the series.
Once the manuscript has been sent off to the editor, I will be starting on A SPRING KILL, book two in the Killing Seasons Quartet. I will also be writing another adventure for Ben Shaw, the main character in my No Justice Series. I like to keep busy and be working on a number of projects.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am really proud of my accomplishments to date, but really want to continue and grow in my writing as well with my readers. Selling my business to write full time has been so worth the effort and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Readers can find me here:
- Website: www.jkellem.com
- Facebook: https://bit.ly/33XxPMZ
- Instagram: https://bit.ly/3rDA8g5
- YouTube: https://bit.ly/3GO4mDv
- Amazon: https://amzn.to/3Imj5G5
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