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Mountains to Sea Festival Highlight: Declan Hughes Talks to Lee Child

Writing.ie | Magazine | Crime Fiction & True Crime | Interviews | Special Guests
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By Darren Darker

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Crime writer Darren Darker was writing.ie’s intrepid man on the ground last week when Declan Hughes was tasked with interviewing international bestseller and household name Lee Child in the Pavilion Theatre at Dun Laoghaire’s Mountains to Sea Festival.

Lee Child is one of the world’s leading thriller writers. His novels consistently achieve the number one slot in hardback and paperback on bestseller lists on both sides of the Atlantic, and are translated into over forty languages. All have been optioned for major motion pictures, the first of which, Jack Reacher, was based on the novel One Shot. He was awarded the Crime Writers Association Diamond Dagger in 2013.

Over to Darren…

Due to my incredibly selfish son having his 16th birthday on the same day, I have to confess I was late to the venue and arrived ten minutes into the interview. The disapproving usher directed both myself and another late comer up into the gods to watch the great man from on high. As it turned out they weren’t bad seats, as they directly overlooked the stage. However my only problem was that there were no lights up there so I couldn’t take notes for this article, which caused me a minor melt down. As it turned out I found that I could have easily written 10,000 words on the interview so my new problem now was limiting this piece to 1,000ish words.

Before I start must confess to being a huge Lee Child fan before the event and becoming an even bigger one afterwards. Over the years I have read all of his books and always eagerly awaited the next adventure. And he hasn’t disappointed me so far.

Preparing in the Green Room, Declan Hughes and Lee Child. Photo by Ger Holland Photography
Preparing in the Green Room, Declan Hughes and Lee Child. Photo by Ger Holland Photography

The interview was done by another talented writer, Declan Hughes, who had an easy time. Child spoke calmly and warmly to the packed Pavilion Theatre about his childhood growing up in Birmingham in the sixties – it was a rough industrialised city where he had to fight off bullies because his family had aspirations to improve themselves. He recalled the occasions he went to see emerging bands like Black Sabbath and how his school boy-band shared band practice facilities with Led Zeppelin of all groups. As a hard rock fan myself, I was very jealous as I can’t imagine what a sheer thrill seeing these bands in their formative years must have been like.

Okay, embarrassing confession time (again), up to this interview I had never realised that Lee Child was a pseudonym; I honestly thought it was his real name – which is Jim Grant by the way. Years previously when he worked for ITV, for contractual reasons he was forced to write under various pen names so when he left and decided to write full time, working under a pen name was a natural thing to do. But one of his most interesting anecdotes of the evening was how his pen name came into being. It all started on a late night train in New York – the random New Yorker sitting beside him struck up a conversation. On finding out Grant was English, he decided to share the fact that he had a European Car, a Renault 5 or as they were marketed in the US, a Le Car. But the man pronounced it incorrectly making it sound more like Lee Car. It became a running joke between Jim and his future wife, Jane. Everything became Lee this and Lee that. Okay, that’s still not quite Lee Child but bear with me. When their first baby came along it was Lee baby and as the baby grew it eventually became Lee Child.

He spoke early on about an issue that I have with his novels – the similarity between them.  Child explained that once a reader gets into Reacher, that’s what they want – a Reacher novel. They don’t want him acting out of character or doing something that they feel he shouldn’t – like settle down and develop ties with a particular community. So Child keeps his protagonist moving and solving problems that no one else can.

declan_&_lee_pavilion smallFor those readers who have been living under a rock, Reacher is a huge ex-military policeman who lives off the grid, wandering from town to town before randomly meeting a person that is being oppressed, squaring up to the bad guys, kicking ass and disappearing off again into the sunset. I always thought that the psychology of Reacher works well. Who amongst us doesn’t occasionally dream about flinging it all away and just disappearing? And as for obeying the law and social norms – wouldn’t it be just great to be able to walk up to a bully or thief and land a perfect combination of punches and kicks without any legal consequences? What freedom that must be. Child mentioned that a reviewer once said that Reacher is a detective who has committed more homicides than he’s solved. Having read all of Lee’s novels, I found that to be a very accurate description, (in many ways it reminded me of a modernised version of the old King Fu television series back in the 70’s starring David Carradine.)

What always gets me was that no one ever asks Reacher to attend court six months later to help convict either the bad guy or one of his henchmen – if he ever left any of them alive!

But you can’t deny Reacher’s growing appeal over the years and by appeal I mean book sales, so Lee Child or Jim Grant (or whatever his name is!) has to be doing it right!

They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery,  but it seems that isn’t always the case. Child’s nose was put out of joint slightly when David Baldacci produced a character of his own with a lot of similarities to Reacher. Child said that he wouldn’t have minded if the writer had been an up and coming author but Baldacci was well established. As far as he was concerned, this wasn’t on so to make things even, Child created two characters, one after Baldacci’s character and the other after Baldacci himself. Needless to say these characters’ life expectancy was short and their death brutal.

While Child didn’t talk about his writing process he answered one question at the end from a man in the audience who asked him about how much research he did on his novels. He surprised me by saying that he didn’t do any – research was too much like work.

They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery well it seems that isn’t always the case. Child’s nose was put out of joint slightly when David Baldacci seemed to copy Reacher with a similar character of his own. Child said that he wouldn’t have minded if the writer had been an up and coming author but Baldacci was well established. As far as he was concerned, this wasn’t on so to make things even, Child created two characters, one after Baldacci’s character and the other after Baldacci himself. Needless to say these characters life expectancy was short and their death brutal.

While Child didn’t talk about his writing process he answered one question at the end from a man in the audience who asked him about how much research he did on his novels. He surprised me by saying that he did none as research was too much like work. I personally found this very hard to believe, but he elaborated for Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin when she met him a couple of years ago – you can read her interview with Lee Child here.

One funny message that he says he gets a lot is from other servicemen, particularly Green Berets who claim that in real life a military policeman regardless of his size could easily be taken by them. Child joked that Reacher could kick their asses, and this would go back and forth until he would finally relent.

The only contentious issue that was brought up that evening was the portrayal of the 6’ 5” Reacher by the diminutive Tom Cruise in the film. Child explained that Tom Cruises involvement was to some degree a foregone conclusion. Whoever played Reacher had to be able to attract the required financing and actually want to do it. It seemed that Cruise was the only one that met both criteria. Although Child had signed over rights to the movies years before and he had no real say in it but as the casting was controversial he was asked to publically endorse Tom Cruises participation. Something he was happy to do. He even had a cameo in the film as the Police Station Desk Sargeant.

In a way the very fact there was an interview at all is surprising. Here was this enormously successful writer worth millions, a man at the very top of his game who doesn’t need to sit there and answer questions, but yet he does. And it was my absolute pleasure to be there.

Well that’s enough about the interview. I have to go so I can start reading his new book – Personal. After all that’s what we all enjoy most!

(c) Darren Darker

About Personal

Jack Reacher walks alone. Once a go-to hard man in the US military police, now he’s a drifter of no fixed abode. But the army tracks him down. Because someone has taken a long-range shot at the French president.

 Only one man could have done it. And Reacher is the one man who can find him.

 This new heartstopping, nailbiting book in Lee Child’s number-one bestselling series takes Reacher across the Atlantic to Paris – and then to London. The stakes have never been higher – because this time, it’s personal.

Personal is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here.

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