Author of the Month

Name: T.W. Ellis

First Novel: The Hunter

Most Recent Book: A Knock at the Door

'I could give one word to review this book Ė WOW!'

Synopsis:
Happily married Jem and Leo live in a small town outside New York City. Leo leaves one more for a business trip in England and no sooner as heís left the house than thereís a knock on the door. Two FBI agents need to speak to Jem about her husband.

The phone rings. The caller is from the FBI. The people in Jemís house are not. And she had better start runningÖ

Review:
To reveal more in the synopsis would be criminal. I could give one word to review this book Ė WOW! Trust me, itís that good. Cast your mind back to when you first watched ĎThe Sixth Senseí and the killer twist was revealed. You wanted to re-watch the film straight away to pick up on all the hints that would point to the solution. This book is the same. The moment you finish, youíll want to turn back to the first page and start all over again.

ĎA Knock at the Doorí is the first standalone psychological thriller by crime writer Tom Wood, writing as T W Ellis. Here, he shows exactly what he is capable of as he flexes his writing muscles with this mind-blowing, twisted, twisty chiller. There is action and tension on every page and it never lets up until the heart-stopping finale that will leave you picking your jaw up off the floor.

The protagonist of the book is Jem, whose world is blown apart when she discovers her perfect husband is not the man she thought he was. Jem rarely leaves the house. She suffers with crippling anxiety and Ellisís exploration of this is spot on. He gets inside her head and reveals the itchy desperation of a person who wants out of this illness but cannot find a way. Her doubts, self-loathing, and constant questioning of her abilities is what gives this book its heart.

ĎA Knock at the Doorí is peopled with wonderfully drawn characters from the kindly Trevor and his grumpy dog Merlin to the unorthodox, coffee loving chief of police, Rusty, who deserves a book of her own.

This is a very clever novel. Itís written to perfection. Itís an action-packed thriller that will be very difficult for you to put down. It deserves to be an instant bestseller.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) Why the name change to T W Ellis? This is a departure from your Victor the assassin series. Was it a challenge writing something so different?
The name change is directly related to the (momentary) departure from Victor. ĎA Knock at the Doorí is, as you say, a very different kind of book. Victor exists in another kind of world almost. Heís a skilled, capable protagonist who always knows exactly how to handle any situation heís put into, and usually leaves behind a high body count by the time he reaches the end of a book. Whereas Jem is a normal person put in danger and doesnít have the skillset to immediately get herself out of it. After writing the first fifty or so pages of the book, I realised that had it been the opening to a Victor novel, the same situation would have been over and done within a paragraph. There are large tonal differences too. Whilst still technically a thriller, ĎA Knock at the Doorí is more of a mystery and suspense tale, not an action thriller. Therefore, my publisher and I decided that a pseudonym was appropriate to differentiate the two styles. And yes, it was very challenging to write something new but also rewarding because of that. I couldnít draw upon all of my experience writing about Victor, and in many ways, it felt almost like being a debut author again. I had to learn a whole new set of tricks.
2) This is a detailed race-against-time thriller with times of the day rather than chapter numbers. How important was time for you and the story?
Aside from a few scenes, the story takes place over a single day. Which was something Iíd planned from the beginning. I wanted a sense of immediacy and urgency in the story and I didnít want to constantly reference the time within the prose itself to keep the reader up to date. I wanted it to feel as though youíre reading events in real time, as they happen. Having the time of day in place of a conventional chapter heading seemed like the best way of reinforcing that sensation. Time is an essential element of the story because the characters are having to act and make decision without the benefit of really being able to think them through. The consequences of those actions, both positive and negative, are crucial to how the story plays out.
3) The novel is set in America and your isms seem to be spot on. Do you know America or do you read a great deal by American writers?
I read a lot of American writers, yes, and I do try and pay attention to the unique turns of phrase and colloquialisms. And I am, like everyone else in the UK, bombarded by Americanisms through TV and film, and the increasingly homogenous effect of social media. I donít know if thatís a good or a bad thing overall, but it comes in useful when youíre setting a book in America.
4) One thing I found spot on was the character of Jemís anxiety. How important do you feel it is for a writer to get the portrayal of mental health right?
I did want to get it absolutely correct. I thought that was extremely important and I did a lot of research to make sure I portrayed it in an accurate and sensitive way. I think weíre all far more aware than we ever were about mental health, and whilst there is still stigma out there, itís a fraction of what it used to be when I was growing up. I didnít want to do a ham-fisted effort with something so important and so widespread and set out to fully learn about the condition. But where that authenticity really came from was myself. In researching anxiety, I was surprised to discover how much I related to what I was learning. Iíd be reading a report or a study and thinking Ďyeah, Iíve felt like that tooí or Ďwow, thatís why I behaved like thatí. So, not only was I researching the condition but I was also going through a process of self-diagnosis at the same time. It was quite an unexpectedly illuminating process. In many ways it made it harder to write about because thereís a vulnerability in doing so, but I think it was worth it, both for the book and for understanding myself a little better.
5) Rusty was a very original and brilliant character. Do you plan on using her again or is this strictly a standalone?
Iím happy to hear you say that. I had a lot of fun writing her. I had outlined the book quite extensively and Rusty was quite a small part at that stage. As soon as I began writing her I knew I had to bring her more into the story and wish I could have included her even more. I hadnít considered the character beyond the realm of this one book until you asked that question. This was a pure standalone in my head. Now Iím not so sure!
6) There is a massive jaw-dropping twist at the end of this book. How far into writing were you when it hit you and did your own jaw drop?
Itís very hard to surprise yourself as a writer. As Iím writing one line, Iím thinking about the next one. So, I donít get those jaw-dropping moments. Instead, there is a sort of eureka moment when I realise I have a good idea for a twist, or a character, or even a clever line. Itís like a patting-myself-on-the-back feeling. Much of writing is self-doubt, never knowing for sure if what Iím writing will work for the reader in the same way it works in my head, so itís especially satisfying when I get those occasional moments of gleeful smugness.
7) With your experience as a writer, what advice would you give to anyone attempting their first novel?
I get asked this question a lot and itís very easy to give specific tips and trick that work for me but wonít necessarily work for anyone else. These days I plan my books out so I know the entire story before I start writing in earnest. This has become what works best for me now, so itís tempting to tell aspiring writers to do the same. But thatís not what I did when I was writing my first novel and I didnít start planning extensively until the last few years. Finishing that first book is really tough and I donít think there is any way to make the process anything but a long, painful slog. Writing is a skill like any other, and like other skills, the more you do it the better youíll become. So, my advice is to remember that. Treat it like a skill you want to improve and donít stop writing, no matter what. If you get stuck on that first book, start writing something else. You can always go back to continue the first book when youíve worked out how to carry on. The important thing is to not be defeated, and in accepting defeat, you donít write anything. Keep writing. Every day if you can. Doesnít matter if itís a thousand words of the novel or a hundred words of a short story. It all builds up your skills, even if you donít know it at the time. And while youíre writing, youíre not quitting.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
I am a fan of crime fiction, but not while Iím actually writing a book. Then, I only have room for the one story. So, if Iím stuck on a desert island Iím going to assume Iím not actually writing a novel. In which case, Iím going to think this through from a practical perspective. If I only have three crime novels then I want a decently chunky read. A book I can finish in an afternoon is going to be no good to me on that island. There are lots of novels I like that sadly would fall into this category. In fact, I almost prefer a shorter book these days as a general rule. Anyway, the first book would have to be The Cartel - Don Winslow. Itís a doorstop, and sequel to a similarly enormous ĎThe Power of the Dogí. Winslow has a very smooth writing style and thereís so much going on with so many characters that even if Iím on that island for a long time, itíll be perfect for another read.

Next, will be We Begin at the End - Chris Whittaker. Itís a beautiful, heart-breaking novel and the protagonist, Duchess Day Radley, is hands down my favourite fictional character of the moment.

Finally, itís going to The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes because a time-travelling serial killer tale is escapism at its finest. Alone on that island, Iím going to need all the escapism I can get.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
I am a fan of crime fiction, but not while Iím actually writing a book. Then, I only have room for the one story. So, if Iím stuck on a desert island Iím going to assume Iím not actually writing a novel. In which case, Iím going to think this through from a practical perspective. If I only have three crime novels then I want a decently chunky read. A book I can finish in an afternoon is going to be no good to me on that island. There are lots of novels I like that sadly would fall into this category. In fact, I almost prefer a shorter book these days as a general rule. Anyway, the first book would have to be The Cartel - Don Winslow. Itís a doorstop, and sequel to a similarly enormous ĎThe Power of the Dogí. Winslow has a very smooth writing style and thereís so much going on with so many characters that even if Iím on that island for a long time, itíll be perfect for another read.

Next, will be We Begin at the End - Chris Whittaker. Itís a beautiful, heart-breaking novel and the protagonist, Duchess Day Radley, is hands down my favourite fictional character of the moment.

Finally, itís going to The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes because a time-travelling serial killer tale is escapism at its finest. Alone on that island, Iím going to need all the escapism I can get.

Author photo credit: Charlie Hopkinson