And so it begins. After an opening ceremony/party where Lee Child was awarded the Oustanding Contribution To Crime Fiction award (and Chris Brookmyre win the Crime Novel Of The Year award for Black Widow), the 15th Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival snapped into gear. Elly Griffiths is this year’s chair, and she and the festival team have done an outstanding job at putting together a really great line-up. I’ll be doing my best to bring you as much of the action as I can (although I’m kind of working today a bit). First up, some bloke called Lee Child.
Interviewing Child in the opening session of this year’s festival was James Naughtie, and it was a brilliantly insightful chat, which took in everything from the complex and sometimes unknowable relationship between words on a page and a reader’s brain and their interpretation of them, to Lee’s globe-straddling character, Jack Reacher.
Child is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Reacher this year, and even though he did say he was going to stop at 21 novels, there are more on the way. He said he was an old showbiz person who has been taught to leave people wanting more. He had been trying to pick the best time to quit, but then… he explained that there is an emotional contract between writer and reader and once a book is out there in the open, it’s the reader who then takes it as their own. He couldn’t let his readers down, who had formed such a bond with his character.
And this is the kind of thing from Child – fully aware and thankful of the relationship between reader and writer; something that is absolutely sacrosanct and paramount. An unbreakable bond. As a prolific reader himself, he knows this all too well. (He said that one third of the books that he reads are crime novels, another third is from debut authors and the other third a random books. He litereally goes into a shop, closes his eyes and chooses one at random.)
The thing to know about Lee Child is, behind his laconic, dry delivery, is that he is immensely intelligent, personable and insightful, and generous with his knowledge and insight. In some ways – and this is not a slight in any way – he’s the exact opposite of the Jack Reacher books he writes, which are high-concept and high-octane thrillers that seem, on the surface, not cerebral in the in any way.
Here though, Child spoke about the power of the first sentence, and how he loves them – they are unique – and the way he writes: he writes in a linear way and cannot go back to anything to fill in the gaps, which many writers do. He cited an example of where, after a couple of word at the start of the book, he wanted to mention a helicopter. Rather than leave a gap and come back to it, he stopped, went to the bookshop, bought a book on helicopters and researched them. He then went to his own book to carry on.
One quote stuck out from this excellent session: “Every great novel needs two things: unfortunately no one knows what they are.”
NB: I write this really quickly, so forgive any typos and strangely-written sentences