If you don't know Lee Child,
you don't know Jack

By Ben Glass
December 2, 2008

The coffee was black and bitter.
He’d had better room service.
He’d had better days.
He was alone. How he liked it.
The cell hummed.
A text: ‘R U enjoying your coffee?’

Lee Child © Sigrid Estrada
It may sound like a Jack Reacher novel.

But this actually happened to his Coventry-born creator Lee Child.

Speaking to It’s All About Coventry from Heathrow before jetting to New York he told how fans could be even scarier than his villains.

He said: “Room service had just been delivered. The waiter came in and put down the coffee. Then I got a text message saying ‘Are you enjoying your coffee?

‘It was about six in the morning. I never found out where that message came from."

But scary fans are surely a small price to pay.

By the time his latest novel Nothing To Lose hit the shelves he had already sold an estimated 25 million books.

“It’s difficult to comprehend that figure,” he said. “I write to entertain the individual so I don’t think about it.”

The son of a Coventry tax inspector Child spent the first four years of his life in the city.

He doesn’t know which hospital he was born at on October 29, 1954, but lived at 20 Ridgeway Avenue, Stivichall.

He said: “My parents moved there shortly before I was born. My father was a civil servant so he moved around a lot.

“We moved away when I was four but I do remember the new Cathedral being built. My parents would take me there on weekends.”

From here Child moved to Birmingham and then studied law at Sheffield University. He spent the next 18 years working for Granada Television before being made redundant, aged 40, in 1994.

Soon after he moved with his American wife to New York and wrote his first novel Killing Floor – his introduction to Jack Reacher.

Eleven novels later Child owns two homes - one in Manhattan and one in France – and drives a Jaguar built at Jaguar's Browns Lane factory, Allesley.

Lee Child's first home: 20 Ridgeway Avenue, Stivichall, Coventry

So how does he create such popular books?

He said: “I start by setting up an opening scene. I know I have to get from A to Z and I know I’ll have to get scenes P and Q in there.

"But if I planned it out entirely it would make it very boring for me."

He continued: ‘One book usually takes about 80 or 90 full working days over a five or six month period to write.

“It’s impossible to say whether it’s hard work. You can’t compare it say to coal mining.”

A major part of Child’s books is his hero’s cool-headedness in violent situations.

In One Shot, Reacher finds himself on a farm surrounded by baddies and gradually picks them off one-by-one.

In Persuader he keeps his cool during a brutal David and Goliath fight to overcome meathead monster, Paulie.

Does Child react in similar ways to Reacher?

He said: “I grew up in a very much different time.

"I remember confrontations from my childhood and there have been two or three times – mugging situations - where I’ve had to discourage attacks.

“I’ve done it by being very confident and being non verbal.”

Despite Child's English roots, his hero Reacher is the son of a French mother and GI father, and all his books are set in the US. Why not Britain?

He said: “It’s doesn’t have the big empty spaces, the distant horizons. England is more claustrophobic.”

Although Reacher is arguably one of the most popular thriller characters of the 21st century Child is certain his hero must, eventually, die.

He said: “The series has to end at some point and it deserves to be a spectacle.

“I think I’ll have Reacher sacrificing himself for someone else, then going to a motel room to bleed to death on the bathroom floor.”

Nothing to Lose, published by Bantam Press is available in hardback and paperback from £12.99. The new novel Gone Tomorrow is out in April 2009.

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