Jim Grant talks about his writing career as Lee Child

I should have said also that it shouldn’t surprise people that I’ve never written anything before, because most writers… I mean, a lot of writers, sure, from seven years old, they’ve got like exercise books and they’ll draw little compositions in or whatever. But fundamentally you don’t do anything. What you do is read. You read for the first half of your life, which I’d certainly done. And then you become a writer based on what you’ve read. And I used to get bizarre interviews in TV, where if we were trying to recruit a new assistant or something, the TCs would rotate that duty. And we would be on the interview panel. And you would say to people “What do you watch?” And a few people said would say, “Oh, I don’t watch television.” And you would think, “What the fuck? Why are you here?”

And it’s the same thing with writing that if you haven’t read continuously and obsessively all your life, you’ll never be a writer. So the preparation is always about the reading. So I was ready to start when I was. No, I’ve never done any at all. And I think that people are surprised by that, but that’s the wrong thing to be described about, because if you put the whole history of writing in a computer and ask it to figure it out, it would say that the people that make it have two characteristics. It’s always a second phase career. You’ve always done something first that involved an audience. And you’ve got to understand that what you already know is no use to you, except in the very barest of bones. In other words, you’re there to serve an audience. And I think that’s what did me more good than anything from Granada is that none of the specific techniques were transferable because television is very different than reading. But the idea that it’s not about you, and I’m sure everybody that contributes to this learned the same lesson. It’s not about you. It’s about the audience. First, second, and third. And so that’s really what I took with me on the basis of, “I’ve tried it their way now I’ve tried it my way.”

So, I didn’t really have the book worked out at all, but I had one image in mind, which was previously, I bought a book about money laundering. And I’d only bought it because the jacket design was lovely, it had a regular jacket and there was a real dollar bill laminated into the book jacket. And I thought, “Wow, that’s cool.” So I bought the book and it was about money laundering, basically to do with the illegal narcotics trade in the US, and economically the figures were staggering. That so much money is spent on illegal narcotics in the US that actually that sector of the market is worth twice the amount of cash in circulation. And because generally speaking drug deals are always cash, it meant that the dealers had this enormous industrial problem, which is the amount of cash. And they worked it all out, and they were processing 4,000 tonnes of cash every year, which was a huge industrial operation. Literally physically trucking it to the Caribbean, where it was banked in dodgy banks. And then it shows up as credits on Wall Street or whatever. But at its heart it was this industrial operation, trucking truckloads of dollar bills. And so that was the image I had in mind, like a warehouse full of money. And that was the key image in the book. And it was just the question of working towards it somehow.

And did you sell the idea to an agent, to the publishers? Or did you just write it and then submit it?

Yes, that’s the only way to do it. Non-fiction, you can often sell on a proposal, depending on who you are. But fiction you can’t, you’ve got to have the completed book. Because completing it is a huge thing. I mean, you could show three quarters of a book that was really good and still nobody would buy it because there’s no proof you can finish it in a satisfactory way. So with fiction, you got to write it first, then you sell it. So I wrote it, I sent it to an agent who took me on, and then he sold it to the publishers.

I’m what they call the seat-of-the-pants type of writer. A pantser, not a plotter. Because I think it’s more spontaneous that way, rather than writing to a straightjacket that you designed last year. It produces better flow. It produces more genuine surprise. If the author himself is surprised at what comes out, then obviously the reader is going to be. So I would say generally, I’ve got one idea that might be just a tiny scene or even just one line of dialogue or something. I know that’s got to be in there somewhere. And it’s just a question of starting and hoping that it turns out all right in the end.

And do you have a set routine when you write? Do you write in the morning, afternoon, evening?

I never do anything in the morning. It’s one of my firmly held beliefs, nothing of value is ever achieved in the morning.

I start late in the day, in the afternoon, and I’ll do five to six hours. And then sometimes I go back to it late at night, but it’s a delicate balance. The Granada days, I would work 12-hour overnight shifts and that sort of thing, so it’s not that I’m not capable of working long hours, but with writing there reaches a point where it’s diminishing returns. For me, after sort of five or six hours. Sure, I could carry on forever, but the quality will be not quite good enough at that point. So, it’s very self-indulgent, but I learned to stop after five, six hours and just say, that’s enough for tonight.

Yes. I mean, somebody had always said to me, you stop when you know what the next sentence is going to be.

Yes. That’s a really good way of maintaining the momentum. And what I also used to do is… you know, when you finish a book, you’ve got such pace, such momentum, such passion, such involvement. When I finished a book, I would immediately, literally that minute, write the first paragraph of the next book. In order just to capture… in other words, it wouldn’t be a cold start. And I think that’s very important.

I’m glad you’re doing this project, because it’s the combination of the people, the company, and the times. I thought yes, I really did produce something that was very special, but also a lot of good fun for those of us who worked in it. And like so much for my generation, you look back on it as a jewel-like experience that has now gone. Same thing like university, for instance. Not only did you go free, but essentially they paid you to go. And you were guaranteed a job. That was a jewel-like experience that is gone. And I guess that we’re in an era now where if you go back 100-200 years, generally speaking, getting rid of things was good. I’m sure nobody ever had a regret about getting rid of cholera or something like that. But now we’re in an era where things are going, but they were actually good and valuable. And it’s sad that they’re gone.

Are you working on a new novel now?

No, I’m in the process of quitting. I’m not going to do any more, but my brother is going to continue the series. So that hopefully we can get a few more out of it. But again, you know…

But you’re not going to create a new character?

No, I just want to stop working. It’s like a generational thing for me, growing up when I did and where I did, it was just at such a fixed point in your life. 65, you retired. There were three phases in your life. You went to school, then you worked for a really long time, then you were retired. And I’ve always wanted that shape to my life, and so I turned 65 last year and I thought, “Alright, now I’m a senior citizen. I’m going to quit.”

Enjoy your retirement.

Thank you very much.

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