Lee Child on life in East Sussex, helping vulnerable animals in Ringmer and how Jack Reacher is partly autobiographical
PUBLISHED: 10:54 12 January 2015 | UPDATED: 12:05 03 November 2017
Ciaran McCrickard Photography
His books weave tales of crime, mystery and intrigue, but author Lee Child is happiest when walking in the Sussex countryside
Lee Child’s first novel, Killing Floor, won a clutch of accolades including the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. He has now published 38 books chronicling the adventures of a former American military policeman, Jack Reacher, who wanders the United States solving crimes. Reacher has been portrayed on film by Tom Cruise, with another movie reportedly in the works.
Lee himself has several homes – an apartment in Manhattan, a house in the south of France and a few homes here in England, one of which is in the rural idyll that is East Sussex, where he has now lived intermittently for four years. “For me it was like moving to a foreign country,” he says of his move down south from his native Coventry. “The weather here is fantastic – that was one of the real draws of Sussex.” When we meet he is at the Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare, at Ringmer (www.raystede.org) to officially open the new entrance project – he and his wife Jane have generously donated £50,000 to the centre. Of his decision to support the initiative he says “we’re both animal lovers, because animals are always the most defenceless and the most vulnerable and the most in need of help, and we were so impressed with what they do that we became really enthusiastic and wanted to support it in whatever way we could.”
Having moved here, Lee says he has fallen in love with our “gentle, attractive countryside”, and he especially loves the “old-fashioned” views that you get around Hastings. “There’s such a diverse range of landscapes here that you get a different micro-view every couple of steps,” he says. His favourite places to walk and admire the views are Netherfield and The Seven Sisters, but he says that we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to lovely vistas. Modestly for a man who has more than 60 million copies of his novels in print in 96 countries and nearly 60 languages, Lee says that he became a writer “because I got fired from television and thought I might give it a go. I didn’t want to work for anyone else.” Now he says he couldn’t be happier, and describes writing as “entertainment in its purest form”, which is what he loves about it. If he wasn’t a writer, he says he’d be “working in a warehouse lifting pallets, as that was the only job available on the day that I went to the job centre,” (which he did before his novels were ever published).His plans for the future consist of writing, writing and more writing. “This is what I do and this is who I am, so this is what I’ll keep doing. The next stop is retirement!”
When he does retire and have more time on his hands, Lee says that he wants to see every stone circle in Britain, as they have always fascinated him. And the one thing he can’t live without? “Sadly that’s cigarettes.” Of his famous protagonist Jack Reacher, also a smoker, he says that there’s a lot of himself in there, “but with bits exaggerated and exacerbated. If I could get away with everything that he gets away with then I definitely would – but for now he’s only partly autobiographical!”