An Interview with Lee Child
By Roger Crow
The last time I chatted to Lee Child, one of the world’s most successful crime fiction authors, I was so inspired after that a few minutes on the phone, I wrote half a novel (though not in one sitting).
“Where’s the other half?” he asks me when we meet face to face in Harrogate.
“I’m hoping this second chat will give me enough inspiration to finish the job,” I tell him.
In case you didn’t know it, the Coventry-born US-based author is the brains behind Jack Reacher, the lone hero who rights wrongs across the States, and travels lighter than an astronaut in zero gravity. Tom Cruise is such a fan of his work he’s starred in and produced versions of One Shot and new movie Never Go Back
Hoping some of that writing magic is contagious, I ask Child about his writing process.
You don’t go back and edit your work. Is that through sheer confidence as you’ve written so many of these books now?
Yeah, well it’s not exactly confidence. It’s sort of the theory of storytelling. In one half of my mind I know this is made up, but on the other hand I imagine this is really happening and so you can’t go back and change it. If this is what has happened has happened, so it would be dishonest to go back and alter it. In the morning what I do is check what I wrote yesterday and make sure it makes sense; make sure it’s smooth, and then I move on and I don’t go back and revisit it ever, no.
“The only luck comes in how many other people will love it”
I was impressed with your acting skills in the ‘Jack Reacher’ movies.
Yeah, where was the Oscar nomination?
Indeed, I thought you were robbed.
Yeah, I’m gonna do one of those cameos in every movie like Alfred Hitchcock did just for the fun of it. The skill in that is picking the right scene because typically what happens is they do that just to be nice to the book author, and then they cut the scene. So you end up on the cutting room floor and not be in the movie. So you gotta pick a scene that they can’t cut.
Ben Elton had some good advice when he was working on Kenneth Branagh’s film version of Much Ado About Nothing: ‘Always stick close to the leading man’.
Exactly. And make sure that the leading man has some crucial dialogue at that moment, so that the movie wouldn’t make much sense without him.
“My advice is to ignore all advice”
What advice would you offer to an aspiring writer trying to get into the business?
This sounds kinda contrary, but my advice is to ignore all advice. You can never guarantee success. You can sorta guarantee getting to the starting line, and the way you get to the starting line is write a book that has a beating heart of its own; that has a organic vitality of its own. And the only way of doing that is to make it the product of one imagination – yours.
You can’t write it by committee. You can’t be in the situation of sitting down and saying: ’You know I really wanna do this, but Stephen King says ’Do it differently’, and Lee Child says ’Do it differently still’, and everybody else says ’Don’t do it at all’, or somebody else says ’Do it much later in the book’. But you can’t afford to do it by committee. You’ve just got to make it your product. If you are 100% happy with the result, then you will find other people are too.
Of course everybody is a unique individual, but you are not that unique. If you love it then at least some other people will love it. The only luck comes in how many other people will love it. Is it 100? Is it 1,000? One million? That is the luck part, but the only way of getting to the starting line is to do exactly what you want to do. So seriously I say don’t listen to advice. Listen to your own head.
Thanks to Lee Child for his help with this article. The 21st Jack Reacher novel, ‘Night School’, is out now in hardback.