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Lee Child Q&A: "We’ll be done soon, and the planet will recover"

The bestselling novelist talks Aston Villa, Led Zeppelin and the end of human life on earth.

What’s your earliest memory?

Flying from Birmingham to Belfast to visit my grandparents, the day before my third birthday, in a war-surplus DC3. Because it was an unpressurised cabin, before landing a steward in a white jacket brought around a silver tray of boiled sweets. I was paralysed with joy. I remember thinking, “All this and free sweets, too?”

Who was your childhood hero? And who is your adult hero?

As a kid, I liked the Australian RAF bomber pilot Micky Martin, the Dambusters second-in-command – a very brave hooligan. I guess he could be my adult hero, too. Or Richard Dawkins, maybe – he’s waging a bitter battle of a different sort.

What political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

Very few, but Franklin Delano Roosevelt would be one. Despite many lacks and failures, his was an immense and transcendent influence on world history.

Who would paint your portrait?

Preferably not a realist. How about Piet Mondrian?

What would be your Mastermind special subject?

I’m a trivia geek of enormous proportions, so I could do lots of things – Aston Villa, Les Paul guitars, the books of John D MacDonald, Led Zeppelin, the Toyota Land Cruiser 1957-2017, the New York Yankees, the construction of the Chrysler Building. I have never lost a game of Trivial Pursuit.

Which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live in?

I really wouldn’t want to go back to any of it. So I’ll opt for Denver, Colorado (which should still be above sea level), a hundred years from now.

What TV show could you not live without?

I have been in the storytelling business for 40 years, and nothing on TV surprises me any more except live sport, the only truly unpredictable shows left.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

Dark Money by Jane Mayer, about the influence of billionaires in US politics – for her coverage of certain donors’ business practices, which reveal pathological greed. Guys who already have eighty thousand million dollars will hurt and maim and kill to get more.

What’s your theme tune?

I’m fairly shy, so before appearances, in my head I play “Golden Boy” by Natalie Merchant or “The Lemon Song” by Led Zeppelin – why we were born with ears.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My Irish granddad used to say: “Spend your money before it runs out.” I’m sure he was joking, but it’s advice I have followed.

What’s currently bugging you?

Are you kidding? It was a horrible year, 2016, and we’ll be living with the fallout for a very long time.

When were you happiest?

Manjack Cay in the Bahamas, February 1993. We were broke, but my wife assembled offers and we had a holiday. The hotel had boats you could borrow to visit uninhabited islands. I remember standing on one and thinking how absurd it would have been to predict ever being there.

Are we all doomed?

Of course we are. Evolutionary history shows we’re a vicious bunch, clever but not clever enough. We’ll be done soon, and the planet will recover. Call it fifty thousand years, from the invention of language to extinction. A tiny blip. 

“No Middle Name: Jack Reacher – the Complete Collected Short Stories” by Lee Child is published by Bantam Press

This article first appeared in the 08 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Election special

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I’ll miss the youthful thrill of Claire’s Accessories – but the tween Mecca refused to grow up

From an adolescent rite of passage to struggling to stay open: how the tackiest shop on the high street lost its shine.

The first day I was allowed to go into “town” (hailing from rural Essex, that’s the local shopping centre, not London) with a friend – unsupervised by a parent – was a real cornerstone of my childhood.

We were 13, and looking back, we had neither mobile phones nor contingency plans, and my mum must have been sat at home for the entire two hours scared shitless, waiting for when she could pick me up again (by the Odeon carpark, 3pm sharp).

Finally free from the constraints of traipsing around department stores bound by the shackles of an adult, my friend and I had the most grown-up afternoon we could imagine; Starbucks Frappuccinos (size: tall – we weren’t made of money), taking pictures on a pink digital camera in the H&M changing rooms, and finally, making a beeline for tween Mecca: Claire’s Accessories.

As a beauty journalist, I’m pretty sure Saturdays spent running amok among the diamante earrings, bow hairbands and fluffy notebooks had an influence on my career path.

I spent hours poring over every rack of clip-on earrings, getting high on the fumes of strawberry lipbalm and the alcohol used to clean freshly pierced toddlers’ ears.

Their slogan, “Where getting ready is half the fun”, still rings true for me ten years on, as I stand on the edge of dancefloors, bored and waiting until my peers are suitably drunk to call it a night, yet revelling in just how great my painstakingly applied false lashes look.

The slogan on a Claire's receipt. Photo: Flickr

On Monday, Claire’s Accessories US filed for bankruptcy, after they were lumbered with insurmountable debts since being taken over by Apollo Global Management in 2007. Many of the US-based stores are closing. While the future of Claire’s in the UK looks uncertain, it may be the next high street retailer – suffering from the surge of online shopping – to follow in Toys R Us’ footsteps.

As much as I hate to say it, this is unsurprising, considering Claire’s commitment to remain the tackiest retailer on the high street.

With the huge rise of interest in beauty from younger age groups – credit where credit’s due, YouTube – Claire’s has remained steadfast in its core belief in taffeta, rhinestone and glitter.

In my local Superdrug (parallel to the Claire’s Accessories, a few doors down from the McDonald’s where we would sit, sans purchase, maxed out after our Lipsmacker and bath bomb-filled jaunt), there are signs plastered all over the new Makeup Revolution concealer stand: “ENQUIRE WITH STAFF FOR STOCK”. A group of young girls nervously designate one among them to do the enquiring.

Such is the popularity of the three-week-old concealer, made infamous by YouTube videos entitled things like “I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS CONCEALER!” and “FULL COVERAGE AND £4!!!”, no stock is on display for fear of shoplifters.

The concealer is cheap, available on the high street, comparable to high-end brands and favoured by popular YouTube “beauty gurus”, giving young girls a portal into “adult life”, with Happy Meal money.

It’s unlikely 13-year-olds even own eye bags large enough to warrant a full coverage concealer, but they’re savvy enough to know that they can now get good quality makeup and accessories, without going any higher than Claire’s price points.

They have naturally outgrown a retailer that refuses to grow with them; it’s simply not sustainable on Claire’s part to sell babyish items to a market who no longer want babyish things.

Adulthood is catching up with this new breed of teenagers faster than ever, and they’ve decided it’s time to put away childish things.

Tweenagers of 2018 won’t miss Claire’s Accessories if it goes. The boarded-up purple signage would leave craters in shopping centre walls soon to be filled with the burgundy sheen of a new Pret.

But I will. Maybe not constantly – it’s not as if Primark has stopped selling jersey dresses, or Topshop their Joni jeans – it’ll be more of a slow burn. I’ll mourn the loss of Claire’s the next time a pang of nostalgia for blue-frosted shadow hits me, or when it’s Halloween eve and I realise I’m bereft of a pair of cat ears. But when the time comes, there’s always Amazon Prime.

Amelia Perrin is a freelance beauty and lifestyle journalist.