Lee Child Interview – Harrogate Crime Festival
Interview at Harrogate Crime Festival
by Sarah Morgan
There are far worse ways to spend a rainy Friday morning than listening to Lee Child speak.
At a lofty 6ft 5 (just like his literary creation, former US military policeman Jack Reacher), Child cuts an imposing figure. Thankfully he is a warm and engaging person with plenty to say about his career during his appearance at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate – an event he’s no stranger to. In fact, he reckons it’s the best festival of its kind around, and as he claims to have been to them all, he knows what he’s talking about.
He’s an honorary Yorkshireman too, having studied law at Sheffield University before embarking on a career at Granada TV. It was only when he was fired that he began a career as an author. Child claims that “nothing of value is ever achieved in the morning,” and yet here he is, about to divulge his secrets…
“I love beginnings”
“Everything I do, I base on what I love as a reader,” he says when asked about his approach to writing. “I write one book a year, but read about 300. I’m more of a reader than a writer. Over 20 years I’ve learnt that writing and reading is an amazing thing. We have a transaction – the reader, in their heads, creates the book as much as I do. It’s an emotional contract.”
Child’s books may be far from simple plot-wise, but his approach is – he starts at the beginning and doesn’t look back until he gets to the end.
“I love beginnings,” he claims. “I love starting a book. The first sentence is unique in that it’s the only one that doesn’t follow another. It has to capture the mood, to give a sense of what’s to come. I’m very happy if I get a good start, and then it grows. Reacher has no idea what he’s going to do when he starts, just like in real life.”
After that opening, Child believes the key to a story’s success lies in its characters.
“Character is always supreme,” he explains. “The plot is a rental car, you use it for a week. If I went on holiday with Scarlet Johansson for a week, none of my friends would ask me about what kind of car I drove when I got home!”
“The reader is in charge”
Although his TV career ended in disaster (he was a transmission controller, helping to co-ordinate ITV’s then 15-network stations), it gave him an excellent grounding for the future.
“I was responsible for 40,000 hours of TV during my time there. It improved in my mind the nature of storytelling, what the audience wanted and what they didn’t. It was a subliminal lesson.”
Child originally intended to write 21 Reacher books, then have him bleed out in a lonely motel room. Luckily for his army of fans, the author has since changed his mind thanks to the public, who want more. However, he has no qualms about bringing the series to the end if people grow tired of the character.
“The reader is in charge,” smiles Child. They are the consumer, and the consumer will tell you when it’s over.”
And what will happen then?
“I’ll retire to the beach,” he says, with a grin.