More About the Author
Walter Ellis was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but now divides his time between New York and rural France.
His new thriller, FRANCO'S MAP, is, he believes, his best book yet. It tells of Hitler's plan to capture Gibraltar in 1940 and close off the Mediterranean to British forces, thus forcing an end to the UK's participation in World War II. Full of intrigue between Francoist Spain and Vichy France, it is also a love story in which the stakes could not possibly be higher.
Published earlier this year, HOW NOT TO WRITE A BESTSELLER - AN EXPERT'S GUIDE, is both a wry account of the author's life and career and a merciless dissection of traditional publishing. Would-be novelists will find it a mine of genuinely useful information about a rough trade in the throes of an unwelcome revolution.
Ellis's novel THE CARAVAGGIO CONSPIRACY, published by the Lilliput Press of Dublin in 2012, received some terrific reviews. A You Tube video, made by Nick Blackburne, in which the author talks about the the book and its inspiration, can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E78aNyueeas
The author grew up in the era that immediately preceded the Ulster Troubles - a time that, in retrospect, seems to correspond to that of Middle Earth. His best friend from the age of 11 was his distant cousin Ronnie Bunting, whose malevolent inluence resulted in Ellis's expulsion from his Protestant secondary school, where, as a pupil, he overlapped with the singer/songwriter Van Morrison and the author and sometime Beirut hostage Brian Keenan.
Bunting went on to become Belfast commander of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and masterminded the bomb attack in the car park of Britain's House of Commons that killed war hero Airey Neave just before he could take up the post of Northern Ireland Secretary in the first Thatcher government. One year later, Bunting himself was dead, murdered by loyalists.
Walter's account of his disastrous friendship with this clever and most ruthless of terrorists was the subject of his 2006 memoir The Beginning of the End, published by Mainstream/Random House and serialised over two weeks in the Sunday Times.
Going on from school to drop out of not one, but two universties - educated, as he put it, to an extent if not to a degree - Ellis finally found his feet as a journalist, working for the Irish Times in Belfast, Dublin and Brussels before moving to Bonn to be with a German girl who promptly dumped him. His career advanced in fits and starts for the next 20 years. He worked for the Financial Times in Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam and Jerusalem, and for three years was chief feature writer of the Sunday Telegraph before moving to the rival Sunday Times as a foreign correspondent and columnist - an arrangement that foundered when he was sued by his own editor Andrew Neil over something he had (not quite) written about Neil while still at the Sunday Telegraph. Undaunted, he next took up an offer to be features editor of The European, a new weekly paper started up by the tycoon Robert Maxwell. This did not work out as planned. Three months into his new appointment, he was sacked to make way for someone Maxwell had met at a party. "You write like a dream, but you have to go," he was told by his editor. Bursting in to the proprietor's office to protest at the unfairness of his dismissal, he was told by the great man, soon to be exposed as a massive fraudster: "I hope you have a good lawyer, Mr Ellis. I certainly have."
Not long after, Maxwell was dead.
It was at this stage Ellis decided that, in addition to freelancing for a number of Fleet Street papers, he would write books. His first, arising out of his realisation that graduates of Oxford and Cambridge seemed to waltz into top jobs that lesser beings had to fight for, was The Oxbridge Conspiracy (Michael Joseph/ Penguin) which turned into one of the most controversial and excoriated titles of 1994. Ellis's only defender within a wall of reviewers otherwise made up entirely of Oxbridge graduates was, ironically, Andrew Neil, in the Financial Times - a curiosity cancelled out the following week when the FT, uniquely, commissioned a second, stinging notice by the Cambridge classicist Nigel Spivey.
A lengthy interval ensued, during which Ellis concentrated on his freelance career. He and his former wife raised a son, Jamie, who became lead guitarist of the indie band Battle and is now a successful record producer, based in London. But he continued to write.
In 2011, THE CARAVAGGIO CONSIRACY was published in Italy by Newton Compton. As Il Codice Caravaggio, it rose to number one in the pocket fiction division of the Italian bestseller lists and came out in Ireland in 2012. Reviewers were impressed. Ellis's accountant was less enthused.
LONDON EYE, a richly comic novel in the tradition of Tom Sharpe, is the story of three college friends about to turn 50 whose lives are threatened by a series of mid-life calamities. It has been widely praised, not least for its comic invention. It should have been turned into a BBC mini-series. The option for that remains open.
Ellis's next novel, soon to be published on Amazon, is FRANCO'S MAP, a thriller set in wartime Madrid that poses the question, what if Fascist Spain had joined the Axis and permitted the Germans to launch a full-scale assault on Gibraltar? If you like the novels of Alan Furst, you are sure to enjoy Franco's Map.
Walter Ellis has lived in Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Durham, London, Brussels, Bonn, Amsterdam and Jerusalem. He has been beaten up by the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Belfast, fired on, in error, by the British Army, beaten up (again) by a Sri Lankan colonel and shot at, on purpose, by the Romanian Securitate, resulting in irreparable damage to an otherwise perfectly good leather jacket. He now lives in New York with his second wife, Louisa, a graphic designer and college lecturer, but spends his summers in Les Fous, a pub in Carnoët, in Brittany that makes its own beer. He has a variety of ailments, including atrial fibrillation, an enlarged prostate and gout, but is otherwise in excellent health.