Lee Child shares how he hopes to allow readers an escape from messy world events
His Jack Reacher novels, along with The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, have topped bestseller lists, while TV crime dramas attract huge viewing figures.
Child says the depressing nature of world affairs, culminating in Donald Trump becoming US President in January, has inspired writers to become more creative.
In doing so they have given readers a break from reality into a safe world where they know the bad people will be caught and punished, and order will be restored.
He says: “What we are now seeing (and it’s always been there) is that crime fiction provides you with a linear and comprehensible story with a beginning, a middle and an end, which a lot of literature doesn’t.
“But more than that it gives us the answer within a couple of days. There is a bad, bad situation and you read it for a couple of days and then at the end there is a solution, the problem is solved, the bad guy is caught and punished.”
The current state of world affairs culminating in Donald Trump has made writers more creative
Writers are burrowing deeper and deeper into fantasy to get away from the appalling mess we have created in the world
“It is a consolation for what we don’t get in real life, which is tremendously reassuring.”
Child feels the standard of thrillers being produced by his contemporaries has risen as they seek to disappear into fantasy worlds.
He says: “I have found it to be quite remarkable because I read all of my friends’ books and this year all are exceptionally good. It was just one after the other. You read a book and think ‘Wow, that is good’, which you expect occasionally, and then you read another and think ‘Wow, that’s also really good’.
“I’m thinking that the writers themselves are burrowing deeper and deeper into fantasy to get away from the appalling mess we have created in the world.
“Maybe as readers we are too, we are that much more anxious to escape. So I think it is producing pretty good results for writers and readers, despite being dreadful in all other ways.”
Lee Child has said writers are burrowing into fiction to escape current events
Born James Grant in Coventry in 1954, Child grew up in Birmingham and only started writing after being sacked from his job at Granada TV in 1995.
After going out and buying a pad and pencil for £3.99 he wrote Killing Floor, the first Reacher story, and re-invented himself as Lee Child.
His thrillers are now a publishing phenomenon, dominating the fiction charts with sales of more than 100 million worldwide and sparking hit film adaptations starring Tom Cruise.
Yet he believes he has been so successful because he never dreamed of becoming a writer and approached it as a profession, saying: “I remarkably had never thought about being a writer. I always loved reading books but was very incurious about where they came from, how they were made.
“I really had no sensation of what went into them until five years before I lost my job and made the change. Maybe it was subconscious because I began to realise TV was not going to be a job for life any more, so I started looking at the bones of writing, what lay beneath.
“Maybe that is why I have been so successful, because I did not want to be a writer per se. I certainly wanted to be an entertainer but the avenue was unimportant.
“I don’t have composition books from when I was seven years old, like many writers do. The learning curve for writing was complete and it was immense. I just sat down to tell a story and I was fortunate in being a bit enraged by being fired, full of anger and full of passion, and used that energy to just blitz it through.”
While having refined his writing technique since then, using proficiency instead of sheer energy, he still has a discipline few others can match, always starting a new novel on the date he went out and bought the pad and pencil to start writing Killing Floor.
He says: “I start writing my next novel on September 1 every year, partly for sentimental reasons but also because the weird thing about being a writer for me is that you have got to believe many different things but each of them you have to believe 100 per cent.
“So you absolutely have to believe that it is art, it is joy, it is creativity. You must believe that you mustn’t be compromised but on the other hand you must believe 100 per cent that it is a job and it has to be done professionally.”
Lee says that while one should enjoy writing, you must remember to do so professionally
“For me, and I’m sure a lot of professional writers, there is no point in waiting for the muse to inspire you – you make the muse arrive by showing up and doing the work. So I start every year partly for the sentimental anniversary but also because this is a profession. I have to show up to work.”
Child has moved to a new apartment in Manhattan and despite it having spectacular views of Central Park, he writes in a back bedroom, looking out at a brick wall.
“The benefit is that I can work in my pyjamas, I can get into it and find I have been writing for five hours and I’m still in my pyjamas.
“That’s the good side but it does mean that you can never get away from it. I can be eating dinner and I suddenly realise what word I should have used, so I just have to go and change it, which I wasn’t able to do when I wrote in an office.”
While Lee owns a spectacular view over Central Park, he writes facing a brick wall in his pyjamas
His 22nd Reacher novel, The Midnight Line, was published last month, yet Child is hard at work on the 23rd, titled Yesterday.
He was a star guest at Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, in July, where he won the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction award, joining great authors such as Ruth Rendell, PD James and Colin Dexter.
Surprisingly he does not feel that he belongs in such illustrious company, saying: “All I have ever wanted to do is entertain people. I’m certainly succeeding in that but I’m not sure I’m as influential as people like Ruth Rendell or Val McDermid. These are very bright and talented people, and I feel I’m not quite in their league.”
Agreeing that the accolade was wonderful, he insists that he has no plans to retire, saying: “Hopefully I can get another one in another 20 years.”