Having completed my tour of post-apocalyptic fiction this year, I’m moving to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels (the first person ones).
To accompany this new thematic ‘season’, I spotted Andy Martin’s, Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me. I’m a little sceptical of books about writers — but, to be honest, I’m also just a little bit fascinated.
I don’t see interviews with writers, or books about them, as holy manuscripts brought down from the top of a mountain, but I’ve got to admit it — they do make me curious. Part of it is learning about the mindset that’s produced a book or a series of books. Another part of it is knowing about their little writing rituals. I don’t know how much it reveals, but it’s still interesting. Those old interviews in The Paris Review were great, especially the intro sections which described the writer’s desk, his or her writing environment, and working process. Sadly, they’ve been replaced with photos, usually quite mundane ones.
Reacher Said Nothing has enough insights and silly facts about Lee Child to make the book worth reading, but it goes off-piste in the middle, on its own tongue-in-cheek journey.
The main takeaway from the book is that Lee Child is a pro. He sits down at his metal desk and fires up Microsoft Word... and writes.
Lee Child doesn’t plan everything out in advance, which is surprising. He figures most of it out in advance, in his head. If it’s too complicated to retain in memory — it’s too complicated. I was surprised that’s he’s contracted to write novels with 100,000+ words. I’d always assumed they were 80,000+. He also, pretty much, sticks to a first draft (with a few tweaks).
His pen name comes from a combination of a family in-joke about someone’s French accent… ‘the’ pronounced Le, becoming Lee. And Child for childhood innocence, the novels echoing the childhood excitement of a nine year old child, plus the name puts him in a bookshop somewhere between Chandler and Christie. Reacher’s name has it’s own similar family in-joke origins. It's difficult to know exactly how accuate some of this stuff is, and how much the author and Lee Child are having a bit of a laugh.
Lee Child goes into the writing zone, unshaven, dressed in casual clothes, cereals for breakfast (Sugar Smacks, Sugar Puffs in the UK), toast with marmalade and Stilton or Cheddar for lunch, cereals for dinner (Alpen Original), 25 cups of coffee a day, 26 Camel cigarettes, no text messages, no phone calls. Up at 7.45 in the morning — finishes writing shortly before 10.30 at night. Or so the legend goes…
Lee Child reads a lot, and by a lot I mean, A LOT… 300, or so, books a year. He has good taste and comes across as a someone who, inspite of his success, still has his feet on the ground.
Success doesn’t just happen, you have to earn it. You need motivation. I wonder how much being fired from Granada TV, all those years ago, back in the 1990s, gave him that?
Time to make that stilton and marmalade sandwich then — see if it is all that it’s cracked up to be.