John Grisham talks to the BBC’s World Book Club

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Sunday 17th March 2013

John GRisham A Time to KillLike millions of other readers around the world, I’m a big John Grisham fan. So when I spotted that the US Embassy was hosting a recording of a World Book Club discussion with the great man himself I applied for tickets immediately.

And guess what? I got them, so last week my daughter and I pitched up at the embassy’s imposing building in Grosvenor Square clutching our passports. Security, as you’d expect, was mega-tight, but once our bags had been checked, our passports scrutinised and we’d handed over our mobile phones, we were ushered into a sleek sixties auditorium. The embassy staff were all delightful, showing us the way, offering us a glass of wine and even handing out bags of popcorn.

When we finally sat down, presenter Harriett Gilbert launched into the interview, which was conducted via Skype. Grisham, looking like the all-American hero in a pale blue shirt and beige chinos, was speaking from his office in Charlotteville, Virginia, twenty miles from the farm where he lives with his wife.

The book under discussion was Grisham’s very first novel, A Time to Kill, his gripping tale of retribution and justice. I won’t spoil the programme, which is due to be broadcast on the BBC’s World Service on April 6, but during the hour-long discussion he revealed that his original manuscript was 1,000 pages long and he had to cut a third of it, that it’s the most graphic book he’s written (“I’m not sure I would write it that way again,” he said) and that he is currently writing another book featuring Jake Brigance, the lawyer in A Time to Kill. He always has “two or three ideas percolating” at a time, writes a meticulous outline at the outset and thinks that his best books are where he focuses on an issue, whether it be capital punishment or insurance fraud or wrongful conviction. His wife is his “first critic and the hardest” and he never gets writer’s block. “I have the opposite problem,” he said. “Which book to write next?”

Grisham also agreed to read three excerpts from A Time to Kill. The audience sat spellbound as he put on his glasses and read the spine-tingling extracts in his gravelly voice. There were also loads of questions, both from the live audience and from Grisham devotees around the world. The best moment of all came when a Grisham fan rang from a noisy Irish pub in Memphis, Tennessee.

“Which pub are you in?” inquired Grisham. When the caller told him, he quipped: “I know a lot of pubs in Memphis but I don’t know that one…”

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