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‘I wanted a younger take on Jack Reacher that would move him closer to the present day’

Latha Srinivasan | Updated on December 16, 2020

Brothers in arms: Lee Child (left) with Andrew   -  TASHA ALEXANDER

Lee Child and his brother, Andrew, on moulding the new Jack Reacher book together and keeping editors and readers in the dark on who wrote what

* James Dover Grant — known by his pen name Lee Child — is the creator of the immensely popular fictional character, the former military policeman Jack Reacher, portrayed in cinema by Tom Cruise

* Child, 66, has just released The Sentinel, the 25th Jack Reacher book which he has co-authored with his younger brother Andrew Child, who has written several crime thrillers as Andrew Grant

* “I thought he should be killed off when the time came; have a noble end where he sacrifices himself for the greater good”

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He has sold more than a 100 million books and is now published in 49 languages. James Dover Grant — known by his pen name Lee Child — is the creator of the immensely popular fictional character, the former military policeman Jack Reacher, portrayed in cinema by Tom Cruise. Child, 66, has just released The Sentinel, the 25th Jack Reacher book which he has co-authored with his younger brother Andrew Child, who has written several crime thrillers as Andrew Grant. The elder brother decided to pass the Jack Reacher series to Andrew, 52, rather than giving the character a “noble end”.

Cop central: Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher   -  KAREN BALLARD

 

In an exclusive video interview, the two British authors tell BLink about their collaboration, readers’ expectations, and more. Excerpts:

Lee, at what point did you realise you couldn’t bump off Jack Reacher but had to keep him going?

Lee Child (LC): That’s a great question because that’s really at the heart of this whole thing. In a character sense, I thought he should be killed off when the time came; have a noble end where he sacrifices himself for the greater good because that’s the sort of person he is. I even had a title for the last book — ‘Die Lonely’. The audience at book events would groan with genuine hurt and disappointment. Over the years, I realised that readers have a very intimate relationship with characters and it would have been gratuitously cruel to do that. I modified it to a metaphorical end so the series would stop and he’d settle somewhere. Then I had the crazy idea that I could ask Andrew to keep it going for potentially another decade or two. It was a big, crucial ask. In my mind, it was a good plan but I had to find out whether Andrew thought it was a good plan.

Was it a natural progression that it was only your younger brother Andrew and no one else who could take this forward when you thought of passing on the baton?

LC: Exactly! Exactly those words — it was only he and nobody else. I have seen this done before when the author dies and I was interested in this process. Three years after Stieg Larsson died, Swedish journalist David Lagercrantz took over the (Lisbeth Salander) series and The New York Times asked me to review his book. I had the chance to study it and my opinion was it [having a new author after the original author dies] is not possible because the last few per cent of the book is a kind of madness that comes from the original author’s subconscious. There’s no way of faking that. The only way is if the new author has the same subconscious. Though Andrew doesn’t have exactly the same subconscious as mine, it’s closer than any other human’s. I thought this does have a chance since I haven’t died and it could be seamless. I was convinced it could work and it was just whether Andrew shared the same opinion and we could make it work.

The Sentinel; Lee Child and Andrew Child; Penguin; Fiction; ₹699

 

The question now is whether your readers would accept it and what they would think.

LC: That was very much on our minds. Readers love familiarity and the comfort of knowing what they’re going to get. It was absolutely a potential point of friction that the readers might irrationally object to like they did to Tom Cruise being in the movie. But on the other hand, right from the very beginning, I tried to make it not about me but about Jack Reacher. My ambition was that someone would walk into the bookstore and not ask for The Sentinel or the new Lee Child but the new Jack Reacher. Genuinely, on a reader level, the author does not matter, it’s only the character. I bet there are hundreds of thousands of readers who haven’t noticed that the author credits have expanded.

Andrew, do you feel any pressure now that you are to continue your brother’s legacy with Jack Reacher? It's a huge responsibility, isn’t it?

Andrew Child (AC): It’s an enormous responsibility. I remember way back, when Lee wrote Killing Floor, and we were talking about writing, he said to me the author’s three priorities were: The readers, the readers and the readers. They come first. I feel a huge responsibility to them but also the added responsibility to my brother. Reacher is this incredible global phenomenon that he created; he trusted me with it. I was absolutely determined from the outset to not let him or the readers down. When you’re writing for some reason — doesn’t matter how many books you’ve written or how successful you are — you always feel this self-doubt: Will it be any good? Will people like it? Stephen King talks about how he writes very fast in order to outrun the self-doubt. You have to work out strategies so that you can isolate and insulate yourself from it and get up in the morning and work. I have been dealing with it, albeit on a smaller scale, over the last 10-plus years. It was one of the biggest things to deal with but you launch in and do your best.

Is there a method to co-authoring in terms of ideas and writing?

LC: The fundamental decision is about the feel of the book — the setting and subject matter. I try to be as self-aware and as self-critical as I possibly can. I was aware that I was falling behind — the world is moving on without me. You got to be honest with yourself as an artist. You got to say there comes a point where you don’t develop any more. I was feeling that point was coming. I told Andrew you figure out the story; I don’t want any input into the actual plot. I wanted a younger, fresher take on Reacher that would move him slightly closer to the present day. Then it was just about writing the scenes and it was basically chunks back and forth on mail during the pandemic and it was actually great because all we had to work on was the words on the page. It made us focus on the elemental truth that the words have to carry the weight. It was seamless and very enjoyable from my point of view because I was seeing a Reacher book materialise and I didn’t have to do it all. (Smiles) It was fantastic!

Andrew, every writer has their own voice; do you feel that yours is similar to your brother’s?

AC: I think getting the voice right in The Sentinel was the most important part. In terms of the character, I was the first ever Reacher fan; I remember reading Killing Floor when it was still written in pencil. Because it sprung from my brother’s subconscious and we are similar people, I understand how Reacher reacts, responds and what his motives, priories and values are. What was more difficult was making it sound like a Reacher book and creating the kind of prose that grabs you by the scruff of the neck at the beginning and doesn’t let you go till the end. That is a lot harder to do than it seems. Part of the problem for me was having written books of my own over the ten plus years and trying not to consciously sound like my brother. I spent all that time trying to sound different and, now, I had to do a 180-degree turn and had to sound the same!

We had a private deal at the beginning that we would never reveal who wrote which parts — even our editors don’t know. Every now and again, someone pops up on Facebook or mail and says: We know you wrote this bit and Lee wrote that but no one has ever got it right! (Smiles) It’s really gratifying to me that people can’t tell the difference.

The Sentinel had mixed reviews. Do you read reviews and do they bother you?

LC: Reviews never bothered me. I appreciate the care and attention that critics put in in intelligent reviews. Generally speaking, people have been very kind to me. The point of a book is not to impress a reviewer or win a prize — the point of a book is to give the reader a great couple of days. If you can do that, then that is success no matter what anybody else is saying. Evidently, billions of people read the Reacher books and love them. Those are the reviews that I like!

Latha Srinivasan is a journalist based in Chennai

Published on December 16, 2020

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