Best-selling author shares wisdom with Sheffield students

Lee Child with the group of students

Recently (Friday 13 October 2017) we were delighted to welcome worldwide best-selling author and Sheffield alumnus Lee Child (LLB Law 1977, Honorary LittD 2009) back to the University to meet Sheffield students and to share experiences from his career with them.

Lee, author of the Jack Reacher novels, returned to campus to meet a group of students from the School of English, to pass on his words of wisdom and answer their questions. He began with an introduction about himself and his career, before moving onto discussing the practical aspects of being an author.

He explained how it had been a long journey from starting out to becoming the success he is today, how he looks at writing as a job, and how it is no different to any other job – requiring time and dedication to produce a novel.

After asking students about the areas of writing they wished to pursue, Lee went on to discuss the practicalities of creating a physical book, the challenges of printing and selling large novels, as well as how he has observed buyers literally weighing up books in their hands when deciding which to purchase – something he loves to observe when in airport book shops.

Lee also spoke candidly about the importance of being aware of the audience when writing, accommodating voracious and casual readers alike, but that both groups typically want a book that is “the same but different” – something that feels comfortable but that is telling a new story.

He also spoke about the experience of having his books adapted on the big screen, and crossing paths with film stars – including adventures with Tom Cruise – but also mentioned how he would like to see a PhD study examine why actors tend to be so short.

Lee Child sharing experiences with Sheffield students Lee Child chatting with students

As the session drew to a close Lee answered individual questions from students, and was particularly pleased to receive a question he had never heard before: “Which three famous criminals would you like to invite to dinner?”.

The event was organised as part of the University's 'Sheffield Connections' networking programme which gives small groups of students the opportunity to meet informally with inspirational alumni.

This is not the first time Lee has given back to Sheffield. He was previously generous enough to fund 50 ‘Jack Reacher Scholarships’ to support students through their studies, named after the main character in the book series for which he is best known. Since releasing his first book in 1997 Lee has sold over 100 million books about the enigmatic hero, and the series has now made its transition to the big screen featuring Tom Cruise in the titular role.

Lee originally studied Law at Sheffield, but during his studies developed a passion for drama which led him to work in television. After producing successful programmes including Prime Suspect, The Jewel in the Crown, Cracker and Brideshead Revisited, Lee left the world of television to try writing a novel and has never looked back. Twenty years and over twenty books later he is now one of the top thriller writers in the world.

Professor Gill Valentine with Lee Child Lee Child with Peggy Lim

Along with students, Lee also met with Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Gill Valentine, and former Sheffield Students’ Union International Officer Peggy Lim. Professor Valentine and Peggy shared details of the #WeAreInternational campaign with him, including the University’s work to foster and promote inclusivity among our international staff and students with the city of Sheffield, something close to Lee’s heart, and presented him with a #WeAreInternational pin which he wore with pride during his visit.

Lee was back in Sheffield to take part in the Off the Shelf festival, speaking in conversation with Professor Chris Wigginton about his latest novel, ‘The Midnight Line’, along with his other best-sellers as well as how he goes about creating the stories in his books. Over 700 people joined the audience in Sheffield City Hall to watch Lee as he spoke, including expressing his pride at returning to the venue where he had seen David Bowie perform during his studies.

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