Crime writer at Norwich bookshop
His crime thrillers starring an American former soldier are a worldwide success – but his latest thriller ends up in Norfolk, a destination that will be unknown to most of his readers. Lee Child spoke to KEIRON PIM ahead of an appearance in a Norwich bookshop tonight.
New York-based author Lee Child's series of thrillers read like classic American detective stories, with a hard-bitten maverick ex-soldier cracking cases his own way.
It's a formula that has won his series of Jack Reacher novels a worldwide fanbase, and sent his books to the top of the New York Times's bestseller lists.
But when The Hard Way, the 10th in the series, reaches its climax in a remote patch of south Norfolk countryside it becomes clear that this isn't traditional American thriller territory.
Child has found success in the USA, and now divides his time between there and France - but in fact he's originally from the Midlands, worked for Granada television until being made redundant, and is an Aston Villa FC supporter.
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"Norfolk is not an area I know well. I have been there many times, but only for brief visits - I used to come to Carrow Road quite often to see Villa play Norwich, and I have had book events in Norwich before.
"When I travelled through Norfolk, my first impression was that its landscape was good for secrecy, intrigue and excitement. I just knew that the end of the book should be set there," he said. "It's written pretty much from memory: it was the first impression that matters, rather than accurate detail. If I wrote about it in detail, Norfolk people would find inaccuracies in it! But 99.9pc of the audience is never going to have been there."
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Given that his latest book is being published in 50 countries, he has a fair point. But although he creates a fictional village south-west of Norwich, few people could complain about his portrayal of the county.
Child, who will be appearing at Ottakar's in Norwich tonight, starts his latest tale in west Manhattan. Reacher sits at a pavement café sipping espresso, when he witnesses part of a kidnapping. Acting out of "reflex and professional curiosity", not to mention the promise of a generous fee, he agrees to help sinister arms dealer and ex-Army officer Edward Lane to track down his kidnapped daughter and trophy wife. Since the kidnapping of his first wife, five years earlier, ended in her death, he warns Reacher that he will accept no police interference.
And so begins a story that takes Reacher across the Atlantic and up the M11 to a denouement in the wilds of south Norfolk, and to the fictional Bishops Pargeter.
"It was a crossroads hamlet about 30 miles south and west of the Norwich outskirts. Two minor roads met. Not even the roads themselves showed up on the motoring atlases," he writes, adding that: "England is a small country, but East Anglia was a large empty part of it. In some ways it was like driving across the prairie states. Endless forward motion without much visible result."
Child describes his hero as: "a perpetual drifter, never in one place for long. He has got a lot older and wiser through the series, which was my intention. It's a question of making each book the same but different. It's good to have a series feel to it, but you need to have something different to make people feel that each new one is worth reading."
He was always a voracious reader, long before he became a published author, and explained: "Really I base everything on my own feelings as a reader. All writers are much more readers than they are writers. I write one book a year but read maybe 200."
The pivotal moment that led to his becoming a writer came in 1995 when Granada made him redundant after an 18-year career as a presentation director, during which time he worked on Brideshead Revisited, Cracker and Prime Suspect. He bought some paper and pencils and sat down to write a book called Killing Floor, the first in the Jack Reacher series.
"I got made redundant, which was the precipitating event," he said. "I have always loved being in entertainment. The decision was, what can I do that's the same but different? I figured that writing popular fiction was an avenue I could go down. Fortunately it worked with the first book, and it went really well."
Child was born in 1954 in Coventry and spent his formative years in Birmingham. He went to law school in Sheffield but, after a spell working in theatre, moved to Manchester to work for Granada. He wrote the first three and a half Reacher books in the UK but then relocated to the USA, where he has an apartment in Manhattan. He also has a home in the South of France, and on his website describes his third home as whatever aeroplane cabin he happens to be in while travelling between the two.
For now, however, he's back in his home country and the county that inspired his latest novel.
"I always enjoy coming to Norfolk and am looking forward to being back there again."
Lee Child's appearance at Ottakar's in Castle Street, Norwich, begins at 6.30pm. Tickets cost £2, available in-store, or by calling 01603 767292.
The Hard Way by Lee Child is published by Bantam Press priced £14.99.