Monday, March 22, 2010

9mm: An interview with Lee Child

As I noted a couple of days ago, I have now launched a new series feature for the Crime Watch blog - 9mm: quickfire interview will consist of the same nine quesions (9 MurderMystery questions) put to an ongoing series of New Zealand and international crime, thriller, and mystery authors.

And, as promised, the very first 9mm interviewee is international thriller writing mega-star Lee Child, whom I spoke to last Thursday via telephone. Lee Child is of course the British-born, New York-based author behind the phenomenonally popular Jack Reacher books. After being made redundant from his British television job in the mid 1990s, he decided to become a writer of 'American thrillers'. It just goes to show that from crisis comes opportunity, because since his debut KILLING FLOOR was released in 1997, his books have sold more than 16 millions copies, and hit #1 on several bestseller lists around the world.

He is touring the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA in the coming couple of months, in support of the 14 and latest Reacher novel, 61 HOURS. You can see the detailed schedule of his appearances in all of those countries, here.

We spoke for an hour about a wide variety of things - and other parts of my interview will be woven into magazine (and perhaps newspaper) articles in the coming weeks. But for now, here is the very first Crime Watch 9mm quickfire author interview.

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
There’s a lot of series of which I read every instalment. Um, the best ever was probably the Travis McGee series by a guy called John D. MacDonald. Twenty-one books long, set in Florida. And it’s just a great… you have your favourites amongst the 21, but there’s no weak ones, it’s just a very good series.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving?
I would think it was probably one of the Enid Blyton books, the Famous Five, almost certainly. They were the first books, proper books that I ever read without pictures in them. And I was probably about five at the time, and they were the ones that I really remember, and devoured one after the other. Very, very instructive actually, inasmuch as she was doing things that we still have to try and do. One is telling an exciting story, and the other is giving you what you’d want to have yourself [as a reader], that you weren’t getting. I don’t know if you remember the Famous Five… there were no parents in the story, it was just the kids having fun on their own, and they weren’t harassed or told off by the parents at all. So it was a very early introduction to wish fulfillment

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything); unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
No, nothing at all. KILLING FLOOR was the very first thing I ever wrote, and yeah you know I’m not the sort of guy – if I’d had unpublished things I would have found a way to use them, because it’s a business. You can’t afford to waste effort.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I’m very passive. I know New Zealand is very active, people are very active there, they’re hiking, or sky diving, or bungee jumping… I sit down and read. Or I watch baseball on television or listen to music. My favourite position for any kind of leisure activity is horizontal.

What is one thing that visitors to your city should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
I would say walk from side to side. You know [Manhattan] is a narrow island, and you can easily walk from the East River to the Hudson, and you could do it in a couple of hours, stopping along the way for whatever. Just pick a random street, and walk from one river to the other, and you’ll see plenty of stuff that you wouldn’t otherwise see

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Um... I think maybe Jeremy Irons... I’ve seen him in roles where he sort of reminds me of myself, so he would be alright, yeah. I think that would work for me anyway.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
I think they’re all memorable for one reason or another. Obviously the first one, KILLING FLOOR, is a sentimental favourite because it’s what started everything, and then you’ve got – I would probably skip ahead to the seventh one, which was PERSUADER, and then the one that came out a couple of years ago, NOTHING TO LOSE. That was a pretty controversial book here in America, because it took a very pacifist stance about the Iraq War, and you know very critical of the Bush Administration. And that caused me a lot of trouble in the States, but it’s a book that I’m very proud that I wrote, and I will always stand by... to say that the military is being used for short term political gain, is not anti-military, it’s anti-short term politics. But people who are uncomfortable with the truth always prefer to attack the messenger rather than look at the issue.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication?
Well, I was actually in a pub when I heard. I was at a pub doing a quiz night. And my agent phoned home, and my daughter said ‘he’s out at the pub’, so he phoned the pub, and gave me the news. And so yeah, I bought a round of drinks, which was the first time I’d done that in a long time, because I was out of work.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival ?
A real strange one was after one; I did the event, I was flying out really early the next morning, so I got up at 6 in the morning, and room service brought me coffee. And I sat down and took a sip of my coffee, and my cell phone rang. And the voice on the other end said "are you enjoying your coffee?" So it was some fan or something, and I have no idea how that happened, but that was a new definition of stalker for me.

Thank you Lee Child. We look forward to seeing you on tour.

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So what do you think of the 9mm format? Of this specific interview? Of Lee Child's answers? Feedback, thoughts, and comments on the first Crime Watch 9mm quickfire author interview would be greatly appreciated.

4 comments:

  1. Craig - Thank you for starting this feature! I'm quite impressed with the questions, and with the level of detail with which Child answered them. You've started something good here. Well done!!!!

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  2. Thanks Margot. I think it helped that I didn't just quickfire the questions at him - but they were woven in amongst our longer conversation about many things. But also, I've found many authors, and crime/thriller writers in particular, are very generous with their time, and very thoughtful in giving interview answers (especially if you're not just asking the usual 'where do you get your ideas from?' type questions)...

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  3. I am exhilarated to learn that The Famous Five were one of your earliest inspirations as a child just as was my case. This explains why I have published a book on Enid Blyton, titled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (www.bbotw.com).
    Stephen Isabirye

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  4. Glad I found this, Craig (via BTZ) so I've bookmarked it and look forward to keeping up with things here!

    As a Lee Child fan I thought the interview was good - I learned new things thanks to your questions! I got the distinct impression Lee Child is a bit of a hard nosed businessman (re. his comment in Q.3 about not wasting effort) - which surprised me! He came across as possibly writing for profit rather than pleasure at times - but that's my personal impression.

    I look forward to keeping up with this series, Craig. Will you employ the same set of questions each time, or tailor it for the particular interviewee?

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