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A Day in the Life of Heather Martin – Lee Child’s authorised biographer

5th February 2021

A Day in the Life of Heather Martin

Lee and Heather ‘face to face’ on Zoom

A Day in the Life of Heather Martin – Lee Child’s authorised biographer

Broadly speaking, there were two types of day in the time I spent researching and writing my biography of Lee Child: days in, and days out. 

A Day in the Life of Heather Martin

The view from Lee’s original New York apartment on East 22nd Street

Days in were solitary, and mostly involved sitting at a desk. But even those were spent in interesting places. Gazing out from the eleventh-floor window of New York University’s I. M. Pei-designed Silver Towers, down West Houston towards the Hudson, catching occasional glimpses of ocean liners appearing to cross the street in the distance. Or sequestered in the deep quiet of the Graduate Center library on Fifth Avenue, in what used to be B. Altman & Co, the first of the luxury department stores to make the move from Ladies’ Mile at the start of the twentieth century. I always chose a vantage point looking out at the neighbouring Empire State Building, an approximation of the view that inspired the four-year-old Lee’s original dream of escape, or rather convinced him, back in the late 1950s, that he’d been born in the wrong place. 

Lee’s childhood home in Coventry

Days out had another kind of charm. The long trek on foot from Coventry railway station to the modest suburban street where Lee was born James Dover Grant in 1954. Bus rides between Harrogate and Otley, where his maternal grandparents lived and the source of his happiest boyhood memories, from Birmingham Snow Hill to his beloved Villa Park, aka ‘the cathedral of football’, and from Handsworth Wood to King Edward’s School on the Edgbaston Road. A flight across the Irish Sea to Belfast, to see his grandparents’ house in Cherryvalley, where he holidayed most years until his mid-teens, and the house on Hyndford Street they’d previously sold to Van Morrison’s parents. Retracing his footsteps as university student in Sheffield and transmission controller at Manchester’s Granada Television, loitering outside his former homes in Stalybridge and Alderley Edge, dropping into the art shop in Kirkby Lonsdale where he faxed the early page edits of his first book to his first editor across the Atlantic. I even went on a pilgrimage to the Asda superstore in Kendal, where Jack Reacher was named. 

A Day in the Life of Heather Martin

Lee’s brunch drink of choice. (photo: Heather Martin)

If Lee Child and I had any kind of routine during those years, it was breakfast. Lee likes breakfast (preceded by cigarettes and coffee). And he liked meeting up over meals. Food had to be eaten, so he might as well combine it with getting the job done – two birds with one stone. And like he always says, speaking from a strictly solipsistic point of view, nothing of value is ever accomplished in the morning, which made it the perfect time to fritter away on biographical research. It suited me well enough, too, though the combination of asking questions and taking notes meant I never got to take full advantage of those glorious hotel buffets. 

But if I were to single out two days in particular? 

First, the 17th of March 2019, twenty-two years to the day since Lee Child’s now iconic first novel was published by G. P. Putnam Sons in New York. We drank a champagne toast to Killing Floor at a pizzeria on Columbus, a short walk from his eleventh-floor apartment on the Upper West Side. But before that, we’d adhered to our other periodic routine … Him sprawled on the over-sized sofa, me tucked into the armchair opposite (view down over Central Park), talking until the light faded and he finally unpeeled himself to switch on a low-wattage floor lamp. This was the day I got to sift through a box of old photographs, while in the study next door Lee returned to the final pages of (the last of his sole-authored Reacher books) Blue Moon, his left hand holding a lit cigarette, his right index finger picking lazily at the keyboard. At last, the wedding pictures, taken at the reception in Crookes Valley Park, the Sheffield University Arts Tower rising up in the background like an intimation of Manhattan! At last, a grainy 1957 shot of James and older brother Richard with both parents, John and Audrey Grant, taken outside the mill in East Belfast where his paternal great-grandparents had worked! 

And second, a month or so later, the first of many days at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich. Which was when I finally laid eyes on the original handwritten manuscript of Killing Floor, then titled ‘Bad Luck and Trouble’, which is where it all began, looking out over the Lune Valley back in 1994 … That was a moment I will never forget. 

Lee’s favourite pose (photo: Heather Martin)

Heather Martin’s authorised biography of Lee Child, The Reacher Guy, is published by Constable at Little, Brown in the UK, and in the US by Pegasus Books. It can be bought here from the TripFiction database.

Heather Martin 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 Kings 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.

Catch Heather on Twitter

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