To say that last year was rough for me would be a bit of an understatement. Yet being a glass-half-full kind of person, I will not deny that magic and beauty did not abandon me when all else seemed lost. Both continued flowing not only from the hearts of the amazing people who love me but also from complete strangers.
One of the most magical moments of last year was encountering Jack Reacher, my Hero. Falling in love – fictional or otherwise – is a beautiful gift. When that love allows you to reclaim something as precious as reading is to me, then you let your long braid hang out the window and hope that your Knight In Mattress-Pressed Armour holds on tight. Nearly twenty books later – i.e. approximately 2 000 000 words – he still does! (In my book, that’s a miracle in itself.) I am almost finished with Personal – the last of the existing Jack Reachers for me – trying to make it last by reading only for comfort when Dragon Insomnia rears her ugly head, but soon that adventure will also come to an end and I will have to join the rest of the Reacher Creatures who are counting the days until September when Night School, Reacher No. 21, is published. As a reader, I ask myself what are all the other months in the year for? But I suppose Lee Child should be allowed to sleep at some stage. And I need to get my act together and follow Jack’s example by simply sleeping when I want to. Perhaps I must see whether headbutting works on dragons…?
Having become one of Jack’s greatest fans, you can imagine my excitement when I found out about the publication of Andy Martin’s Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me. It appeared towards the end of last year and before it became available in South Africa (still waiting for it to arrive on our shores, so that I can share it with friends who love Jack as much as I do), I tweeted about it, saying something like, “What could possibly make me happy for Christmas?”, and adding, “Karina said nothing.” At that stage, I hadn’t clicked that Andy Martin and I were actually following each other on Twitter. My friend Helen Moffett, whom I’d infected with Reacher Fever, saw my tweet, and kindly offered to get me a copy of Reacher Said Nothing as at the time she was staying in the U.S. where the book was already in the bookshops. Lo and behold, Andy Martin saw our Twitter exchange and generously offered not only to send Helen a book for me, but to sign it, get Lee Child to sign it, and to add a second signed copy for her into the parcel. There are moments in life when it is easy to believe in fairytale miracles. And this was only the beginning!
Helen received the promised gifts, but resisted the temptation to read the book until her return to South Africa in mid-December when she delivered my copy to me and we began our Christmas tandem reading of Reacher Said Nothing. And what a joy it has been! The book is everything that a Reacher fan might have wished for, and more.
Reacher Said Nothing is dedicated to “all those loyal readers of Lee Child who may have bought this book by mistake” and opens with two epigraphs: a quote from James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, and one from one of my absolute favourites, Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading in which the author writes about the different ways of reading – for the action and characters of the story, and for the detailed exploration of the texture of the narrative. Andy Martin’s ensuing analysis of Lee Child’s creative process is both.
Martin approached Child with the idea for the project in 2014, only days before 1 September when Child traditionally begins writing his next Reacher novel. It was to be the twentieth in the series, Make Me. In an email of 22 August, Martin proposed “a kind of literary criticism but in the moment, in real time, rather than picking it up afterwards…trying to capture the very moment of creation…you would have someone (i.e. me) looking over your shoulder as you are typing the words.” Five days before the first word of Make Me appeared on Child’s computer screen, he said yes. And off they went.
Writing a book as great as Reacher wasn’t easy.
Reacher Said Nothing takes us not only behind the scenes of Make Me’s genesis, but also to the day in 1994 when Child bought the paper and pencil with which he wrote Killing Floor, the first in the Reacher series, and explores much of the before and in-between from uncertain beginnings to stratospheric success. More importantly, it throws light on the magic that happens whenever any writer picks up a pen and begins dreaming. In this respect it is as much a book for readers as for writers. When writing, Child thinks like a reader; that’s his thing. But there is no magic formula. Only a lot of doubt, hard work, and hope. Trust. And when you are lucky, a good story to tell.
Andy Martin has a great story to tell. Reacher Said Nothing itself reads like a thriller. Like a master of the genre, Martin builds up the tension to the moment when Child sits down to write the first sentence. From there, he continues about the power of storytelling – the written word’s extraordinary potentials for both, writers and readers. After all, one particular book Child read as a kid led him to the life he has today. His own books have entertained millions of readers around the world for two decades. Even though I am not particularly fond of crime fiction or thrillers, Child’s books have changed my life, and I am grateful. It is all about the “[h]ope of a hero coming to save you. Hope of becoming a hero.”
“He would have been good around the campfire, Lee – he would definitely make you forget about the wolves or the saber-tooth”, Martin writes.
Yes. And about the pain of grief…
From the start when I began reading Killing Floor, I recognised and was captivated by a quality in the novels that intrigued me: an attention to word choice, syntax, punctuation – a kind of poetry that I now realise is fully conscious, intentional. “It all mattered, linguistically”, Martin writes. It’s about noticing things. And to see the process unfold is fascinating. Child writes only one draft, but the meticulousness with which he constructs the narrative allows him to.
I loved the humour of Reacher Said Nothing, the banter between the two authors, and Martin’s often hilarious commentary. An early scene:
“‘It’s reverse Freudian,’ Lee said. ‘You’re on the couch and you are analyzing me.’
I said nothing.
He flexed his fingers. ‘Naturally I’m going to start, like all good writers, by…checking my email!’”
There are numerous smileys in the margins of my copy of the book. I have scribbled, underlined, single and double, all over.
Martin and his subject emerge from Reacher Said Nothing as two people who are really passionate about what they are doing, are prepared to work their fingers to the bone in pursuit of their visions, and know how to have fun while doing it: “I live in a permanent daydream. I get paid to daydream narratives”, Child says.
It pleased me no end to discover that they both eat cheese and marmalade sandwiches. And to read about “the grape in the fridge”.
Lee Child’s relationship to his fictional hero is highly interesting. Anyone who has non-existent people – I am hesitant to write – living in their heads, knows what it’s like. Creation is a thrill. All of us, readers and writers alike, are junkies.
My final verdict on Reacher Said Nothing? Allow me to quote:
“‘Outstanding,’ said Lee. He pointed out that it was one of Reacher’s favorite words.”
Completely unrelated to me, the name ‘Karina’ is mentioned in Reacher Said Nothing. It made me smile. A Karina is rumoured to appear in Andy Martin’s next book, Reacher Said Something, but that’s another story about writing about writing about writing… Another daydream.
In Make Me, Reacher is concussed. “He’s rambling on about books. A bit like you,” Child says to Martin when writing the scene.
And I am about to headbutt a dragon, and live happily ever after.
To be continued…