This book is finally on sale! I don’t know if you’ve been listening to Stephen King or Lee Child or Steve Berry, but they’re all big fans of this book. Even Robotham has said that this is his best work yet. If you’ve never read him before, this standalone novel is the perfect one to start with.
This last September witnessed the publication of Lee Child’s 19th Jack Reacher novel, Personal (Delacorte Press). His UK promotional tour kicked off at the Waterstones Deansgate bookstore in Manchester–where I first met Child many years past. It was two decades ago that Child (then better known by his real name, Jim Grant) wandered into a nearby Manchester stationary store, bought a pack of pencils and an A4 pad, and started work on Killing Floor, the 1997 novel that would introduce ex-military policeman Jack Reacher to readers of thriller fiction worldwide. The rest, as they say, is history–and a lot of damn hard work.
I’ve written about Child a number of times over the years, and have become a fan of his muscular prose and bone-crunching action sequences. So I was please to dive into Personal at my first opportunity. Of the novel, Bob Cartwright has this to say in Shots:
The book commences, like other Reachers, with Jack hitching and busing across the States generally minding his own business. However, in one bus station he happens across a copy of Army Timesand finds a message for him in the personal ads. He makes the necessary contact and pretty soon is being flown from the West Coast to an army base in the east.
The U.S., primarily the U.S. army, has a problem and Reacher is the only person who can resolve it. A few days before, a sniper had taken a potshot at the French president in Paris. The assassination attempt failed due to a protective screen which stopped the bullet in its tracks. So why should that concern the U.S. and Reacher? Apparently, the welfare of the French president was the object of American concern.
The real issue was that, the shot was fired from a distance of around 1,400 yards. There were only three snipers around who were proficient at that kind of distance–an Englishman, a Russian and an American. The U.S. military was patently unhappy at the prospect of one of their own potentially being involved, especially as they figure it might just be a scouting mission before the real thing–the assassination of one or more world leaders at the forthcoming G8 conference in London.
Following the “standing room only” event at Waterstones Deansgate (which can be viewed in a series of videos starting here), I met for dinner at Manchester’s renowned Argentinean restaurant, the Gaucho Grill, with Child, his author brother, Andrew Grant, Patsy Irwin (of Transworld/Random House UK), thriller-fiction nut Martyn James Lewis (shown here), and Child’s security escort, the man of mystery known only as “Brad.” While we were waiting on our steaks, I did a little grilling of my own, asking Child about Personal, his fondness for Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal (1971), some of the secondary characters in Reacher’s life, news of another film adaptation of Child’s work, and of course the recent hullabaloo over Amazon vs. traditional publishing. The results of our interview are posted below.
Ali Karim: What’s it like being back at Waterstones in Manchester?
Lee Child: I must have a book out if I’m back here. [Laughing] Seriously, it is a very significant bookstore for me. Before I was a writer, I was a customer here and the very first signed books of mine were sold at this store. Whenever I’ve done an event in the North West [of the UK], it’s nearly always been here. It feels good to be back at Waterstones Deansgate. It’s full of memories and great books.
AK: I couldn’t help but smile when I saw that the plot of this 19th Reacher novel revolves around an assassination attempt of the French president. For I remember that Frederick Forsyth presented you with the Crime Writers’ Association’s 2013 Diamond Dagger award. Is Personal your homage to The Day of the Jackal?
LC: I think that Without Fail  would actually be my homage to Day of the Jackal, because it explicitly references Forsyth’s book. The emphasis there is placed upon the assassins planning for escape, as opposed to the  Clint Eastwood/Wolfgang Peterson film, In the Line of Fire, in which the assassin knows he won’t be able to escape. As I said at the CWA Diamond Daggers ceremony, The Day of the Jackal … was Year Zero for the current generation of thriller writers; it was different, and re-set the clock, and we’ve all had to deal with it ever since. So, I didn’t mean it as a direct homage but acknowledged–for all of us, readers and writers–that Fredrick Forsyth is a giant figure, and his debut novel casts a giant shadow over the genre.
AK: So are you a fan of assassination thrillers–The Manchurian Candidate, Three Days of the Condor, Winter Kills, The Parallax View, etc.?
LC: Yes, I am, as you have the giant faceless machine of “the establishment” with the powerful security apparatus, multi-layered like a tentacled octopus; then on the other hand you have the lone figure, who in definition is working entirely alone. This is the ultimate thriller plot–the imbalance of power, the one against the many. So yes, I am a fan of this subgenre/theme, as it encapsulates the whole conflict paradigm that a thriller has to be.
AK: I was delighted to see that you employed the first-person narrative technique in Personal. Was this simply due to the novel’s structure, with the first-person better suited to it than third-person? Or was there another reason for your decision?
LC: Yes, though I’d put it the other way around as there was nothing in the story that demanded it be told with alternative points of view. I would always steer towards a first-person narrative, unless there is a good reason why I shouldn’t. It’s instinctual.
AK: Did you find any special delight in placing Reacher on a European panorama, and particularly back in the UK?
LC: Definitely. That was one of the key points of the novel. People had been asking, especially in the wake of the last book, how do you keep it fresh? One way is by altering the surroundings and the circumstances, because Reacher is Reacher and he will always be involved in some kind of dangerous plot, but every other detail can be different, including the location. I also thought, after doing a series of novels set against “back-roads America,” that Reacher needed some glamor in this one–although the London sections are not the glamorous parts of London, I hasten to add. I didn’t want to do a tourist-guide travelogue; hence we see Romford and Chigwell, the sort of outer London you don’t normally see.
AK:[Laughing] The East End and Essex side–and home to Shots editor Mike Stotter, though the readers of his Western tales might think he lives someplace more exotic.
LC: Not that there’s anything wrong with East London and Essex … Reacher is a fish out of water, so I like giving him some contrast in the foreign countries …
AK: As is usually the case, you pepper this latest novel with some interesting secondary players. Can you tell us a little about Casey Nice, who’s a terrific character and an excellent foil for Jack Reacher?
LC: Yes, Casey Nice is a great sidekick for Reacher. She evolved as a character during the writing process, partly inspired by the name, as it comes from a real person. You and I were just talking about my early days, and for my very first book tour–which wasn’t for Killing Floor, but for my second book [Die Trying]–a little 9-year-old girl showed up at the bookstore in Houston, Texas, with her parents; and then she’d show up every year, when she was 10, then 11, then 12, etc. And I saw her last year and she was in her middle 20s. She came up to me and we talked, and she told me she’d worked her way through college and was now working for a consultancy. She said, with a wink in her eye, “You do realize I’ve been coming since I was 9?” And I told her, yes, of course I know. So she said, “Then you should put me in a book,” and when I asked her name, she told me it was Casey Nice. I thought that’s a great name, like a throwback to an Ian Fleming type of name. Though as I’d known her since she was a child, I considered a mentor-type of relationship between Reacher and her would work–so the relationship would not be one-on-one, as equals; she’d be junior, and vulnerable and a little unsure of herself. So basically the character evolved around her.
AK: Still on the topic of secondary characters, I noticed that one of my colleagues in the crime-fiction community, book collector Tom O’Day, is name-checked in Personal. Was this purely a coincidence?
LC: Well spotted! That is indeed the Tom O’Day we all know, and that name [like that of Frances Neagely] was won in a charity auction, and I think I got a pretty good physical description of him. [Laughing]
AK: I noticed that you dedicated Personal to fellow novelists Andrew Grant and Tasha Alexander, and they are family too.
LC: Yes, they are both great writers and family. Andrew is married to Tasha Alexander, and as you know, he’s my brother. Andrew has written three espionage thrillers featuring his series character, David Trevellyan, though he has a new standalone out called Run, and I’m actually with him this fall at the launch. As it’s very tough in publishing currently, and as he’s not as handsome as I am, I thought I’d do an event with him. [Laughing]
AK: Tell us about your new Jack Reacher e-book, Not a Drill.
LC: That’s the recent e-book we’ve released–though I’m not that thrilled doing them, as I don’t consider myself a good short-story writer; I prefer the space of a novel to let a story evolve. But we’re testing that market, and last year’s High Heat I really enjoyed writing, and readers like it–whereas Not a Drill, though a solid tale, didn’t, for me, add that much more to the canon. When a writer approaches a short story, as opposed to a novel, you can experiment a little; it doesn’t have to follow the same path as the novels. For the reader, however, they often want to follow the same path as the novel[s], which is not possible when working a short story. So I like Not a Drill, but will be curious to see how readers react to it.
AK: Yours has been a rather prominent voice in the ongoing agency pricing dispute between American online retailer Amazon and book publisher Hachette. You’re on record opposing what you say is Amazon’s wish to undermine other modern publishers, to become “the only publisher.” And you were among more than 900 writers who signed a full-page New York Times ad, bought by the advocacy group Authors United, charging that Amazon is taking “selective retaliation” against writers. In August you appeared briefly on BBC2’s Newsnight program to declare that “Amazon is using ‘authors as collateral damage and using customers as pawns.’” I caught that show, and thought host Kirsty Walk was somewhat annoying in her interpretations of what you said, and in preventing you from getting your points across. How do you think your appearance went?
Child spoke about the Amazon vs. Hatchette dispute on the August 12, 2014, edition of BBC2’s Newsnight.
LC: I know, and the program format is not one that lends itself toward extended discussion. I wish we had television that did allow more time, but we don’t these days. In the context of [Newsnight], I didn’t resent her interruptions, because that is her job, what she’s got to do; but it is a big important issue, and so I did wish we had a forum that we could discuss serious issues like this in more detail and depth, not just sound bites. The general media are looking for sound bites. Then there are the online forums, where you’d expect to have an intelligent discussion, [but they] are completely psychotic on this subject. [Laughing]
AK: It’s like people have axes that need grinding …
LC: Exactly. You can’t hear anything above the scream of the axes being ground.
LC: Yes, in fact it’s had a green light for some time. The script is done and shooting is scheduled to start in April 2015, for an early 2016 release. [Cruise will reprise his role as Jack Reacher.]
AK: And on which of your novels is this forthcoming picture based?
LC:Never Go Back , and they are planning a three-handed perspective: Jack Reacher; the Susan Turner character as the co-equal female lead; and then the young teenage girl who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter. They see the young girl as an attractive angle, given the current demographics of the cinema audience.
AK: Finally what’s in store for your 20th Reacher book? And are you still planning to write Die Lonely, marking your protagonist’s end?
LC: No, Die Lonely wouldn’t be Reacher #20, that would be Reacher #21. Possibly. [Laughing] As for Reacher #20 [which will reportedly be titled Make Me], I’ve just started, as it’s a ritual for me start a new book in September, and this September is a little sentimental for me as it has been 20 years since I started writing Killing Floor–on September 4, 1994, to be precise. I have no idea where it will go, but no doubt we’ll be sitting across a table talking about it [later], and it will all make sense.
The Rap Sheet thanks Lee Child and Patsy Irwin, of Random House UK’s Transworld imprint, for making this interview possible.
Have you ever thought about writing crime fiction? There’s never been a better time to put ink to paper: we’re partnering with Hofstra Law on a writing competition, and Lee Child, Marcia Clark, and Alafair Burke are the judges! Click here for more information.
Do you want to put your writing in front of Lee Child, Marcia Clark, and Alafair Burke? We’re partnering with Hofstra Law on a legal thriller competition, and these three bestselling writers are the judges! Click here for more information.
It’s time. Sometimes you just know it. I’ve had a great twelve months being part of this Kill Zone crew of stellar writers, but I’ve decided to cede my spot to another blogger. I’ll still be following the fascinating blogs by my colleagues, so you won’t see the end of me around here.
Naturally, moving on like this has me thinking about endings in novels, particularly the ends of characters. Death is constant companion for us thriller writers. My wife is a doctor, so we often say that she saves people for a living, and I kill people for a living. In my stories I’ve slain many characters, and not just the bad guys.
In my book ROGUE WAVE, which is a disaster thriller, a key character dies at the end of the story. My editor strenuously argued for me to save the character, and we had an hour-long discussion about the ramifications of this death. In the end I convinced her that the character had to die, and I think the ending is more poignant for it. I’ve gotten many emails from readers who cried over the death. To me that was a compliment because it meant that the character had become real for them. Even if they hated that it happened, the readers almost unfailingly felt that the death fit within the story’s themes of love and selfless sacrifice.
I take great care in the decision of whether or not to kill off one of the good guys. I don’t think you can cavalierly flout the trust a reader has invested in you to deliver a satisfying story. On the other hand, to build suspense there has to be real jeopardy for the characters. If readers believe you’ll never kill off someone they’ve come to care for, where’s the tension in the story?
In my Tyler Locke series I do kill off someone who becomes a major character in one of the novels. It has a major impact on the other characters, even into subsequent installments of the series. Again, some readers didn’t like this death, but it also made them worry for all the other characters in future novels. If Boyd killed that person off, they might wonder, he’s just crazy enough to whack anyone. The tension level is automatically raised.
Obviously I didn’t kill Tyler Locke. He’s the star of the series. He can’t be killed off unless I’m doing away with the series altogether (Lee Child has proposed this very idea at several conferences when he has talked about someday ending the Jack Reacher series). For instance, no one even considers that James Bond is going to die at the end of the movie, so how can there possibly be any suspense?
If the writer might dispatch someone the main character loves or cares about, that concern is transferred to the reader. It conveys a personal stake in the outcome, which a reader will care about more than the end of the world as we know it. And if the reader knows you’ve done it before, an ending where all the good guys survive can be even sweeter, the relief more palpable.
A death of this kind can also make the story more believable. If every single good guy survives when bullets are spraying at him like they’re coming from a lawn sprinkler, while every single bad guy dies with a well-aimed headshot, the story becomes ridiculous. That kind of spectacular luck in a novel only emphasizes that you’re reading fiction. A key death, I think, confers some plausibility, even in an over-the-top action adventure. Movies have been doing this more commonly in the last few years. Think of The Dark Knight or Skyfall. Both of them were praised for a grittier, more realistic treatment of comic book and Bondian adventures, and both featured tragic deaths that had severe consequences for the plot and main characters.
Where I think authors get into trouble is when they make the deaths meaningless. As a reader, if I’ve spent hours getting to know a character, it’s deeply unsatisfying for him to die for no reason. It just seems like a mean or thoughtless gesture by the author, as if it were done for no other reason than to provoke shock. Some readers may appreciate that it makes the story seem more like real life, but unless it’s incredibly well-done, I find it off-putting.
Like my decision to move on from The Kill Zone, how you handle the characters has to come from your gut. I don’t take the decision to kill one of the good guys lightly, but when the end feels right, I know it.
Even though I won’t be a regular contributor, I’ll still be hanging out in the comments section from time to time. Thanks to all my fellow KillZoners for giving me this opportunity and to all of you who taken the time to read and comment on my blogs. Take care.
So I am doing my usual warm-up before hitting the computer yesterday morning: folding laundry and watching “Frazier” reruns. I love Frazier because beneath his smooth surface is a roiling bog of neediness and insecurity.
Yesterday was the episode where Frazier and his producer Roz are nominated for the Seebee Award, given out to Seattle’s best broadcasters. Frazier tries to be above it all, but he just can’t. He wants to win, dammit! But at the banquet, he finds out he is up against the aging icon Fletcher Grey. Fletcher has been nominated 11 times in a row and lost 10. Fletcher’s date is his 84-year-old mother who has flown in from Scottsdale — for the 11th straight year. Fletcher is also retiring. Frazier tells Roz, “if we win, they’ll string us up.” Roz says, “I don’t care. I’d crawl over his mother to win this award!”
Frazier loses, of course. His agent Beebee deserts him. Roz gets drunk on Pink Ladies.
Sounds like a couple award banquets I’ve been to. A couple I have chaired, in fact. My sister Kelly and I are the chairs of the Edgar Banquet. (That’s me in the photo above unpacking Edgar programs in the Grand Hyatt ballroom. I also do windows). We’ve been doing this chairman gig for about five years now. It’s a lot of work and a lot of fun. You get to meet a lot of nervous but sweet debut authors, a few movie stars (I did an embarrassing fan-stalk of Richard “Munch” Belzer one year) and some really classy dames. (That’s Kelly and me below with Mary Higgins Clark.)
We also been judges for the Shamus Awards, the Mystery Writer of America St. Martin’s Best First Novel contest, and the International Thriller Awards. So we’ve seen how the sausage is made.
The stories I could tell…
But I won’t. And not just because sometimes they make judges sign confidentiality agreements. Mainly it’s because ours is a very small community and I believe in author Karma. If you make a fool of yourself in public, it will come around and bite you on the butt. You can put good money on that.
Also, I’ve been on the other side of the whole awards thing. We’ve been lucky enough to be nominated for some awards over the past twelve years. Yes, it is an honor to be nominated. But it bites to lose. I can’t lie and tell you otherwise. Our second book “Dead of Winter” was nominated for an Edgar. We were wide-eyed newbies in those days — didn’t even know what Mystery Writers of America was — and we went to New York with our new gowns, got our nails done and gathered with spouses, son, and agent in the Grand Hyatt bar before the banquet to calm our nerves. Not a drop of alcohol because if we DID win, we didn’t want to go up on stage three sheets to the wind and say something stupid. (As I said, I now have stories I could tell…)
Well, when our name wasn’t announced, we all grabbed for the wine bottle in the middle of the table. The rest of the night is a blur. So is the rest of the decade, as far as awards go. Because as I said, although we got nominated for a couple, we never won. Which brings me to July 2008.
Our book “An Unquiet Grave” was nominated for the International Thriller Writers Award. Back to New York City we went, back to the Grand Hyatt. No expectations this time. My sister couldn’t make it so I sat between my husband and Ali Karem. My friend the late Elaine Flinn kept saying it was our night. Doug Lyle wished me luck. Without Kelly at my side, I sat there feeling alone and sort of empty. We might write hardboiled, but I am not. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I bolted for the lobby.
Jim Fusilli was standing there and barred my way, putting an arm around my shoulders. Each nominee was announced by reading the first line of their book. Ours is “The Christmas lights were already up.” I remember thinking, “God, that sucks.”
I heard the title of our book announced as the winner. I started crying. I don’t remember what I said on stage. Many authors, when they are up for awards, have the sense of jot down a few notes beforehand so they are gracious, and their clever speeches are quoted in the blogs the next morning.
This is what SHOULD have been in my head as I went up there:
“Thank you so much for this great honor. First, I want to thank the ITW judges who put their careers on hold for months. Their job is doubly hard in that they first must read hundreds of books but then, they must decide on just one when any of the five finalists would be worthy. Second, I want to thank my fellow nominees. I am honored to have my book mentioned among their fine works. Third, I want to thank my agent and editor who….”
This is what was REALLY in my head:
“God, I can’t believe I am crying! How pathetic and needy! Where’s the friggin’ stairs? I can’t see! Who is that man at the podium? Shit, I forget his name! THE LIGHTS! I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING! Do I have lettuce on my teeth? My bra is showing, I just know it. DON’T PULL AT YOUR BRA!! He’s handing it to me. Jesus, it’s heavy…don’t drop it…don’t drop it…don’t drop it. Say something nice about the other nominees! Can’t…can’t…can’t remember their names. YOU TWIT! You just sat on a panel with TWO of them this morning! Wait, wait…is it Paul LeVEEN or Paul LeVINE??? Forget it…buy him a drink later. I should have gone to the hairdresser before I left home. My roots are showing. Shit, did I thank my agent? JESUS! THE LIGHTS! Stop talking now…you’re rambling, you ass…stop now and just go sit down. Okay, leaving now. TAKE THE AWARD! Don’t drop it…don’t drop it…don’t drop it. Good grief…I’m here in New York City wearing Nine West because I was too cheap to spring for those black Blahniks at Off Fifth. Dear God, just let me just off this stage so I can get to the john and pull up my Spanx and get a glass of wine…”
Well, we’re entering award season soon. So here’s a few reminders. Entries are due for ITW’s International Thriller Awards. CLICK HERE for the link. There is also time to still enter the Edgars and you, the author, can do it yourself if you wish. CLICK HERE.
A few more final reminders about this awards thing from an old veteran:
If you don’t get nominated, don’t go to Amazon, read the samples and obsess about what hacks the writers are or whine that nobody has HEARD of these books and the judges don’t appreciate commercial fiction.
If you never get nominated for anything in your life, remember that many great and successful authors haven’t either. Vonnegut lost the Nebuba Best Novel award. Nabokov whiffed on seven National Book Awards AND lost the Nobel to some guy named Eyvind Johnson. And do you think guys like Lee Child go to sleep at night worrying about not winning an Edgar?
If you DO get nominated, have the sense to write out a little speech and try not to use it to give the finger to everyone who has slighted you in the past. (I told you…I have stories I can tell.)
If you lose, don’t get drunk, sling a woman over your shoulder and drag her into the the hotel elevator (Yeah, I saw that one too).
If you win, be thankful and gracious then get right back to writing.
Winning an award is nice but it won’t get the laundry folded.
(Editor’s note: Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival, is set to take place in the ancient town of Stirling–equidistant from Glasgow and Edinburgh–beginning tomorrow, September 13, and concluding this Sunday, the 15th. Among the attendees will be Nancie Clare, co-founder of Noir Magazine and the former editor-in-chief of LA, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, who will send The Rap Sheet reports from that convention. Her first contribution is below: an interview with Lee Child [born Jim Grant], author of the award-winning Jack Reacher series.)
Lee Child is packing his bags for Scotland (although where he keeps luggage in his elegant, minimalist New York City apartment–featured in a recent New York Times piece–is a, um, mystery to me) to attend this weekend’s second-annual Bloody Scotland. He is scheduled to close that festival on Sunday night with a sold-out event titled “At the Top of His Game,” a look at Never Go Back, his 18th book featuring the redoubtable Jack Reacher.
Although Reacher is most certainly an American; Child (born in the West Midlands town of Coventry) is not. He never took out U.S. citizenship, saying, “I identify more now with the U.S. But in principle I like the feeling of not really belonging anywhere. I’ve grown addicted to the feeling of being an outsider wherever I am. I feel at home more in New York than anywhere else. But ultimately I prefer not to feel at home anywhere.” And if it seems a stretch that Lee Child, an English
author who writes about his American character Jack Reacher in New York City,
should be traveling to Scotland, consider this: According to Child, “Reacher is
part of the American military culture and American military culture, especially
the Army and the Marine Corps, is a very Scots-Irish culture. Scots-Irish are generally the world’s most belligerent people. And this is my own heritage.” And, of
course, fans of crime fiction are everywhere.
I spoke by phone with Child about a week before his departure for Scotland.
Nancie Clare: Which Scottish writers do you read, have you read, and/or do you want to read?
Lee Child: It’s always about the new people for me even more than the established people. I read the big three: Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, and Denise Mina. I like them very much as writers and people. But what I always try to do is find the new guys; this tsunami of talent that is always chasing after the established
people. For me it’s always about finding someone with his first book out. Those
are the ones that are always fun to meet, because you can be looking at a
lifetime of reading pleasure right there. There’s one in particular, Malcolm Mackay. I don’t know whether or not he’s going to Bloody Scotland. I believe he’s from the Orkney Islands. He’s written a great book about Glasgow that I enjoyed very much.
[Mackay’s How a Gunman Says Goodbye has been nominated for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year 2013. The winner will be announced on Saturday, September 14, during the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award Dinner. Mackay is in some pretty exalted company–he’s competing against Child’s “big three”: McDermid, Mina,
and Rankin, as well as Ann Cleeves and Gordon Ferris.]
NC: Which if any Scottish writers, mystery or otherwise, have influenced you?
LC: Well, the obvious one is Alistair MacLean. For a thriller writer of my generation, my background, Alistair McLean was essential. A bit of an object lesson as well. He moved to Switzerland and became a drunkard. That’s always something to avoid.
NC: So he was an influence and a cautionary tale.
LC: Yeah, both. ’Cause influence can be negative or positive; often both at the same time.
NC: Last year at the inaugural Bloody Scotland, Val McDermid and Craig Robertson both, independent of each other, made the point that Scottish crime writers–“Tartan Noir” practitioners–see themselves as completely separate from their English counterparts.
LC: Scotland is a completely separate country and it is a completely
separate culture, and they’ve had a long-simmering colonial relationship with
London. I think it’s the north of England as a whole. England is not monolithic; England is basically London when you talk about cultural dominance or political dominance or economic dominance.
Scotland comes out of a different place in its heritage and that shows up in the crime fiction … [It] has bred two strands that coexist: there is the wildly lyrical poetic imagination [and] also a very pragmatic, practical people.
NC: McDermid also said that Tartan Noir writers see their line of descent through James Hogg, [Arthur] Conan Doyle, and William McIlvanney and not the middle-class sensibilities of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.
LC: My father’s Scots-Irish and I identify with that far more than I would do with Agatha Christie. In fact, I’ve never read Agatha Christie. I’ve never been a fan or interested. I’ve read Dorothy Sayers extensively, but as a cultural document–I think the books are fine stories, of course, but they are far more interesting as slices of history; she was writing about a very particular time and place.
NC: This year, like last year, there is a healthy representation at Bloody Scotland of Scandinavian crime writers–Arne Dahl and Jo Nesbø, to name two. One of the running comments last year was that “Edinburgh is closer to Oslo than London.” And the point was made that there was a close kinship between Tartan and Nordic Noir.
LC: I honestly don’t think there is. Yeah, obviously Scotland is remote and northerly, you can get to Oslo quicker than you can get to London, but I don’t
think that necessarily proves or really provides much of a cultural link. I
think that in two different ways. First of all, Scottish crime fiction has
progressed dramatically. It’s a very healthy, wise tradition especially at the
moment and in the last, say, 20 years where you are seeing exciting new voices.
(By the way, in the same way I think we’re going to see, very soon, crime
fiction coming out of Northern Ireland.) The Scandinavians–and this might be a
jaundiced opinion on my part–I don’t think they’ve shown the same progression.
Forty, almost 50 years ago, there were two tremendous Scandinavian crime writers
from Sweden, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. They wrote the 10-book series
about Martin Beck. That was such a great series that I think it would be
pretty difficult to argue that there’s been much progression since then. I
think Scandinavian crime fiction is less lively than it’s made out to be. And
their concerns are different than Scottish concerns. I think what is common,
especially to the Swedish and Norwegian crime fiction, is that they have these
very well-developed welfare states. The Scandinavian idea of “stateism” is very
different, very much earlier, than the British idea. And so much of that fiction
is about one’s relationship to the state: the welfare state, the government.
That’s where the fascination of Scandinavian crime fiction is, the tension and
the dilemmas and the conflicts are “what is the state doing?” “What is the government doing?” “How are they controlling our lives?” And that’s never really been a feature of Scottish crime fiction. Scottish crime fiction has depended on a much more free-form, lawless society where the government is either corrupt or nonexistent and the fascination is about the criminal element among dense populations. So I see it
as a completely different feel, completely different lineage, really not very
much relationship at all.
Plus, and I don’t know if this is suitable for the piece, but there’s an issue with the cultural acceptance of Scandinavian crime fiction in Britain and America. It’s about people who are somehow ashamed of reading the genre, [but who] think there’s some extra merit–it gives them a “get out of jail” card or something–if it’s
Scandinavian. There is some kind of middle-class acceptability about it. They
really want to be reading Ian Rankin, but somehow that’s too down market, so
they have to find an alternative to Ian Rankin that is somehow approved by the
newspapers, let’s say.
That disappoints me. I think people should get over that and read what they want to.
NC: But nowadays with e-readers and iPads, often you have no idea what people are reading because you can’t see the covers.
LC: That’s the truth and it really … it’s definitely helped me, because I fall into that same category: people are ashamed to be seen reading one of my books, even though they love them and enjoy them. People are so insecure, image-wise. And, of course, e-readers mean they can do that in anonymity.
NC:Lyndsay Faye [Seven for a Secret] told me a funny story about a question you answered at the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate about combating writer’s block. You said, “I’ll tell you how to combat writer’s block. Don’t be such a pretentious wanker. That’s how you combat writer’s block. What? Do truck drivers get ‘driver’s block’? ‘I don’t feel like driving my truck today.’” I wanted you to comment on that.
LC: Yeah, that’s how I feel. It’s difficult to talk about [writing] as a job, because people want to hear that it’s wonderfully joyful and creative and
spontaneous and you just pluck this stuff out of the air. Which absolutely you
do, and it absolutely is a wonderful, creative, just fabulous thing to do. But
it is also a job and you have to take it seriously; you have to show up and do
it. If you waited around for the muse to strike, you would be waiting around
forever. There are many days when you don’t really feel like going to work–we’re
all in the same boat. And my point was: everyone has a job, everyone has days
when they don’t really want to go and do it, but you have to. A truck driver
who doesn’t really feel like working today has no alternative. So he goes and
gets in his truck and he starts the motor, clips his seat belt on, and those
muscle memories kick in and off he goes. It’s the same thing for a writer.
There are some days when you feel bad, you don’t want to do it, but you sit
down, you boot up your computer, you open the file and the muscle memory gets
you into it and you do your work.
Yeah, I feel people who talk about the muse and writer’s block and all these airy-fairy things … they’re not serious. Especially for genre professionals, like us who are doing a book a year. It is a job and you have to do it. You’ve got to deliver. To complain about writer’s block is self-indulgent and, to some extent, pretentious.
NC: So, it’s off to Scotland for you then …
LC: I’m looking forward to being there, and hopefully I’ll take away something good to read.
Ali Karim, The Rap Sheet’s generous and energetic British correspondent, was on hand during last evening’s Dagger Awards presentations in London. He has now sent along the video embedded below, which shows author Lee Child speaking in response to his receiving this year’s Diamond
Dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association. The 2012 Diamond Dagger
winner, Frederick Forsyth (who can be seen in the right of the frame, wearing a gray suit) presented Child with his prize. “Though this clip won’t be appearing at the Sundance Film Festival,” Ali writes, “I hope you enjoy it.”
Jack Reacher hitches another ride… But why is that driver lying? And what’s up with the woman in the backseat? Is she in danger? These questions lead into an action-packed finale that sees Reacher kill more enemies than ever before. The first 400 pages are probably the least violent of the Reacher books and Lee Child does a great job turning up the suspense the first 200. He takes his time telling the story, switching from Reacher’s viewpoint to FBI agent Sorenson (wow, in Child’s world there are a lot of attractive, capable FBI women) until they meet and try to solve a murder linked to terrorism. Reacher books are of course always cool. I love Jack and more than ever this one shows us what a cool character is. I really liked the pace of this story and thought this one stands out as one of the best in the series.