Lee Child looks ahead to the 2018 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival
- Credit: Axel Dupeux
Lee Child is one of the world’s best selling authors and he is at the helm of this year’s crime writing celebration in Harrogate
In 1997, having been made redundant from his job at Granada Television, 40-year-old Jim Grant sat at his kitchen table with a pad of paper and a pack of pencils to try to write a novel. Just over two decades – and 22 books – since that first book, The Killing Floor, was published, Grant’s life has been changed completely. Now known as Lee Child, he lives in New York and is one of the best-selling authors of all time with his work published across the globe and someone somewhere reportedly buying one of his books every nine seconds.
And following the presentation of the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction award at last year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, he has now been given the ultimate honour and made programming chair for the 2018 event in July.
‘It’s going very well,’ he said. ‘Harrogate is one of those festivals people have heard about and most writers would like to go, so it’s not very difficult to get people to agree to come.’
It must make it easier when you’re as successful as Child has become, and when you offer a bridge between the biggest annual crime writing festival and the massive American market.
‘All festivals are different but Harrogate is all about the readers, they love reading crime fiction and are very knowledgeable about the genre. Planning the festival was a matter of thinking “who do they want to see, who would excite them?”
‘As a writer visiting a festival you feel responsible for people having a good time for an hour, but as programming chair, you feel an awful lot of responsibility. I think people are going to be thrilled with the line-up. I don’t think anyone is going to be disappointed; I think everyone’s going to say “wow, that’s pretty good”.
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‘If you look at the authors who turn up to Harrogate, probably in their books they’ve killed a thousand people collectively that year in various stories and yet they’re the nicest people possible – they must be getting it out of their system.’
Among the authors who accepted an invitation is master of the genre John Grisham, who rarely appears at events but was tempted by the killer combination of Harrogate and Child. Sue Grafton – author of the alphabet series – would have been there too, had she not died after Y…
Although he was born and brought up in Coventry, Child’s Yorkshire credentials are pretty strong – during school holidays he would visit his granny in Otley and he went on to study law at Sheffield University.
‘Yorkshire is a very special place to me,’ he said. ‘It has – or certainly had – a real identity of its own. I was aware of a hierarchy; Otley was better than Guiseley but not as good as Ilkley and neither of them was as good as Harrogate.
‘I’m of an age where I grew up in old fashioned England where it was relatively class bound and your opportunities were pre-determined and limited based on where you came from. So in a sense I did want to get rid of it, and I was happy to get out to America where you have a chance of making it whoever you are.
‘Sometimes it’s annoying because you walk back into the new England and its full of petty rules and prohibitions, but I think Yorkshire is still a little simpler and more old fashioned and less touched by that kind of thing, certainly Harrogate has a charm that is old fashioned, so I do feel at home there and things are looking very good right now for Yorkshire.
‘The Tour was good for Yorkshire. A lot of work had already gone on to raise its profile and things had reached a critical mass when it was given a global television audience to admire its beauty. ‘There are similarities, I think, between Yorkshire and Texas – both are the biggest, both are rather rough and ready but both are very proud, no-nonsense sorts of places.’
Big, rough and ready, proud and no-nonsense? That could be a description of Child’s hero – the drifter Jack Reacher, an 6ft 5in ex-military cop with an enormous capacity for violence, who refuses to be constrained by society’s rules.
‘The response from the readers is that they suffer in their lives from over commitment and too much to do and the pressures of owning houses and working,’ Child said. ‘They see Reacher as an antidote to that. He doesn’t own anything, he doesn’t work, he doesn’t care, he’s just always relaxed and I think people want to be in that situation if they could.
‘I think everybody wants a fair world and to do the right thing, but generally speaking we can’t because we’re either physically incapable, inhibited or intimidated. Or maybe the unfairness is at work where if you make waves you’re going to get fired, so people live with a kind of buzz of frustration all the time. They want to do the right thing but they can’t so they turn to the Reacher books. Reacher does what they want to do, and they find that very consoling, a compensation – real life isn’t like that but it can be in fiction.’
Child has been prolific since setting out on his new path – there are now 22 Jack Reacher novels and he is well on with the next as we speak. But in spite of his phenomenal success, he hasn’t lost the sense of gratitude to his army of loyal fans. ‘There’s no reason why they should read my books, there’s no law that says they’ve got to, so anyone who does is paying me a huge compliment. It’s not really for the money because books are very cheap now but for the time; they’re giving me two, three days of their life, and I think that’s a huge compliment.’
‘The new book should be finished by April,’ he added. ‘When I’m writing I try do 2000 words a day. A lot of writers would say 2000 words is easy but that’s a lot for me because I make it up as I go along, until the story works itself out so each word is a bit of a struggle.
‘Nothing of value has ever been achieved in the morning. I usually start work at about 2pm and typically finish about 8pm. I suppose I could do more each day but I’d have to re-do a lot of it the next day because I’d read it back and it’d be rubbish.’
And when he’s not writing, he’s invariably to be found reading – crime fiction mostly – and developing his new found passion for baseball. ‘I’ve started to follow the New York Yankees, now I can’t get to see Aston Villa so often,’ he said.
‘Among the books I’ve enjoyed recently have been The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor and The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox. There’s a lot of new talent right now, especially women writing what you might call domestic noir. It’d be unfair to pick just one or two because there’s a dozen or so.’ u
The 2018 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival will be held at Harrogate’s Swan Hotel from July 19-22. For details, and to book, visit harrogateinternationalfestivals.com and @TheakstonsCrime.