UKA Interview with Lee Child.
Q: When did you first decide to write?
A: In terms of a definite date, it was the day I was fired from my job in British television.
Q: What was your first success?
A: Happily, it was my first book, Killing Floor, published in 1997.
Q: What comes first – idea or character?
A: Character, without a doubt.
Q: Are your characters based on real people?
A: I think convincing characters have to be, yes.
Q: Why did you choose to write for this genre?
A: It’s what I enjoyed most as a reader, and I think it answers some kind of basic human need for narrative.
Q: Before your ‘big break’ how many hours a day did you spend writing?
A: Maybe 7 or 8 – I was in a hurry.
Q: And now?
A: Maybe 6 on a good day.
Q: Do you plan?
A: Very little – I usually have an idea of where I want to end up, but I try to keep the story as unpredictable as possible.
Q: How many drafts do you complete?
A: The second draft usually gets published.
Q: Are they hand-written or do you write straight on to a computer?
A: The first was handwritten – then I bought a computer and I use that exclusively now.
Q: How long does the process of writing a novel take from the initial idea to final polished typescript?
A: It varies – the slowest was 10 months, the fastest was 7 months.
Q: What struck first for you, a publisher’s acceptance or being taken on by an agent?
A: I got an agent first.
Q: As a successful author, what do you now know, that you wish you had known before you gained success?
A: Really, how much fun it was going to be – it isn’t like any other job. And how little time actually goes to the writing – there are all kinds of other things involved, like promotion and publicity, and answering mail, and business things.
Q: How can the beginning writer gain the edge when seeking publication?
A: Make the submission clean and professional, and appear very willing to be realistic and ready to compromise where necessary.
Q: Should securing the services of an agent be a priority or are publishers still willing to sift the proverbial slushpile for the next best-seller?
A: It can work both ways, but your chances are 1000% better with an agent at your side.
Q: What is your opinion on writing courses?
A: I’m a little skeptical – I’m not sure if fresh and original writing is something that can be learned. It can be polished, certainly, but I think most publishers would like to direct that process themselves.
Q: How many rejections did you have before success?
A: None – but I was very lucky.
Q: Who chooses the book title?
A: I do, primarily, but there are always discussions and often there are compromises.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m just about to start the seventh in the Jack Reacher series, for publication in 2003. Book-a-year writers work a long way ahead.
Q: How do you organise your writing day?
A: I start at about 11 in the morning and keep going until about 6. Some days I accomplish a lot, some days not much at all.
Q: Do you have any nuggets of advice for the prospective writer?
A: Write exactly what you want to write – that way you’ll get a fresh and organic product. Don’t try to guess what people will want.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: An unpublished manuscript by a friend who wants advice.
Q: What book do you wish you had written?
A: Maybe “Sophie’s Choice” by William Styron.
Q: The phrase ‘Write about what you know’ worries many beginning writers, what is your opinion?
A: I think it’s very bad advice. Very few people know enough to make an exciting story, and very few people can escape the clotted and overcrowded prose that usually results. But “Write what you feel” is good advice – if you’ve ever been scared or worried or angry or ecstatic, for instance, recall those feelings and blow them up to suit the exaggerated needs of your plot.
Q: Do you know the ending to your books before you get there?
A: I usually assume so – but I’m always willing to alter the ending if the story seems to demand it.
Thank you for talking to us.