Author Lee Child returns to the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival

PUBLISHED: 00:31 03 July 2013

Lee Child

Lee Child

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Meet Lee Child, bestselling author and friend of Harrogate’s crime writing festival, who talks to Ann Chadwick

It’s a little bizarre to be discussing the weather on a call to crime author Lee Child in New York, someone who has sold over 50 million books, in 40 languages, and who created a hero for our time, Jack Reacher.

During the last visits Child made to Harrogate and Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival there was a heat wave and it also bucketed down. Finer weather is perhaps one reason to live in America? ‘Well it rained this morning, quite hard,’ he says.

Lee Child is a solid American name for a Coventry man who used to visit Harrogate and buy toffee with his grandmother. His real name, Jim Grant, doesn’t quite suit this direct talking author, a man who flies high with Tom Cruise, star of the Reacher movie.

Pre-Reacher, he studied law at Sheffield University, before he worked for Granada TV in Manchester, only to be made redundant, and then with pencil and paper at his kitchen table, he became a Hollywood success story – an overnight hit.

‘My links to Yorkshire go far back. I used to go back and forth to visit my grandma in Otley. It was a big deal for us. Sometimes we went to Harrogate; it was like a huge step up, like you needed a passport to get in. We’d buy a tin of toffee as a ritual.’

Jack Reacher is the ultimate drifter, a man with an enormous capacity for violence who doesn’t believe in God and isn’t chained by society’s rules, who packs only a toothbrush. ‘Part Robin Hood part gorilla’ (The Sunday Times) Jack Reacher’s official CV has him as 6ft 5ins (and yes, Child defends Tom Cruise’s stature, despite objections from fans to the casting).

Just as Child has reinvented his life, his books have reinvented an overworked archetype. Child has managed to tap into a universal nerve with the iconic Reacher. (Child was frequently asked to ‘reach’ for goods on supermarket shelves, thanks to his own 6ft something stature.

His books have won many prizes, including the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year for his work 61 Hours. The Affair, hailed as his best book yet, is on the long-list for the 2013 Crime Novel of the Year Award.

So why is he coming back to Harrogate for his fourth Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival? ‘Well you know two reasons.

‘I don’t get to the UK as often as I like, Harrogate is a pretty town and it’s fun to have a weekend in the English countryside. The second is I get to meet my friends, other writers and readers, and it’s fun to catch up. I’m doing a thing on Saturday, but I’m going as a fan. I like a lot of the other writers and I discover new stuff, Harrogate is great for discovering new writers you wouldn’t usually access.’

The ‘thing’ on Saturday could be extraordinary. He is being interviewed by comedienne Sarah Millican. It’s the meeting of minds that he’s relishing. ‘It’s what I love about it – it’s unpredictable, I don’t have any idea of how it’s going to go,’ he says. But he does also appreciate the affinity between comedy and thrillers. ‘The same skills are there. Telling a joke in two minutes is the same as writing a book in 500 pages; there’s pace, timing and you’ve got to have a punch at the end.’

It’s a pretty special way to celebrate the festival’s 10th anniversary and its theme Decade of Crime with something that’s in essence, fun – like the festival itself, co-founded by Val McDermid who moved it away from convention, adding cabaret, comedy and the opening hours of a hotel bar.

Child has said he plans to kill Reacher off in the final book but he’s unsure about the timing. ‘It’s up to the audience, if readers are still waiting impatiently for the next book, I’ll keep writing. When I get the sense they’re bored, I’ll end it.’

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