Pro­lific Jack Reacher nov­el­ist Lee Child tells TANYA SWEENEY how re­jec­tion from his TV job in­spired him to go on and sell more than 100 mil­lion books

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

When­ever Lee Child’s Belfast-born fa­ther wanted to choose a book, film or TV show to en­joy, he had one un­yield­ing motto: “The same, but dif­fer­ent.”

It’s a cu­ri­ous mantra for a writer who has started a novel ev­ery Septem­ber 1 since 1997, but so far, Child says, it has stood him in rather good stead.

“I don’t want to write the same book ev­ery year, but I know that fa­mil­iar­ity and com­fort — a reader know­ing what they will get — is im­por­tant,” he notes. “I like that it’s sim­i­lar and com­fort­able.”

Still, The Mid­night Line, the 22nd ti­tle in the best-sell­ing Jack Reacher se­ries, is a story of the ex-mil­i­tary cop charged afresh. As a wan­derer with no job and no fixed abode, Reacher can stum­ble pretty much any­where on to his next mis­sion. In this case, he finds his next cause in a small Wis­con­sin town, when he hap­pens upon a pawn shop. For Child, Reacher’s un­en­cum­bered sta­tus is part wish ful­fil­ment, part trib­ute to an age-old trope.

“This con­nects back to a char­ac­ter that al­ways ex­isted: the mys­te­ri­ous stranger, and the noble loner who shows up in the nick of time, saves the day and rides off into the sun­set. It was in­vented thou­sands of years ago and has stayed pop­u­lar for a rea­son.”

Reacher is in other ways a dif­fer­ent breed to other crime pro­tag­o­nists: “Go­ing back 20 or 30 years, there was al­ways the dam­aged, dys­func­tional hero who lit­er­ally and metaphor­i­cally had a bul­let lodged close to his heart,” ex­plains Child. “It was great ini­tially, then got copied and ev­ery char­ac­ter) be­came a mis­er­able ex-al­co­holic with a teenage daugh­ter who hated them. Reacher was a leap back to when heroes were much more un­com­pli­cated. He has lone­li­ness and re­gret and is ec­cen­tric about other things, but he’s not one to gaze at his navel about it.”

Child, born in Coven­try in Eng­land but now based in New York, makes no bones of the fact that his de­ci­sion to write crime nov­els was pri­mar­ily born out of fi­nan­cial im­pe­tus. The rea­son Child sits down to start a new book ev­ery Septem­ber 1 (he aims for 1,500 words a day, crank­ing it up to 2,000 “in a panic” af­ter Christ­mas) is be­cause that’s pre­cisely the date he was made re­dun­dant from his job as an ad/news story writer at Granada Tele­vi­sion in the UK.

The re­dun­dancy was by dint of cor­po­rate re­struc­tur­ing, but at the time, Child was sore about it. And in the same way that Reacher is a man pre­oc­cu­pied with re­venge and jus­tice, Child found the same thirst for re­venge “the per­fect mo­ti­va­tor”.

“There’s that say­ing isn’t there? ‘Living well is the best re­venge’ — it was kind of like that,” he re­calls. “I just wanted to kill them all [at Granada]. I used a lot of their names in the early books as the bad guys.

“Be­ing made re­dun­dant was aw­ful at the time, but if you look at it pos­i­tively, you can say to your­self, ‘well, I have some skills now. I’m not the id­iot I was when I was 20’.”

Of work­ing at Granada dur­ing a golden age when they were pro­duc­ing Brideshead Re­vis­ited, Prime Sus­pect and Cracker, he says: “The one thing I learned was that it was all about the au­di­ence. In TV, you hear from the au­di­ence re­ally quickly.”

To say that Child had the last laugh is un­der­stat­ing the case some­what. With over 100 mil­lion books sold in the Jack Reacher fran­chise, it’s es­ti­mated that a ti­tle sells some­where in the world ev­ery 20 sec­onds. Fur­ther ce­ment­ing the fran­chises’ top-tier sta­tus were two film adap­ta­tions: Paramount op­tioned One Shot and Never Go Back to cre­ate two Jack Reacher ac­tion thrillers star­ring Tom Cruise. The films were re­leased in 2012 and 2016 re­spec­tively.

Did he get in­volved in the cre­ative process? “I stepped back and said, ‘off you go’,” he says. “Af­ter my own ex­pe­ri­ence in TV, I knew you can’t do good stuff by com­mit­tee. The team wouldn’t have been pro­duc­tive with a writer look­ing over their shoul­der, so I told them I’d be sup­port­ive of it,

Tom Cruise had the in­ter­nal en­gine of Reacher... we had a lot of fun just talk­ing

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