I woke up to the latest Political Scene, a New Yorker podcast featuring an interview with Lee Child, author and creator of the Jack Reacher series. Moderated by David Remnick, a rabid fan-boy and the managing editor of the magazine, they discuss Child’s writing process.
I’ve never given a second thought to pulp novels, especially the likes of an ongoing series in the vein of Jack Reacher. After listening to Child however I’ve popped a U-turn. I took to his no-nonsense approach to life, a self-assured voice with a self-deprecating demeanour. While I'm yet to read a single word, some investigating led me to this feedback from Rick Gekoscki, a Guardian critic who writes of Child's prose:
"One can hardly find, in the entire corpus of the work, a single sentence worthy of independent admiration. But put them together, one by one and page by page, and I am consumed, not by admiration exactly, but by something much more powerful – the great animating impulse of the whole story-telling business – the desire, the rage, to know what is going to happen."
Child (née James Grant), found his voice as a writer at the age of thirty-nine, after being laid off as a television director in the UK. The year was 1995 and the golden-age of terrestrial television was on its last legs following the arrival of Rupert Murdoch and his satellite dreams. Distraught and verging on a mid-life crisis, Child resolved to change his circumstances, to ensure he never had to work for anyone else ever again.
Child’s success is undeniable. Having written twenty-three installments on the Jack Reacher franchise, he is said to sell a book every nine seconds. Each book follows it’s peripatetic protagonist, Jack Reacher, a former American military-policeman who wanders his homeland putting out the fires of iniquity.
I was enthralled at Child’s work routine. He begins a new book on the first of September — the anniversary of starting his first book — without a treatment or any real conception of where the story is headed. Andy Martin, a Cambridge professor, spent a year watching Child produce his twentieth installment of the series (and subsequently published a book of his own about the experience).
As I approach the end of my own book, it’s given me a greater sense of respect for anyone that has the courage to write for a living. To be able to keep coming up with the magic time and again is something else entirely.
It’s no small feat to change vocations in mid stream, to invest your time and energy in a completely new medium. It’s another thing entirely to find commercial and critical recognition for your efforts. I just bought myself Killing Floor, his first installment in the series. Who’s with me?