As Lee Child takes the helm of the 2018 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, we spoke to him about why Harrogate plays a starring role…
He’s sold 100 million books, with a copy selling every nine seconds somewhere in the world.
Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher, The Midnight Line, is currently topping the bestselling charts, and one Harrogate man has a starring role.
Private Investigator, Terry Bramall, may be a fictional character in the thriller set in Wyoming, but his namesake is none other than philanthropist Dr Terry Bramall CBE. Described as ‘almost dapper’, Lee said: “I gave him a really good part and tried to make it look a bit like him as well.”
Terry Bramall, and his wife Liz, are Future 50 Vice Presidents of Harrogate International Festivals – the arts charity who co-founded the crime writing festival with author Val McDermid and agent, Jane Gregory, back in 2003. Lee Child is also a Future 50 Vice President, alongside a wealth of names including Julian Lloyd Webber, supporting the arts charity’s fundraising mission to secure its future 50 years, as just 2% of its income is from public monies.
Terry won the opportunity to be named in the book at a charity auction for Harrogate International Festivals.
Lee’s links with Harrogate, and his support of the Festival, is long-standing. At the 2017 festival, he won the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction award, joining a pantheon of great crime authors who previously received the accolade, including Ruth Rendell, PD James and Colin Dexter.
He’s on record claiming it as the best crime writing festival in the world.
“The reason why I think they wanted me to be Programming Chair is because I have access to people in America” Lee said, “so we’re going to see some big names from America, and I think people are going to be thrilled with the line up, I think it’s going to be very, very attractive and somewhat different to what we’ve had before – there will be people there that haven’t been before and it will certainly be a different mixture. I don’t think anyone is going to be disappointed when they reveal the list of names, I think everyone’s going to say wow, that’s pretty good.”
The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, sponsored by the beer of course, has a reputation as a very big friendly party, why are crime authors so amiable?
“Well I think it can only be we get rid of all our hostility on the page because we write about some pretty gruesome stuff, so that’s a kind of therapy getting rid of it in the books,” Lee said. “So in real life everyone is incredibly friendly, they really are, if you look at the people who turn up to Harrogate probably in their books they’ve killed a thousand people collectively that year in various stories and yet they’re the nicest people possible as they must be getting it out of their system.”
“It’s a lonely job so you really grab the opportunity to socialise,” Lee added. “Writers are the only people that truly understand what we’re doing, which is not to say it’s a problem it’s the greatest job in the world, compared to other people’s jobs there’s no problems at all, but there are various ups and downs and ins and outs and really only another writer will understand it so we feel at home with each other.”
Giants of the genre have featured over the years including JK Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, Ian Rankin, Jo Nesbo, PD James and Ruth Rendell.
Harrogate is also famed for its no barriers approach, where readers rub shoulders with authors.
Simon Theakston, title sponsor of the crime writing festival, described Lee Child as a ‘hero’ to readers. Do any of his fans or readers stand out?
“A lot of them because there’s no reason why they should read my books, there’s no law that says they’ve got to, so anyone who does is paying me a huge compliment. It’s not really for the money because books are very cheap now but for the time; they’re giving me two, three days of their life, and I think that’s a huge compliment. I get these very touching messages. There are two categories, one is women who find it helps them bond or re-bond with their fathers; they both read the Reacher books and discuss them and it brings a new dimension to their relationship or rekindles their relationship. The other category is sad ones. Just today someone told me their dad was having cancer treatment and reading all the books took his mind of it getting him through the chemotherapy, so that’s useful, the books are literally helping somebody and that’s a great feeling.”
Jim Grant from Coventry wrote his first novel, the Killing Floor, which came out in 1997 and saw the reinvention of Jim to Lee. He’d been made redundant from his job at Granada TV, and with a few months’ pay packet, he spent £3.99 on pencils and paper, sat down at his kitchen table and began to write his revenge novel.
It’s the stuff of daydreams. Now, he lives in New York. He’s flown in a helicopter with Tom Cruise (he’s had cameos in each of the Reacher films) and of course is one of the biggest selling authors of all time.
In what must feel like another world, Lee grew up visiting his grandma in Otley, going on day trips to Harrogate, a posh town that felt you needed a ‘passport to get in’. He’s said his parents were obsessed with respectability. Was it always his ambition to escape England?
“I’m of an age where I grew up in old fashioned England where it was relatively class bound and your opportunities were pre-determined and limited based on where you came from. So in a sense I did want to get rid of it, and I was happy to get out to America where you have a chance of making it whoever you are.”
He still though feels a sense of ‘coming home’ – particularly when in Harrogate.
“Sometimes it’s very annoying because you walk back into the new England and its full of petty rules and prohibitions, but I think Yorkshire is still a little simpler and more old fashioned and less touched by that kind of thing, certainly Harrogate has a charm that is old fashioned, so I do feel at home there yeah.”
From New York to old Yorkshire.
Child no longer identifies as Jim Grant, ‘the past is the past’ and has never been happier than he is now. Although success has taught him in life “you’re still the same person and the world is still the same. It’s not really important, success or money, it’s much more about people and friends.”
In Harrogate, everyone is welcomed as a friend.
“I just had lunch with a very shy reader who does come to Harrogate every year,” Lee said, “and if he fits in anyone fits in you know, anybody can come and they will be welcomed as an absolute equal, they won’t stand out as different in anyway, and everybody will be really happy to see them and authors will be really happy to talk to them because authors love nobody better than their readers.”
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