Sitting across a coffee-table from top-selling crime author, Lee Child, creator of popular character, Jack Reacher, played in movies by Tom Cruise, I found it hard to believe being fired from a TV producer’s job could be a positive thing.
Lee, a tall, slim fellow, told me he had been working for many years for Granada Television in Manchester, England and that he was on holidays abroad when the unsavory news reached him that he no longer had a job to come back to because of industry downsizing.
“I was 40 and shocked and had to decide quickly on something to do,” he said, sipping on his coffee. “I needed to earn a living. I had a 15-year-old daughter, Ruth, and Jane, my wife.”
That something was becoming an author. And the rest is history.
After more than 20 books and sales topping over a million a year, give or take a dozen, and his new novel ‘The Midnight Line,’ about Reacher in search of a fellow West Point graduate, just out, Lee is more than comfortable financially. So much so, he’s able to buy pretty much whatever he fancies, including homes on different continents including a Manhattan apartment, country houses in England and the south of France, a supercharged Jaguar and priceless paintings by old Masters.
“Writing was a dramatic change from what I had been doing,” he added looking back on the changes in his life. “Television is all about teamwork, writing is singular, just you and the page. It’s not that I hadn’t written before. I wrote a lot for television. And it’s such a fast business, instant almost, that there wasn’t room for mistakes. You learned to be a one-draft writer. It’s just that I hadn’t considered writing a novel, but as I liked to read, I thought maybe being a reader was the best qualification for being a writer.”
So, after describing his former job as a television producer as similar to that of a publisher – in one word, ‘gatekeeper’ – Lee said he picked up the standard ‘Writers’ Handbook’ and chose only those agents that were offering a figure he wanted for his first book – around 150,000 pounds.
As for which genre to write about, he added, ‘My instinctive choice was based on what I enjoyed reading and as all books are about conflict, I thought of a character who could be involved in such situations.” His first novel, the thriller Killing Floor (Putnam) was published in 1997 to rave reviews.
Summing up Jack Reacher, Lee said, “he’s a classic knight, an errant wanderer and not overly serious. He can be deadpan, with a dry wit, he’s light and shade.”
He considers being used to the fast-pace of television helped him as an author. “Years ago, for plot development in books such as Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières, you could take fifty pages, now you must do it in fifty lines. In part, that’s because television has become such an everyday aspect of our culture, providing radically faster images.”
While writing is a solitary occupation, the best-selling author born in Coventry, England but who spent his youth in nearby Birmingham, considers teamwork key to success in the publishing world. “Publishing is a partnership and I certainly don’t consider myself to be some kind of precious artist.”
As for mistakes, Lee is frank, without being precise, “After writing so many books, there’s certainly been mistakes, including some bad covers and poorly chosen titles.”
With a working day that begins around 10 in the morning, Lee said he’d write until 1pm, then take a break, and work later, until around 7, though sometimes he ends up burning midnight oil.
As for likes, dislikes and downtime, the British crime author born in 1954, is keen on rock and blues music especially Led Zeppelin, and watching soccer. ‘Sophie’s Choice’ by William Styron is among his favorite books though he also likes reading works by ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author, Richard Dawkins. New York and France are among his favorite places to visit and the whacky comedy, ‘Nothing To Lose,’ starring Martin Lawrence and Tim Robbins is among his favorite films.