Today I’m delighted to feature academic and biographer Heather Martin. Heather’s recent book The Reacher Guy is the only authorised biography of Lee Child.
Heather was born in Geraldton, a few hundred miles north of Perth on the west coast of Australia. Aged sixteen she left home for three years as a music student in London, but never went back. She read Languages at Cambridge, staying on to do a PhD, then lectured in Spanish at the University of Hull and King’s College London, where she was also admissions tutor. More recently, after working as a freelance editor and translator and a stint as head of languages in an independent primary, she returned to academia as visiting fellow in the department of comparative literature at the Graduate Center, City University New York. Heather has always been a big reader, and though she never planned to become a biographer, once the idea of writing the Lee Child story took hold, it felt somehow meant to be.
Over to Heather
Which five pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
Slightly random selection, as music is such an important part of my life, but in rough chronological order …
Chopin’s ‘Nocturne in E-flat Major’: my father used to play this on his mother’s piano in Nedlands, West Australia, and I have so many positive associations with that place – books, dog, grape vines, freedom, mulberry tree. Two generations on and from a very young age it’s been one of my younger son’s favourites, too, though he only met his Australian grandfather once, as a babe in arms.
‘La maja de Goya’ by Enrique Granados, which I trace back to my first visit to the Alhambra aged twelve, which in turn probably inspired in me the dream of becoming a classical guitarist.
‘What Sweeter Music’, by John Rutter, which triggers a flood of blissful memories of my two sons singing in Great St Mary’s choir in Cambridge.
Virginia Astley’s ‘Had I the Heavens’ and Peter Green’s ‘Need Your Love So Bad’. None of this music really needs explanation or back story – listening to it is enough.
What five things (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.
I find it hard to escape the logic of food, water and shelter, closely followed by books and music. So I’m going to twist the question to what 5 things are an indelible part of my acquired identity.
Growing up by the Indian Ocean, with all the beauty that brings: the blazing sunsets, the infinite horizon, the sound of the waves, the shell collecting. Two years in Aix-en-Provence from the age of three to five: the boat trip from Fremantle to Southampton on the old SS Oriana, with a stopover in (then) Ceylon; my first snow; French nursery rhymes and reading books; lentils and green beans and calissons; the ‘école maternelle’ on the Rue Célony where the mid-morning snack, supplied by the school, was a bar of dark chocolate inside a hunk of baguette. A year in Paris aged thirteen, and winning the prize for poetry recitation – in French! Back in Perth, doing my last two years at the now defunct City Beach High School in one so I could escape to London and become a guitarist. Learning Spanish in north London from a bunch of Venezuelans.
Give five pieces of advice to your younger self?
I wouldn’t dare. I almost certainly wouldn’t have taken it anyway. And it would probably only be what my own parents tried so hard to tell me. OK, here’s an idea: travel forwards in time to listen to the advice of your own children – I’ve found them to be much wiser than either of their parents! And make sure you learn more than one musical instrument to a decent standard. And never stop singing.
Tell us five things that most people don’t know about you
In principle extremely easy, since I am a very unknown person. But also largely anticipated by my previous answers … So here are some connected with The Reacher Guy.
It was my reading of Personal in Spanish that convinced Lee Child I might make a plausible biographer.
On the other hand, I don’t drive, which he considered would almost certainly disqualify me. Therefore in doing the whole thing from start to finish without recourse to a driving licence, I proved him wrong – how many can claim that?
Then – was this to make up for his scepticism? – HE interviewed ME for the October issue of the iconic US crime writers’ magazine The Big Thrill.
And finally, most of the biography was written in downtown New York, looking out over West Houston Street towards the Hudson from the eleventh floor of an NYU tower block on Bleecker Street designed by I. M. Pei. By pure coincidence, my apartment number was the same as Lee’s on the Upper West Side, from which I took great encouragement.
Tell us five things you’d still like to do or achieve.
I’m pretty happy overall with the things I’ve done. Pick up the guitar more often, write a song maybe, perhaps resume my lapsed study of Japanese. Read more – I’ve got a long way to go to catch up with Lee. Oh, and fingers crossed 2021 will allow us to do those live gigs for The Reacher Guy that 2020 – so bitterly and so characteristically – forced us to put on hold. And finally have our launch party!
Thank you so much for sharing with us today Heather. I particularly liked your music choices. La maja de Goya by Granados, brought back many happy memories of Spain, sitting and listening to a classical guitarist in Seville, visiting the Alhambra and visiting The Prado in Madrid. While I hadn’t heard of Virginia Astley, I love ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’ by WB Yeats which she uses for the lyrics. I also quite like the idea of exploring what makes up your identity. I think it would make an excellent variant going forward – am I allowed to pinch your idea? I’m pleased you’re happy with all you’ve done. I like a contented person. Fingers crossed those live events become an option again soon and you can finally have your launch party.
The Reacher Guy : The Authorised Biography of Lee Child
Jack Reacher is only the second of Jim Grant’s great fictional characters: the first is Lee Child himself. Heather Martin’s biography tells the story of all three.
Lee Child is the enigmatic powerhouse behind the bestselling Jack Reacher novels. With millions of devoted fans across the globe, and over a hundred million copies of his books sold in more than forty languages, he is that rarity, a writer who is lauded by critics and revered by readers. And yet curiously little has been written about the man himself.
The Reacher Guy is a compelling and authoritative portrait of the artist as a young man, refracted through the life of his fictional avatar, Jack Reacher. Through parallels drawn between Child and his literary creation, it tells the story of how a boy from Birmingham with a ferocious appetite for reading grew up to become a high-flying TV executive, before coming full circle and establishing himself as the strongest brand in publishing.
Heather Martin explores Child’s lifelong fascination with America, and shows how the Reacher novels fed and fuelled this obsession, shedding light on the opaque process of publishing a novel along the way. Drawing on her conversations and correspondence with Child over a number of years, as well as interviews with his friends, teachers and colleagues, she forensically pieces together his life, traversing back through the generations to Northern Ireland and County Durham, and following the trajectory of his extraordinary career via New York and Hollywood until the climactic moment when, in 2020, having written a continuous series of twenty-four books, he finally breaks free of his fictional creation.
You can follow Heather via Twitter