I mentioned a few days ago that I’m becoming increasingly interested in thrillers, and so I was keen to attend one of the main events of the Harrogate Festival, an interview of Lee Child by Natasha Cooper. A special guest was Lee Child’s brother, Andrew Grant, who has just published his own debut novel, Even.
Interviews at conferences vary in quality, but Natasha is very experienced and accomplished at drawing her interviewees out, and the result was very thought-provoking as far as I was concerned. Anyone with an interest in writing thrillers would have learned quite a bit, I feel.
I was impressed, above all, by two crucial qualities that Lee Child brings to his craft, which I’d summarise as focus and simplicity. I’d guess he’s always been very focused, but it seems that being made redundant from Granada TV in the 90s kick-started his career as a novelist – the injustice of his treatment clearly still burns. As an employment lawyer, I’ve known many people who have had similarly harsh experiences, but none have responded by forging careers which were both financially successful and earned them worldwide fame.
Allying simplicity to quality, it seems to me, is one of the hardest tricks for any creative artist to pull off. Simplicity is one of the reasons why Agatha Christie’s books have lasted so well. It is one of the reasons why Hal David’s lyrics have entered the consciousness of people the world over who would not recognise his name. I once heard Hal David say in an interview that it’s too easy to make things complicated, and the more I’ve reflected on this, the more I realise, he is right. And hearing Lee Child (one of whose books is sold every second, apparently – blimey!) explain his approach to the Jack Reacher books gave me a real insight into the secrets of his success. Not easy to emulate, though if anyone can do it, it may just be Andrew Grant.