He's the millionaire writer of the Jack Reacher thriller – shot in Hollywood films with Tom Cruise and now en route to Amazon Prime, with actor Alan Ritchson playing the role. But before global success (he spent the lockdown on his 35-acre ranch in Wyoming), Lee Child spent years battling a childhood-inspired anger: his mother's cruel dislike of her second son and his father's cold indifference. He got into an argument, tried his hand at drugs and only now, in his 60s, found happiness that made him stop proving himself. Here, in an excerpt from an intimate new biography, we see how the lack of love led him to create his hard-living hero.
When Lee Child's mother Audrey died in September 2017 at the age of 90, he did not attend her funeral: he had planned something different that day.
Something he was looking forward to; There were other people involved and he didn't want to disappoint them. He was on the wrong side of the world, but he could have come back. "We were all looking forward to it. Why should I put it off for a dead woman I didn't even like?"
Perhaps even more poignantly he would have added who did not like him. Lee Child doesn't crush words – "that's damn sure," as the tough hero of his million-time best-selling Jack Reacher thriller would say. When talking about his loveless childhood, the 65-year-old writer does not waste time with emotions.
Pictured author James Grant, better known as his pen name Lee Child, never went to his mother's funeral as he said he had better things to do with friends that day
Grant has become a multimillionaire for the success of his Jack Reacher series, which was turned into a Hollywood film by Tom Cruise, featured in the 2016 film Never Go Back
"I was totally undesirable," he says. “And not liked. My mother said I was a dog that wasn't brought into the house with a shoe. "
The words Child most often uses today to describe Audrey are "mean" and "vicious" – he has no happy memory of her and calls her "a monster of martyrdom" to all of her children, especially him , angry.
His name wasn't Lee Child when he grew up in Birmingham in the 1950s and 1960s. It was James Grant, and he was the second of four sons raised by John Reginald Grant, known as Rex, a civil servant, and his wife Audrey.
Undoubtedly James suffered from a second son syndrome. Not without reason, because the oldest child, Richard, enjoyed the privileges of the first son and was mean and patronizing with them.
James remembers little of the meals Audrey ran other than that if she ever found out he liked something, she would take it off the menu.
Her attention turned to the firstborn Richard, who had inflicted lifelong trauma on his helpless parents by refusing to eat from the moment he was weaned.
At the age of 63, his two recently deceased parents, James (until then Lee), had inherited five photos of themselves as a child. There were hundreds of Richard's, he said. It was Richard who had to go with his father. It was Richard who learned to read and write with his mother.
Grant pictured in Belfast with his father Rex (right), mother Audrey (left) and older brother Richard (1957)
Later and unusually, he asked his older brother for assistance in reviewing his memories. Emotionally Richard was "tough as nails," but – Lee had specifically checked – even he had allowed her parents to be cold and loveless.
James was a headstrong bad boy who smoked cannabis in front of school, introduced himself as a football hooliganism, tried his luck as a rock musician, and became a Bolschist unionist when he finally settled for a real job. "I was the one who disappointed my mother's expectations the most," he says. He even thinks she would have been happier if he had died in childhood.
At the age of seven, he spent four weeks in the hospital with a rheumatic fever that caused a lifelong heart problem. Doctors warned his parents that he might not survive, which gave Audrey plenty of leeway for drama.
Being the mother of a boy who was flirting with death had a romance all of its own after flirting with the doctors that came with it – calling Clark Gable or Omar Sharif and seeing them at your home 40 minutes later let & # 39 ;.
Come on and think about it, that was another way he let her down by not actually dying. She could spare a son in the interests of a really good story. There was no escape. He had been a disappointment.
Grant's younger brother Andrew, pictured, has written Jack Reacher's latest book, which will be published next month
The child's relationship with his father was less strained, if distant. Rex was a low-paid civil servant. "He went to work with a tie and an umbrella, but he got on the bus."
He was a disciplinarian who treated his four sons as a sergeant major who commanded young recruits and had them alerted at the table before dinner.
Rex had served in the 11th Armored Division during World War II. In 1945 he was one of the first soldiers to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He never talked about it.
Rex had no idea of play. When he announced a profit on the Premium Bonds, he insisted on dividing the prize equally among all family members, and conscientiously invoked the Lotteries Revenue Distribution Act.
He showed no affection for his children. He was "a cold, disapproving man, all about denial and self-denial". Lee couldn't remember his father saying he loved him – not once in his life. He can't remember a single occasion when he had fun with his father, and not one moment he'd like to relive. “Not a single bloody afternoon. Not an hour. Empty. He was like a Martian. “Although he was a Martian who could read. When Childs began his career as a thriller writer, he received a letter from Rex expressing a touch of pride, "buried under this superstructure of repressed respectability". It was neatly engraved: “Mom and I are very impressed with the way you did this whole thing. The only two points I'm going to take on are: 1) don't forget the tax officer comes with shovel in hand and 2) put every last penny you are allowed to get into a pension system (high tax efficient), but as schemes vary, take advice. & # 39;
As a boy, young James had been encouraged by his parents to look after his older brother. Richard was two years older than him, a hardworking kid with protruding ears that made him a natural target for bullies. James, on the other hand, was enjoying a good junk and was tall for his age, with long arms that gave him a permanent edge in any turmoil in the playground.
Reacher in the books is known for his height, although Tom Cruise, who played the renegade ex-military policeman, is considerably shorter
Even more, perhaps because he felt so undesirable, he was forever trying to prove himself. He took his duties seriously. Every break, he said, was the same: "Go to the playground, pull the bullies away from Richard and go and play ball with my friends."
In exchange for cookies, he would extend his protection to other children. "I ran it as a society for mutual benefit." (Reacher did the same thing as a kid.) When he was eight years old playing marbles in the playground of Cherry Orchard Primary School in Handsworth Wood, he discovered it by hitting his marbles over an iron railing on the tarmac of the playground, he could be Control your goal perfectly and win every time.
Another boy contradicted the technique and took half a brick and threw it in his face. The cut was bleeding, but James was used to going home hurt and bloody. He still has the scar.
Handsworth Wood was a difficult area and even at that age I always had a knife in my pocket. First it was a wooden knife he had got from his grandfather, then a flick knife. "All the boys did it." The most important thing he learned early on was to make sure he never had to use it.
His technique was to break the arm of anyone who drew a gun.
Even years later, at the age of 65, when he discovered a wire and chainsaw (for hanging branches from trees) at a hardware store in Wyoming, his first thought was how cool it would have been to have one when he did it was nine.
In Birmingham, James discovered the headbutt and, importantly, you never really fight five guys because two always run away. One day when he was nine years old he was on his way to the library after school, which was a shortcut down a steep alley.
Five boys were waiting for him. His first thought was that he would get in trouble with his mother later if he messed up his clothes. "I took the captain out, then two ran away and I have two left."
Fans of his thrillers – a series of violent vigilante novels about a former military policeman who has been involved in many fights and always wins – will recognize the scene. It is typical of the fighting style of its hero, the 6ft 5in lone wolf Jack Reacher. . . so typical that it appeared in the first Reacher movie, One Shot.
Reacher, played by Tom Cruise, fights five men in front of a sports bar. He exposes the ringleader, two henchmen flee, and Reacher takes care of the remaining two thugs with no problems.
At age 11, James gained an academic spot in a direct scholarship high school, King Edward's at Edgbaston, the alma mater of another Birmingham author – J. R. R. Tolkien.
King Edwards was a very different environment. The first day, a taller boy pushed him against a locker. "So I kicked him out, broke my bones and sent him to the hospital."
Later, when taking stock, James realized that boys shouldn't behave like that here. This school was posh.
The incident earned him the nickname "Grievous", short for grievous bodily harm. Meekness never let go of him – half a century later he was still fighting. He once showed me a selfie from August 2013. His right eye was swollen and there were bruises over his eyebrow. It was taped the morning after a fist fight on New York's Broadway when he intervened between a drunken yuppie and a Sikh cab driver.
It was an all-out victory – “The other guy (the yuppie) was a mess. . . Broken nose sure and no doubt ribs too, but I'm not sure because I just left him there and went home to bed. You can still see faint blood stains on my pillowcase. You never quite got out. "
James himself suffered damage that he says "would never have happened to the real reacher". His fictional hero is everything the writer wanted to be, with a story based on his own.
Like its creator, Reacher is a second son who grew up fighting everyone in the schoolyard and who takes care of his smart big brother. He is unusually tall and refuses to be told what to do.
There is one crucial difference, however. Jack Reacher's mother loved him. If the 24 thrillers written by Lee Child are viewed as 10,000 pages of wish fulfillment, then the invention of Reacher's wise, loving mother Josie is the greatest fantasy of all.
Reacher's mom is warm, loving, ostentatious – anything Audrey wasn't. She smiles at her boys, hugs them, kisses them and tells them that she loves them. She calls her darling.
It wasn't until Child's mother was in her seventies and moved to Wales that she could enjoy his success when she heard someone at the hairdresser's talk about his books. She had waited long enough.
But other careers came before he dreamed of making a living. As a teenager, he played guitar for a few months in a rock band called Dark Tower. This was a time when Birmingham rockers were on the rise and bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were preparing to rock the world. Dark Tower broke up amid allegations against girls, and Grant drifted into TV production.
In the late 1970s, when he was in his mid-twenties, he was assistant to the transmission operator in Granada, Manchester. He climbed the ladder until his title was Senior Presentation Director in charge of the control room.
It was a high pressure job with a strong drinking culture, but he'd never gotten a taste for alcohol. He still preferred cannabis, although for a while in Granada he fueled himself with joints known as "white widows" – marijuana with cocaine. On one of his regular trips to Moss Side in Manchester to collect drugs, he claims he heard a bullet over his car while sitting at the traffic lights: “I drove off. I haven't thought about it twice. I just jumped the red light. "
"I had a very nice career on television," he now likes to tell audiences at book festivals. "I loved every minute of it."
When he returned from a vacation in Spain in 1995, he found a message on his answering machine from the HR manager: "I hope you have a good vacation. Oh, and your key card has been canceled. Don't come back in when you get back."
As a lifelong trade unionist and shop steward who had worked frequently with his managers, he half expected the dismissal – and was already preparing to flee. For a year he'd been working on a novel about a lonely drifter, a modern day cowboy who roams America correcting injustices. Now he had time to write.
Grant poured much of his personal mythology into the book. His hero is an ex-military (like Grant's father) with a mission to take revenge for outsiders. He's tall and named Reacher because Grant's wife Jane teased him that he would never be unemployed – he could always get a job as a "reacher" and stack the top shelves in supermarkets.
It seemed natural to Grant to choose a new name when he became a writer. "Lee Child" was originally the nickname he gave his daughter Ruth based on a family joke. She was Lee's baby when she was born, from a chance encounter with an American who pronounced the name of Lee's Renault 5 – marketed as "Le Car" – as "Lee Car", so the joke was applied to Ruth.
As Ruth grew, she became "Lee Child" – and then her father took the name for himself. Not only was it brief and memorable, but it also placed it alphabetically on the bookstore's shelves between Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie.
Writing was a strictly disciplined business. He started every new book on September 1st, the anniversary of the day he bought pencil and paper to write his first novel. Instead of planning every story, he liked to think of a strong opening line and let the plot unfold from there.
After 24 bestsellers, Child has made more money than he or his parents could have imagined. "It's funny," he says, "I can remember when a million dollars seemed like a lot of money." Two successful films consolidated the success. He pretended to like Tom Cruise (5 ft 7 in) as Jack Reacher (6 ft 5 in) but now says he wishes a young James Coburn could have played the role. The star of the new Reacher TV series, on the other hand, is 6 feet tall and, like Reacher, full of muscles.
But at 65, he's tired of the book tours and said everything he ever wanted about Reacher. So he handed the series over to his younger brother Andrew, who is also a novelist. The 25th track, The Sentinel, is attributed to Lee Child and Andrew Child and will be released next month.
Grant says, “People ask, am I happy now that I'm retired? The truth is, I withdrew because I am happy now. The times I grew up and the place and my family have all left me with an inexorable horror of being mediocre. After all these years, I finally accepted that I escaped this fate. "
- The Reacher Guy by Heather Martin is published by Constable, £ 20. © Heather Martin 2020. To order a copy for £ 17 go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free delivery on orders over £ 15. Offer price valid until 9/26/2020.
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