Andy Martin is the Cambridge academic who sat behind Lee Child as he wrote the 20th Jack Reacher book – MAKE ME. Andy observed Lee’s process, his routine, and (amongst other things) the amount of cigarettes he smoked and coffees he drank. For a huge Reacher fan like me, it sounded like the perfect way to spend seven months. I wanted to know more; what was it like to be there as the story was created? How did it feel to be writing a book about the making of MAKE ME? I guess I wanted to know more about the making of the making of book – REACHER SAID NOTHING. Sure, Andy said, let’s talk. So I drove to Cambridge, and we did …
April 14th. Andy’s house. Cambridge. Afternoon.
I’m sitting at Andy’s kitchen table. Andy is making coffee – proper coffee, ground especially and everything. I have made a new friend – Waffle the dog. Waffle is super cute. The only thing is, he wants to sit on my lap, and he’s a bit large for that. Andy tells Waffle to behave. He hands me a coffee, black. It’s delicious.
In REACHER SAID NOTHING you tally up how many cups of coffee Lee Child had in a single day (19 on that occasion). What was the ratio of coffee drinking between you and Lee?
[Andy thinks a moment] About 10:1. I’d have two cups a day, Lee would have twenty. His maximum is about thirty cups though, but he doesn’t drink that many very often. In fact, the chapter with the tally [of words, coffees and cigarettes] was written by Lee – it’s Chapter 57. It was one of the rare days that he started writing early in the day, so he did the tally himself.
Very cool that he wrote a chapter in the book. Did you plan for that to happen?
No, I didn’t plan. I copied Lee’s ‘it might work out’ approach to writing REACHER SAID NOTHING – like he does with his novels. Neither of us had an idea whether the books would work out. In a way I was being Lee, but with longer sentences. It was completely aleatory – we developed the rules as we went along. Just went with it. Like Lee, I didn’t go back and ‘fix’ it – I mimicked Lee’s ‘it’s the only draft’ approach.
So how was it, getting to sit behind Lee as he wrote MAKE ME?
Well, you can see from the emails at the start of REACHER SAID NOTHING [where Andy and Lee discuss the idea of Andy watching Lee write the book] that I’m all excited, and Lee’s replies are short and terse. At that point it was all hypothetical then, when he said yes, it was like, ‘Oh blimey! I’d better do it.’
I didn’t have any idea about how it would be. It depended on him, on how much time he’d allow me to be there. As it was, it worked as I tended to drop in and drop out – there’s a line in the book where I quote Lee as saying that I managed to leave before he felt physically oppressed. [Later in the day, Lee himself says that Andy always let himself out before he felt the need to hit him!]. The amount of time that was varied; sometimes it was a few minutes, sometimes a few hours. Then we’d meet later for coffee or something.
In REACHER SAID NOTHING you talk about being a ‘participant observer’ of the making of MAKE ME, tell me more about the participant part of that.
Me being there did influence Lee in a variety of obscure ways, like certain words, and a name – the name Wittgenstein. It’s spoken by Reacher and is a nod towards me [see REACHER SAID NOTHING Chapter 62 to find out how]. I reference Wittgenstein often. It’s Lee’s code word for me.
He’s also very open to external influences. On the one hand he remembers a lot of stuff – he’s got a Velcro mind – and he also uses the things around him and puts them into his writing; like ‘bucket’ appearing on the page in MAKE ME while the cleaner is in the apartment Lee’s writing in, and ‘nail’ appearing on the page when the sound of construction nearby is audible.
When you think, why are the books so popular? I think it’s because he manages to include the experience of everyone in them. He taps into the universal in some way. You know, Lee wouldn’t like this, but I think there’s something a bit mystical about it.
Well, I went to interview the real Lydia Lair [Lydia Lair is the name of a key supporting character in MAKE ME. The real Lydia Lair had won a charity auction to get her name in a Reacher novel.] Lee didn’t know her. All he had was her name. But when she read MAKE ME she was amazed – in the book, the character Lydia Lair is married to Evan Lair, a doctor. The real Lydia Lair’s first love was called Evan and was training to be a doctor, but he died in a car accident. Even though Lee had been shut away in his apartment, he’d somehow tapped into the collective unconsciousness and unknowingly included these references [for ‘collective unconscious’ see Jung’s theory]. How did he do it? There’s a mystery at the core!
As a Cambridge academic, how did writing REACHER SAID NOTHING differ from writing academic research papers?
[Andy thinks a moment. He gets up to give Waffle the dog his dinner. As Waffle eats, a cat comes to the window and peers through. It looks first at the dog, then me. It looks angry.] It reminded me of writing about Napoleon. Or surfers. Or Brigitte Bardot. It’s true, there is some literary snobbery about ‘airport books’ but I think there’s something miracle-like about best sellers. Lee’s default setting is ‘rock star’ – his books might not be Beethoven, but they are The Beatles! I was fascinated by the mystery of what he does, and how he does it.
I had a really fun experience writing REACHER SAID NOTHING versus academic papers. It’s been a broadly collaborative experience. There’s a definite benefit of being associated with Lee, which I very much appreciate – I’m kind of borrowing his readers. Or some of them! I’m hoping the book is what Reacher would do if he wrote literary criticism. I think it’s the difference between Lee and me that makes it interesting – the dialogue going on, and us each getting a glimpse into the other’s world. Maybe pulling a bit of each other’s style into each other’s work.
REACHER SAID NOTHING is all about the writing side of it. I’m now tracing the reader responses to MAKE ME.
So, you’re writing another book?
Yes, it’s about Lee Child and the readers of Jack Reacher, and is a write up of different readers’ experiences of the book and character. He means different things to different readers. Each one comes to the book from very different places, but it satisfies their very different demands. [Cue some musing from me and Andy about what needs the Reacher books satisfy for us].
I know that you’re a big Reacher fan. Have you gone back and read any of the books since writing REACHER SAID NOTHING and, if so, has the experience of watching Lee writing MAKE ME changed the way you read Reacher books?
Yes, I do go back and re-read them. I was particularly interested in re-reading WORTH DYING FOR because that’s the book set in an isolated farming community in Nebraska; it seemed the closest to MAKE ME in location – the same kind of cut-off micro-environment. [At this point we went off topic a bit, talking about the swimming scene in PERSUADER, and I learnt that Lee had been a champion distance swimmer in his youth.]
I can read the books in different ways – either looking for some specific technique, or reading them like I’m diving into the pool and letting it wash over me. I’m a bit nerdy, like a rock band fan. I know the obscure facts but I can still enjoy it. I still have the pleasure of the text. And, like every other reader, I’m thinking when’s the next one out!
And with both of us looking forward to reading the next Jack Reacher book – NIGHT SCHOOL – out later this year, the interview was over. But the day was not. Andy and Lee were doing an event together that evening as part of Cambridge Literary Festival (Twitter @camlitfest) and before the event Andy introduced me to Lee. The three of us, along with the lovely Dan O’Hara, strolled through Cambridge (including taking a short cut through the gorgeous King’s College) to the venue, and then I got to chat with them for a bit in the green room. As you can imagine, for an uber Reacher fan like me, it was an amazing treat – in fact, I think I’m still on a high from the whole experience!
REACHER SAID NOTHING by Andy Martin is out now. It’s a fascinating book, and a real must-read for Reacher fans and aspiring thriller writers alike. Here’s the blurb: “On 1 September 1994, Lee Child went out to buy the paper to start writing his first novel, in pencil. The result was KILLING FLOOR, which introduced his hero Jack Reacher. Twenty years later, on 1 September 2014, he began writing MAKE ME, the twentieth novel in his number-one-bestselling Reacher series. Same day, same writer, same hero. The difference, this time, was that he had someone looking over his shoulder. Andy Martin, uber Reacher fan, Cambridge academic, expert on existentialism and dedicated surfer, sat behind Lee Child in his office and watched him as he wrote. While Lee was writing his Reacher book, Andy was writing about the making of MAKE ME. REACHER SAID NOTHING is a book about a guy writing a book. An instant meta-book. It crosses genres, by bringing a high-level critical approach to a popular text, and gives a fascinating insight into the art of writing a thriller, showing the process in real time. It may well be the first of its kind.”
To find out more about Andy Martin, pop over to his website at http://www.andymartinink.com and follow him on Twitter @andymartinink
You can read more about Andy Martin’s experience of writing REACHER SAID NOTHING over on The Conversation here http://theconversation.com/the-man-with-no-plot-how-i-watched-lee-child-write-a-jack-reacher-novel-51220
And watch Andy and Lee Child in action last month at the Centre For Fiction Master Class here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bF5wDt_D9g
On June 20th Andy will be talking in London at the Prospect Magazine Book Club. Find out more and get tickets here http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/events/bookclub-andymartin