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Lee Child & Andrew Child

Lee Child and Andrew Child were born in England. Lee went to law school in Sheffield, England, and after part-time work in the theater he joined Granada Television in Manchester for what turned out to be an eighteen-year career as a presentation director during British TV’s “golden age.” Lee was fired in 1995 at 40 because of corporate restructuring. Lee was always a voracious reader, so he decided to see an opportunity where others might have seen a crisis and bought six dollars’ worth of paper and pencils and sat down to write a book, Killing Floor, the first in the Jack Reacher series.

After college, Andrew set up and ran a small independent theatre company, then moved into the telecommunications industry where he worked for fifteen years. He escaped the corporate life, and established himself as the author of the several critically acclaimed novels like Even, False Positive, and Too Close To Home.

Lee and Andrew’s new Reacher novel, BETTER OFF DEAD, is the 26th Jack Reacher novel and the second one as co-authors. It was published on October 26th.

I received an advance review copy and loved it. It’s another great Reacher thriller that finds him heading out west to see the Pacific Ocean, before he gets sidelined in a U.S. – Mexico Border town and stumbles into nefarious plan involving chemical weapons.

I enjoyed chatting with Lee and Andrew about what it’s like for brothers working together creatively; what it was like for Andrew to step into the iconic Jack Reacher world, about the new Reacher series coming soon on Amazon Prime, and a lot more.

Connect with Lee Child & Andrew Child

Latest Book

Other Books by Lee Child

Jack Reacher books in order

Others Books by Andrew Child (As Andrew Grant)

Show Notes and Resources

Transcript.

Please note, this transcirpt was generated by automated software, not a human, and only lightly edited, so it might have errors or read choppy here and there.

Alan Petersen
Hi, everybody. This is Alan with Meet the Thriller author and on the podcast today, I have Lee Child and Andrew Child. Lee is the author of 25 New York Times Bestselling Jack Reacher thrillers and Andrew Child, who also writes as Andrew Grant, is the author of Run, False Positive and Too Close To Home. Their new book together, Better Off Dead is the 26th Jack Reacher book, which will be published on October 26. Welcome to the podcast.

Lee Child
Thank you very much. Good to be here.

Andrew Child
Thanks, Alan. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Alan Petersen
Great to have you both here. So the 26th Reacher book. That’s amazingly. Did you realize that the series could last a while when you first started or just like, beyond anything you ever dreamed?

Lee Child
Well, it’s a great choice of words that dream because of course you dream it. Yeah. You write your first book and you think great, this could run for 50 books. This could be everything now forever. And so, of course, it’s a dream. And I thought about it. The real question is, did I expect it? And the answer to that, of course, is no. If you expect to start a series and have it run, we’re at 26 full length novels now and have full length volume of short stories. If you were to say, yeah, I’m doing my first book, and it’s going to run for 26 novels, at least probably 30, maybe 40 people just assume you’re crazy because, of course, the odds are totally against it.

Speaker 2
But in terms of dreaming, yeah, it’s like that after the Super Bowl, when the touchline commentator gets hold of the kid who has just scored the wedding touchdown, and he says, Did you have a dream? You would score the wedding touchdown in the Super Bowl, and the kid says, no, it’s a dream come true. Of course he’s dreamed he would. He scored that touchdown 1000 times in his backyard. So it was there as a theoretical target. But did I think it would be achieved? Not really.

Alan Petersen
I think we lost Andrew, but I can edit them back in. Something that’s so fascinating to me is that I’ve read in your interviews, of course, because I’ve been a big fan of your books for a long time that you started to write because you were fired from your corporate job. And writing is such a tough profession. Anyway, what made you think that you’re going to give it a shot? Is that something that you always dreamed that you wanted to be a writer, a fiction writer?

Lee Child
I was always a huge reader, and that is the key here that nobody becomes a writer unless they’re a reader first, really long term, tens of thousands of books over your life so far. Then maybe you’re ready to become a writer. And I have been a reader without any thought. I’ve ever been a writer at all. I was really happy reading other people’s stuff, but I was working in television, and I got fired, not because of any personal misdemeanor or anything, just corporate restructuring. That downsizing thing that happened a lot in the early and mid 1990s.

Speaker 2
So it really became a question of what next? I’d been a Union organizer in the TV business, and that effectively meant that I was never going to get another job in the TV business again. I was effectively blacklisted. So it was a question of what else. And I just had that idea. I’ve read all these books. I’ve lived in the world of books as a reader, and I have the kind of personality that if I’ve really enjoyed something, I want to do it as well. And a lot of that is impossible.

Speaker 2
I love watching the New York Yankees, but I’m not going to play center field for the Yankees. A lot of these things are fruitless dreams, but I figured that yeah, I could try to write a book. It was about all that was available to me. And what you said earlier about it’s a tough business. It’s not as tough as television, that’s for sure. I figured if I survived television, I could survive anything. And that has actually been the biggest pleasure for me. That the world of books, the world of writers, readers and publishers and booksellers and book bloggers.

Speaker 2
People like you who run podcasts around the issue of books and their writers. They’re just the nicest people. It is the last place you will find really nice people. And that has been a great pleasure. And it has made it really pretty trouble free. I mean, there’s nothing like what you get in television. Hunter Thompson has a great quote about television. He says television is a bloodsoaked money trench where pimps and thieves run free and good men go to die. Then he added, and there is a negative side.

Speaker 2
So that was the world I was coming out of. And so the toughness of the writing job didn’t appear at all to be a thing. It was a lovely job. It was an easy job, and it was surrounded by nice people. The only unknown in publishing is is what you generate going to be of interest to a lot of other people. That’s the only question. And there’s no way of rigging that question. You can’t hack that question. It’s either yes or no. What you produce literally what you produce is always going to be interesting to some people.

Speaker 2
You could write anything about anything, and you’re going to find a couple of hundred people who really love it. The question is, can you expand that couple of hundred to a couple of million? And that is in the lap of the gods. That is completely unpredictable. And there’s no way of knowing that.

Alan Petersen
Was Jack Reacher Killing floor. Was that your first attempt to writing a novel?

Lee Child
Absolutely. The first line of that book is the first fiction I ever wrote. But it was a particular circumstance. As you pointed out, I’ve been fired from my job. This had to work. This was not a thing about I would kind of like to do it or try my hand at it. Or let’s see how it goes. There was none of that. It had to work. Otherwise I was going to starve. And so the question, then, is, is that a benefit? Looking back on it, I think absolutely.

Speaker 2
Yeah. I had no childhood ambition to be a writer. I didn’t even conceive of that. I didn’t know what a writer was, really. I knew nothing about the culture of writing. So it was not that I wanted to be a writer. It was that I wanted to keep a roof over my head and keep some food on the table. And that absolute concentration on the end result. It was 100% about the end result. None of it was about this alleged glamor of being a writer. It was about getting the product to the market and hoping that it works and looking back on it for me.

Speaker 2
Anyway, it worked great. I would not have done it. I think if I’d had the day job continuing, I would not have done it like a lot of other people do it as a kind of hobby or let’s do it in parallel with the day job. Let’s see if it works. I needed that 110% panic. It was this or starve. And so when people ask me for advice about being a writer, I say, Quit your job and give all your money away. Then you’ll concentrate.

Alan Petersen
That’s a desperation, right? Nothing to fall back on. Andrew, when I was doing research on you guys, you were one of the first Reacher readers when Lee first wrote The Killing Floor. Is that correct?

Andrew Child
Yeah. I mean, the boot was very much on the other foot in those days because I had a pretty decent job working for a telecommunications company in England, and he was out of work like he was saying. So he came up with this idea to write a book to pay his bills, which is a super high risk strategy. And then he knew that I was the one in the family who read the most thrillers. So he sent me the early manuscript, still written in pencil, just to get a kind of second opinion as to whether he was wasting his time.

Speaker 3
And I remember I’ve never been as frightened reading a book as I was reading that one because first of all, if it had been no good, I was going to be the one who’s going to have to call my big brother and say, Sorry, mate, your book is no good. I mean, who wants to do that? But on top of that, this is what he needed to keep the roof over his head and the food on his table. So I was thinking, Well, if it is terrible, not only do I have to tell him, but I’m probably going to have to send him food parcels or let him come and live in the corner of my living room or something.

Speaker 3
I was really worried about it. But of course, as it turned out, it was a magnificent book, and I need not to have worried.

Speaker 2
I guess you could say I’m the oldest Reacher fan in the world. So it’s been an interesting ride with Jack from those days right through to today.

Alan Petersen
I’m kind of curious, too, now, because you both are writing your own books separately. And now you’re working as a team. How is that whole collaboration process been? Has it been what you expected? Better or worse?

Lee Child
It’s been different from what we thought it was going to be because of this Covid thing. When we started out, it was prior to the pandemic that’s when we got the idea. And I think the both of us imagined we’d be kicking around in the same office, sitting nose to nose across the desk with a coffee machine running, and we would sort of thrash it out and do it that way. But then the pandemic started and we tried to be responsible citizens like everybody else.

Speaker 2
And we took it seriously. We isolated. And even though we live relatively close to each other, it meant that we were still working remotely. And so in a way, for me, that was actually really beneficial, because what it took out of the process was the potential to pre explain stuff. I mean, I could quite picture myself saying to Andrew, we’re sitting there at the desk, we’ve got our coffee going. I could quite imagine saying to him, yeah, for this next bit. I wanted to try and introduce this flavor of menace, and so I did this, and I did that.

Speaker 2
And here’s the paragraph. And by that point, he has preconceptions. I’ve explained what I was trying to do. Therefore he might well see it and say, yeah, that’s fine. But doing it remotely, we had nothing except the words going back and forth in emails, and so I would not have the opportunity to pre explain it and to butter him up into seeing it. How I thought it was. It was just words, and therefore it was much easier to know, do these words work or do they not?

Speaker 2
It was obvious without all the explanation and persuasion around it. It was a much more direct process, and it was much more clinical in the sense that, yeah, all the reader is ever going to see are these words. So why don’t we, as writers, see those words, too, and nothing else? And I think it worked really well. And maybe even after the pandemic is a memory, maybe we should continue doing that because there is a purity to it. Yeah.

Alan Petersen
We have two books now under this new pandemic times, right. Working together.

Lee Child
Probably the first five at this rate. Yeah.

Alan Petersen
Unfortunately, the way it’s going, it’s not looking like it’s going to go back to the way it used to be anytime soon.

Andrew Child
No, I don’t think so. But this method Lee was talking about was great because it meant that we were each the first reader for the other person stuff. And then you had that genuinely did you not go into it with a preconception because of anything the other person had prefaced it with. But you also had the same response as a reader. You would go through it and then at the end of it, hopefully you were buzzing for more and you wanted to know what happened next. But maybe you did.

Speaker 3
And maybe it was a slug to get through that bit. Maybe it needed tightening or explain. So the reactions that we got, I think, are much more authentic and much more reliable. As a result.

Alan Petersen
I was kind of curious Lee by your decision to start, you’ve created such an iconic character and Hustle name Jack Reacher. When you started thinking about stepping away from that, what was your thought process? And when did you think that you might ask Andrew to come on board? How did that work out?

Lee Child
Well, the fact that Richer had established himself as a popular character. And there is a moment. First of all, he’s just known to me only when I’m writing it and then the early readers and the core audience at the beginning, a few thousand people, then a few, tens of thousands of people. You hit a point. And I think for me it was eight years in something like that, you could even say ten years in where the character suddenly blooms and suddenly migrates outward. He is no longer just on the page.

Speaker 2
He’s a figment of millions of people’s imagination. He becomes the kind of touchstone that is independent of anything else. And I love collecting all the references to reach her around the world. And there’s a great one in the official parliamentary record of the New Zealand Parliament reaches beliefs were brought up in a parliamentary debate about something. And they’re there now. For all the history, the migration of the character outward is delightful to watch. But it also meant that I completely concede. After ten years or 15 years, Richard was not owned by me any longer.

Speaker 2
Reacher was an independent entity out there, owned and created by millions of readers, which I felt inside gave me space for the decision that I ultimately took, which was to step back and ask Andrew to do it because the character was floating free. At that point, the character was not necessarily tied to me as an individual. He was an independent person. And that made it easier. I think, for another writer to step in in the shadows, essentially because we are in the shadows according to what the reader thinks.

Speaker 2
The reader doesn’t care about me or about Andrew or about anybody. The reader cares about the character to the point where it can become an obsession. I heard a lovely story about the guy who does the official bookkeeping at my literary agency. He’s a crusty old accountant. He has to prepare the books for audit by the tax people. And that’s his job. And he was in an airport one time buying a book and the queue of the register. The woman in front of him had the new Reacher book, and he couldn’t help himself.

Speaker 2
He said, I work for the agency that represents that author. And this old lady said, what author? And Peter said, Well, Lee Child, the agency I work for, represents him. We’re his agents. And she said, Who’s Lee Child? And Peter said, Well, he writes those books. And she said, no, these are Jack Richard books. And he said, yeah, but Licha writes them. And she said, Why? You mean, like Jack tells him the story, and then he writes it down. Now, that is an extreme example, but that is to have people feel.

Speaker 2
So there was space for Andrew to step in because the character is divorced from me by now. And I wanted him to do that because as a reader myself, dozens of times in your life, you’ll be into a series and you’ll notice that it falls off in quality after a while. Lots of series are great for the first six to eight books or whatever, sometimes even ten. But then the author gets old and tired. I could feel it in myself that maybe not next year, maybe not the year after.

Speaker 2
But soon I would be phoning it in because I’m just running out of gas. That was a sad day because I thought, yeah, I’ve got to honor that promise I made. I’ll never phone it in. So this is the end of the series. But I was really sad because Richard is getting a lot of people a lot of fun. He’s a part of people’s lives, and I was sad for them. So I started fantasizing about could I take a magic potion? Maybe I could even make one myself, mix up some amphetamine and Viagra and weed or whatever it needs.

Speaker 2
And suddenly I’ll wake up 15 years younger, full of vigor and energy and ideas again. But that’s only a Daydream. But then I thought, Wait a minute. I actually know somebody who is pretty much like me 15 years ago, full of energy and creativity and ideas. So that’s when I got the idea of asking Andrew to do it, but it all depended on the fact that, yeah, Reacher is not mine. He’s not Andrews, he just is. He exists, and we have to deal with him the same as all the readers do.

Alan Petersen
Andrew, any hesitation on your point? I mean, you’re writing your own thrillers, and all of a sudden you’re asked to step into this iconic character or any hesitation.

Andrew Child
It was completely out of the blue. I hadn’t seen it coming. My head was full of questions, but something that Lee was saying there about that bond between Reacher and the readers. Over the years. I’ve been to lots and lots of these events in the old days, when you could do them in person. I’ve been to dozens and dozens of those, and I remember in the year, maybe after a safe. Maybe it was around about the third book. For the first time, people started asking things like, Well, how long is this series going to run?

Speaker 3
So he would always try to answer that question. And then a couple more books into the series, it would be, well, How’s it going to end. And at this point, when there were four or five books, Lee would always say, Well, I envisage it. At some point, Reacher will bleed to death on the grimy floor of a lonely roadside motel, and I’ve watched people’s reactions in the audience. And when it seemed like this remote possibility because he probably said he was going to write 21 books or something at that point, and they’re thinking 16 less.

Speaker 3
You could say they weren’t too worried about it. But over the years, the questions kept coming and the answer was always the same. And as it got to, like, 19 books, 20 books. I could feel the kind of palpable panic spreading throughout the audience at those events when he talks about reach or dying. So it wasn’t even really a theoretical thing that there might be not only might reach an end, but there would be a reaction to that. There would be repercussions from that because I’ve seen it, and I’ve felt it in the crowd at those events.

Speaker 3
So that was really the main thing running through my head was that if I didn’t do it, then there would be no more Reacher. And personally, I didn’t want that because I’ve been reading them since the very beginning and loving them. And I know what it’s like every year to be looking forward to the next installment. I didn’t want that to go away, and I certainly didn’t want it to be my fault that it would go away because I remembered the look on everybody’s faces at those crowds when the idea of reach a dying kind of hit them.

Speaker 3
So I felt in the same way that if Reach is faced with a situation where he knows what is the right thing, he feels obliged to do it. I kind of felt the same thing. It was the right thing to do. So I was sad to have to move the stuff I was working on at the time to the back burner because I was really enjoying it. It was really fun to do. And I felt a little bad about that. But at the same time, I really felt the obligation to keep Reacher alive and kicking on the page because he really is a separate entity to us.

Speaker 3
Over the years, time after time would be hanging out, doing something, watching a football game or going to a Museum, whatever it is we might be doing, and something would inevitably crop up where we would say, oh, well, what would richer do about this? What would Richard think about that? So he really existed almost like an extra imaginary brother. He was kind of there in the room with us all the time. So that probably makes us sound like perhaps we need some kind of specialized attention, but that really was the way that we felt about it.

Alan Petersen
I’m kind of curious with regards to, like, the writing responsibilities. How is that approached? And how do you guys handle that?

Lee Child
Well, I’m very selfish about it, because I’ve always identified two parts of writing. It’s really a 50 50 deal. The first part is the glorious daydreaming part of it just lying around for hours, just daydreaming. What might happen now, what could be a good twist at this moment? How do we darken the mood here? You’re just lying there on your sofa making stuff up. And that is the absolute joy of writing. And then, of course, there’s the part that’s sort of hard graph, like the typing. These books are 100,000 words long, and they’ve got to be the correct words in the correct order with the correct spelling.

Speaker 2
And you’ve got to save the file and you’ve got to send it back and forth and receive the page proofs and check them and all of that kind of thing, which, to me, that’s the boring half of writing. So being the elder brother and being incredibly mean and selfish, I’m participating in the fun half, and Andrew is doing all the bad half. So really, he’s doing three quarters of the work, and I’m doing the happy quarter of the work.

Alan Petersen
I’m the youngest. I have an older brother, too, Andrew. So I know how that goes. Yeah.

Andrew Child
You know how that feels, Alan

Alan Petersen
I’m thinking with two books under your belt now, two Reacher books. What’s been your impression so far? Is it harder, easier? What’s been your impression so far? Two books in.

Lee Child
My first major takeaway is that it’s working, which was never guaranteed. It was a mystery. Would it work or not? I had no doubt at all that Andrew has the technical chops to do it, but we are both exceptionally stubborn individuals, and I think that if we had Tombstones, eventually, it would have a name on it. And then both of us, the second line would be did not play well with others. And so there was a slight worry on my part that would we be physically able to actually do it? And yes, we can. It’s working really well. That is my first takeaway. Technically, what I found most interesting about it is that we sort of compensate for each other’s weaknesses in a way, my weaknesses. I had two in particular that bedevil me every time that I felt some of the supporting characters were a bit one dimensional, whereas Andrew naturally produces really plausible three dimensional characters, be they good or bad. So I think that is a definite bonus for the series. But the other thing I used to do is I never worked with an outline or a plan. It’s all uncharted territory, and I always had this kind of fear in the back of my mind that the book is going to be too short. And of course, you want pace. You want to race through the book, but when you’re writing at a high pace, you’re burning through ideas and concepts incredibly quickly. I remember the last book I did on my own, or one of the last ones I did on my own. It was called The Midnight Line, and I really wanted to understand the psychology of wounded and disfigured service people.

Lee Child
So I went to dinner with I’ve met quite a few. I’ve met a lot of limbless veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan through other type of circumstances, and I’ve noticed their attitude that the guys with one artificial leg are obviously traumatized by that, obviously disabled by that. But in a sense, they’re almost proud of it. And they have these million dollar titanium legs, and they inevitably wear shorts because somehow they need it to be acknowledged. It can be public. But then there’s another raft of wounded veterans that are disfigured and they stay in the shadows. So I went to dinner with a couple of people who knew that world very well, and we talked for, I don’t know, 3 hours, probably over dinner. And that whole conversation boiled down to about two lines in the book because you’ve got to have the economy of style. And so I was permanently suffering from this fear that the book is going to be too short, which inevitably meant that I knew that there were bad lines in there, or there could be a couple of unnecessary lines in what I’d written, and I would not take them out because I was afraid of the length. And then when I arrived at the end of the book and it was long enough, then I would cheerfully go back and take them out. But doing it with Andrew, I propose those lines, and he just says no, and that is so efficient. It means I’m not dethering about for the next several weeks desperately trying to find a reason to save those lines. It’s just no move on. And that has made it faster and leaner. And as a process, it can be hurtful. And I do the same to him. I just say no, that doesn’t work. No question that is hurtful, but it is actually very temporary that you get over it real quick and you realize, yeah, the book is better because of it. We’re moving ahead relentlessly, and we’re getting it right as we go along.

Alan Petersen
Is that your feeling as well, Andrew? Now with two books. What’s your take on it?

Andrew Child
Yeah, that’s certainly true. And it was completely unforeseen. But I think it’s just a product to the fact that we are both we’re very focused people. We are absolutely clear about what it is we’re trying to do, and that is to produce the best foot we can possibly produce, and that takes priority over everything else. I would rather have my feelings hurt a couple of dozen times and then come up with a book that we can be really proud of. Then either wind up with a book that is less good or take longer getting to the finishing line because Liz is worried about hurting my feelings. You know what I mean? It’s much more important. Doing it right is more important than anything else. I think we both feel the same about that. So we just put everything into doing it as well as we can. But then I also had to learn about what it’s like to work with Lee’s technique, because Lee famously doesn’t outline everything is an instinctive, intuitive, organic decision. And ultimately, once you get the hang of it, and I think it’s really what it boils down to is kind of trusting your subconscious to take you in the right direction. Once you can get enough confidence to do that, it works really well. But at the beginning, when we were working on the first one together, I was constantly wishing that I knew what was going to happen next. I wanted that safety net in case I slipped off the tightrope, and it took me a while to really, truly believe that I didn’t need it, that we would reach the other side, even without it. And actually we’d reach the other side in better shape because you have to be more confident and you have to be more direct if you really believe you’re going to make it across without needing that tightrope. Sorry, without needing that safety net of an outline lying below you in case you fell

Alan Petersen
So Andrew on your solo projects that you’re working on your own before the Reacher books were you an outliner and a plotter?

Andrew Child
I was never a hardcore outliner. I’ve never worked that way. Some people will kind of outline every passage of every scene of every chapter, and I’ve never worked that way. But I did always like to have some kind of sense of where I was going. I used to think of it. Have you ever heard it described as the kind of driving through fog method? You know where you’re leaving from, you know where you want to arrive, but at any given time, you can only see as far as the headlights cut through the fog in front. So I always like the headlights on in that fog with the way it’s like driving through with the headlights off. You just have to trust you’re going to somehow instinctively stay on the road. And so that’s a little adjusting. I think the books I did three books about a Detective in Birmingham, Alabama, and the thing I had going in those books was I always had three storylines that were intertwined, and I wanted just from a stylistic point of view, to make sure that you never had the same store. It’s the same one of the three strands mentioned in consecutive chapters. I was one I wanted to go ABC, ABC, ABC. So I had to do a little bit more pre planning with those books simply to keep the structure straight, because otherwise there was a danger that I would have used that strand a and I still had a lot of B left, and then I hadn’t even started on C, so I had to make sure that they were evenly distributed. So those three, I’d stay with the ones I did plan the most, and then the other ones, it varied more or less. I guess my early books were probably the ones that I wrote in the most similar way, because then I really did just have a concept for what I wanted the book to vaguely be about and then just write the story. As it occurred to me.

Alan Petersen
Kind of curious. We’ve mentioned you’re famous for not really knowing what the story is when you start to write on September 1, have you ever had, like, a false start or where, like the story wasn’t taking off?

Lee Child
I never have I have this absolute horror of throwing stuff away. I mean, I remember once I was having lunch with Dennis Lauren, I think, and he was talking about his work in progress, and he said he got to 34,000 words and realized it was going nowhere, and he scrapped them all and started over. And I would prefer to hang myself than scrap 34,000 words. So as a sort of defensive mechanism, I guess I’ve become really good at spotting if it’s going nowhere. And sure, I’ll sometimes start a sentence and get four or five words into it and realize now that’s going nowhere. So I’ll delete four or five words and start over, but nothing more than that because it just doesn’t happen that way for me, I just start out somewhere interesting. I throw in a lot of incidents and a lot of mystery and so on at the beginning, and I just have real fun with it. And sometimes I’ve got no idea what it’s going to be about it. If it’s going to be about anything, his character shows up and I enjoy him for a few pages. Will he come back? Will he be significant? I’ve got no idea. But then I somehow get to about halfway through and then I usually look back, reread it as a whole and think, okay, this is what you got. This is what you got to work with in the second half of the book. And so then it becomes a question of taking what you’ve got and completing it, which I think gives it. People say these books are tightly plotted and they’re slick and everything actually not according to my intention. They look that way because it’s almost an optical illusion. Suppose that you spilled some ink on a piece of paper. You just get a rather shapeless blob. But then suppose you put a mirror at the end of that blob so that the blob is itself reflected. Then you’ve got this coherent, symmetrical shape. And that’s really what happens to the book, because in the second half I’m using what I did in the first half. So it looks planned. It looks symmetrical, but it never really was in the first place. And many times I’ve gotten toward the end of the book and still got really no idea of what it’s about. What is the issue here, but it always works out in the end, and it gives me a real laugh when people say oh, I had it figured out in 50 pages. I’m like, really, I didn’t.

Andrew Child
But I think the real key to that is the fact that you’re so kind of rigorous and disciplined when it comes to that halfway point, because you have worked that way through the book. It’s like those cooking shows where somebody stacks the fridge with ingredients and you then have to take those ingredients and make something out of them. What you have always done, I’ve noticed, is you’ve been very honest about what is there. You haven’t looked at what’s there and thought, oh, dear, this isn’t very good. I wish I could get rid of this piece, get rid of that piece and then bring in these other pieces instead, because then it will be easier to tie everything up and bring it to a conclusion. You’ve always been very honest about saying, Well, this is what’s here. And this is what I’m going to work with. And it leads into that old cliche. That when you paint yourself into a corner, that’s when you have to do your best writing. So that is the way that everything always comes together and ties up neatly. And perhaps the conclusions that arise are ones that people have ever foreseen. It’s because you’re forced into that because you won’t go back and cheat and you won’t go back and change things so that you have an easier ride. Really, I would think.

Alan Petersen
And what do you guys used to write? Your books used just like a word or some other writing program or handwriting.

Lee Child
I did the first one in handwriting. Yeah, because I didn’t own a computer. This was toward the end of 1994. I was starting to write that book and a few nerds and geeks that I knew had computers at that point. And I didn’t because I’m not that sort of person. But I am a terrible hobbyist. I get the gear type of person I like when my daughter was born and I wanted to have photographs of her. I bought a camera and I bought lenses, and it became a thing about buying stuff. And I really did not want to do that for the first book. This was a job. It had to pay for itself. I had to emphasize that to myself. So I did it in pencil, and I borrowed a laptop in order to prepare the draft for submission. And then when I got paid for it, then I bought a computer. Many years. The early program was called Windows, right? Which was a very simple little word processor, which was fine for novels. It’s all you would ever need. But then I wanted an ipod. And back when you could only use that on Apple, I had to buy a Mac computer. And so then I had to use Microsoft Word, which is about it’s the industry standard. It’s what everybody uses. It is way over complicated for writing a novel. So I switch off most of the stuff. I don’t want to see all that busy nonsense around me. I certainly do not want the machine checking my spelling or grammar. Do me a favor. I’ll tell you what is correct and what isn’t rather than the other way around. But yeah, Microsoft Word is just like the default program for everybody now and then when you guys are exchanging back and forth in your writing.

Alan Petersen
So you’re emailing each other like chapters or yeah.

Andrew Child
It doesn’t have to be a whole chapter. It’s just whatever part we’re working on, it might be a fight scene. It might be a descriptive passage about whatever town reaches in. It could be something that he’s mulling over. So it’s just whatever seems like a logical chunk of text that makes sense to focus on.

Alan Petersen
I really enjoyed with reading better off that got advanced copy from the publisher, so I had a chance to read it. And it’s so great and reaches heading out west. Kind of curious about the whole idea. If you get stuck in the Mexican border in Arizona and the whole chemical weapons plot, how did all that come into place without giving too many spoilers away?

Lee Child
It was absolutely typical of how I used to work, and therefore I’m so happy that Andrew is happy to do it the same way where he is always follows on from whatever the feel of it is that we’re conceptualizing the mood or the feel. For a composer, they decide the key. The key is very critical to the piece. And for a writer, the mood, the feel is the equivalent, and that slowly filters through. And then what actually happens depends on what we’re interested in at the time. It’s not like we start with a completely empty head and think. All right. What can we find to write the book about? It’s the reverse really. Over the past several years, many years, we either together or separately, would have been following some kind of story or some piece of science or something that’s interesting that’s there in our minds, and it’s really that that demands to be written. So in this case, there’s been a lot of stuff about chemical weapons and nuclear weapons and depleted uranium casing for shells and all that. We’ve been thinking about that for 20 years, ever since Iraq and Afghanistan. And so it just sort of mysteriously came together. Yeah, we’re going to do this thing about bomb making and danger because we’ve been reading about it. We’ve been thinking about it for years and that somehow then dictates, where would be plausible for that? And the glorious thing about Rachel is he’s not tied down. He’s not a policeman in New York, he’s not a private Detective in Chicago. He can be anywhere by definition. So it’s perfectly natural to have him show up any place and it just evolves. This story couldn’t really work anywhere else. If we’d set it anywhere else, it would have to be a different story. It’s just a sort of organic, coherent process that the feel of the book and the issue in the book will always somehow dictate where and how even what the weather’s like, the feel of the book will dictate. Is it hot or cold? So it’s very much an organic process.

Alan Petersen
Yeah. I really like how Jack Reacher just wants to go see the ocean.

Andrew Child
Exactly. That’s one of the things I love about him, too. In some ways, he’s so analytical and so thoughtful. But then in other ways, he just goes on a complete whim. I like books like make me where he just was intrigued by the name of the town, things like that where it’ll just be something that anybody can experience. Anybody can see a town name somewhere and think, oh, that sounds strange or anybody can say, oh, yeah. I just fancy seeing the ocean. That’s where I’m going to go. So that’s one of those things that kind of connects reaches to the reader, I think.

Alan Petersen
Yeah. That’s something that’s so much fun. Like Kevin, the book where he sees the medal of a soldier that’s in a pawn shop. Anybody can imagine that what happened, what happened here? Yeah.

Lee Child
And that’s definitely the appeal, absolutely. On every level, because we’ve all, I think, felt. Yeah, I’d like to do that. Well, Richard actually goes and does it. So it’s wish fulfillment on that level. But then also, of course, along the way, he’s discovering these injustices or these unfair situations of people victims being bullied. And he does something about it, which is also wish fulfillment for the reader, because the reader wants to do that in their real life. Of course they do. If you went out right now and saw some guy slap his girlfriend on the street or something you’d want to say, Wait a minute, pal. But you might not. Because. We’re all to some extent inhibited or incapable. Or there’s all kinds of legal ramifications. And there’s a million things that stop you from doing it. But you wanted to do it. And the appeal of Reacher is you can be absolutely sure he’s going to do it. If Reacher walks down the street and somebody slaps his girlfriend, what do you think is going to happen?

Alan Petersen
Yeah, that’s the living vicariously through Reacher. I was wondering, too. Now I just wanted to ask because I know that the Jack Reacher series is being now developed on Amazon Prime. Any updates on that? How involved are you in that at all?

Lee Child
I’ve tried to be more involved than I was with the movies, but of course, the pandemic didn’t help that either, because first of all, we had to move the shooting location because of local conditions and up to Canada. And then, of course, it was difficult to get in and out of the US and in and out of Canada. So I was less physically involved than I wanted to be but they’re great people. I always select based on the people. The money comes afterward. I choose the people, and then it’s up to my film agent to do the deal. But it’s all about choosing the right people and let them get on with it. And so the first season is completed. It wrapped in July. It’s in post production. Now I’ve seen almost finished versions of most of it, and it is fantastic. It is magnificent. It’s one of those things that very poignant for me because it’s based on Killing floor of the first book. And I well remember sitting writing in pencil, all those scenes about a made up town called Margrave in the state of Georgia, supposed to be an hour or so south of Atlanta. And so I was just sitting there making it up in pencil, and they had to build the entire town. They built the town on a back lot. And to see the vague imaginings of one writer is translated into massive hard work for hundreds and hundreds of technicians, including building an entire town. It was just magnificent. I’m really enthusiastic about it. I can’t wait for other people to see it, and I’m not sure exactly when it will air, but it will probably be very early in the new year.

Alan Petersen
That’s exciting.

Lee Child
Yeah.

Alan Petersen
Amazon did a good job with Michael Connelly’s Bosch series. I’m excited to see which you’re on there.

Lee Child
Yeah. Me too.And Michael is a great example of how to do things right in this business that he was heavily involved in the Boss series. Two, it’s huge benefit, I think. And that’s the other thing about riders. We all talk to each other. So if any proposition comes in or any deal is offered, naturally, I call Michael, and I say, Seriously, what is the story? What is it like working with these people? And we do that for everything. Your podcast will have said, call somebody who’s been on it and said, Is this guy worth it? And they say, yes. So here we are. So. It’s a collaborative business in that way. And there’s a lot of information kicking around. And there’s enough information, in fact, to make great decisions. And I really think that Amazon Prime decision is a great one. It’s really working out well.

Alan Petersen
So what’s next for Reacher?

Andrew Child
Well. As is the tradition we started on September 1. And yeah, we can’t say too much about it. We’ve got the first part is almost finished because I always like to have that put into the paperback of the previous one and time scales in publishing as such, that even though the hard cover comes out in a couple of weeks, they’re already thinking ahead to what happens when the paperback comes out. So the first part is almost ready. But we’re kind of under threat of death not to breathe too much about where Reacher is or what he’s doing.

Lee Child
Yeah. Plus we wouldn’t know anyway, we can tell you how far we got now, but the rest of the story is as yet undiscovered. But this thing about they want to have the jacket design, they want to have the excerpt in last year’s paperback. And all of that is it only adds to the pressure. The most hilarious thing is when you open your email and Amazon has emailed you a thing saying, yeah, there’s a new Reacher book coming up next October. Do you want to pre order it? And I’m like, we haven’t written it yet.

Alan Petersen
That’s going to be kind of surreal. You see, the sales already coming through. Well, thank you so much. You guys are super busy. I can take any more of your time here, but it was a real pleasure talking to you. Better off Dead was fantastic. I really enjoyed it as I enjoyed those Reacher books. So thank you so much to you both.

Lee Child
No problem. Thank you for having us on. Yeah.

Andrew Child
Thanks for your time. We really enjoyed it. And we can do it again soon.

Alan Petersen
Yeah. Absolutely. It’s the next one.

Andrew Child
Absolutely.

About the Author
I write thriller and crime fiction novels and host the Meet the Thriller Author podcast where I interview authors of mystery, thriller, and suspense books.

2 comments on “MTTA 173: Lee Child & Andrew Child

  1. Cathy Rush says:

    Hi Alan. This is Cathy, John Hindmarsh’s wife. I have not read Lee Child’s books but watched the Amazon series which I loved and am reading an early Lee Child book now. Your interview was excellent. Bravo.

    1. Thank you, Cathy! I still haven’t watched the Amazon series. It’s on my to-binge list. Love the books. Say hi to John!

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