Jack Reacher writer Lee Child reveals how ITV sacking inspired him as he hands archive to UEA

  • Jack Reacher author Lee Child spoke to ITV News Anglia's David Whiteley

The best-selling thriller writer Lee Child has opened up about how his sacking from ITV fuelled the creation of the global hit Jack Reacher series.

Child, whose real name is James Grant, began his writing career after he was laid off by Granada Television in the mid-1990s.

Since then his Reacher series has attracted a global following, with a readership of over 100 million, translation into 50 languages and adaptations for film and TV, most recently, a successful Amazon Prime series based on the character.

"Reacher has been thrown out of the army and I was using that as a metaphor for me," he said, speaking as he handed his writing archive over to the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

"I'd been thrown out of my career at ITV. I was furious, I felt betrayed, I felt angry - I threw all of that passion and energy into the character of Reacher."

Child always starts a new book every year on 1 September - the anniversary of the day he was laid off at ITV.

He is giving 150 boxes of notes and manuscripts to the Norwich university, including the pencil-written draft of Killing Floor, the first Reacher novel.

Lee Child is giving his entire Jack Reacher archive to the University of East Anglia Credit: Lee Child

Child said he wanted people to understand how he created his novels, complete with all the crossings outs and rewrites.

He said he hoped would-be writers could learn from his notes and explained why he had decided to give his work to the UEA.

"I'm a very plain type of guy and it feels absurdly big-headed to even imagine giving your archive to anybody," he said.

"But there are two universities in the world that treat writing very seriously - one is Iowa State in America and the other is UEA here in Norwich. They really get into it the actual nuts and bolts, not only the grand theories and all that literature stuff, but how do you do it."

He said writing was tough job and anyone who wanted to write novels had to work hard and be true to their vision of the narrative.

"It's actually a lot of work, you've really got to put in 110%. Endless rewrites... all those decisions you've got to take.

"I want people to understand you don't do it by copying anyone else or by being influenced by anyone else. The only way you can do it is to be totally you."

His advice for would-be writers is just to give it a go.

"Seriously, think about asking Norwich about the course they do here. It is seriously good, especially in my genre, but give it a try," he said.

'He redrew the map'

Prof Henry Sutton, professor of creative writing and crime fiction at the UEA, said: "Lee Child is the most significant crime thriller writer of his generation.

"With extraordinary literary skill and acute characterisation, he redrew the map and created a globally recognised figure in the form of Jack Reacher.  

"Child's generosity and openness as a reader, a critic and a practitioner add greatly to his legacy and will continue to influence and enable writers across genres for generations to come." 

Child was at the University on Thursday for two literary events, including a conversation with Dame Margaret Drabble, writer of more than 20 books and fan of Jack Reacher.

An earlier event considered the evolution of the thriller in the last 75 years and featured a range of leading writers and critics including the new James Bond writer, UEA alumna Kim Sherwood.  

Child's archive was on display, including the handwritten manuscript of Killing Floor, manuscripts and correspondence relating to the Jack Reacher series as well as notebooks, letters, drafts, typescripts and working papers from his writing career. 

Justine Mann, archivist at UEA's British Archive for Contemporary Writing, said: "The Lee Child archive provides writers, readers and researchers with an incredible behind the scenes look at the creation of Jack Reacher; from the very first draft of Lee Child's debut novel, Killing Floor, recently adapted on Amazon Prime as Reacher, to the sales and marketing plans of major publishing houses that helped make him a global bestselling brand."   

Original pencil drafts of the first Jack Reacher novel, written by Lee Child on his dining table in mid-1990s Kirby Lonsdale were also on display, alongside editorial feedback from agents and publishers and fan letters - from US presidents to prison inmates.