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.

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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