The law of bestsellers

27 November 2012 - 02:07 By ©The Daily Telegraph
John Grisham. File photo
John Grisham. File photo

Every morning at seven, John Grisham sits down at the computer in his farmhouse in rural Virginia with a strong cup of coffee. It's the same computer he's used to bash out the past 25 bestsellers, and the same brand of organic coffee he's drunk for 20 years.

"I'll have two cups and then switch to decaf," he says in his deep southern drawl. "My office is dark, warm and cosy with no phones and no internet because I'm terrified my stuff will be hacked into.

"I'll get five or six pages done before lunch then, at about 12.30pm, I'll drive into town for lunch. If you get into a rhythm of doing that every day, with a few days off here and there, those pages pile up and you can get one book done a year."

The 57-year-old writer, whose latest thriller, The Racketeer , has just knocked JK Rowling off the top of The New York Times bestseller list, is a lifelong Democrat and a generous party donor, but he's not Barack Obama's biggest fan.

"It's astonishing how much things have changed in my lifetime," says Grisham.

A liberal conservative, he believes marijuana use should be decriminalised but not legalised and is a gun owner who finds it "extraordinary that we can't ban assault weapons and keep guns away from people who are mentally ill".

"Ten years ago a movie about a gay couple would have made us all squirm but people are no longer afraid to come out of the closet and have normal lives. It's the same as what happened with civil rights.

"Back in the 1960s, we were convinced that our world would always be white and that we would never integrate. In the Deep South, where I grew up, that's the way it was."

Known to be vocal about his political beliefs, Grisham, who served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1983 until 1990, has been criticised for allowing those beliefs to seep into his writing. This seems a little unfair. The former lawyer is more of an idealist than a political preacher. Aside from two novels on the death penalty, one on the corruption of judicial elections and a non-fiction book about wrongful convictions, Grisham tends to stick to what he does best.

He has good reason to. Every legal thriller he's written since 1992, when The Pelican Brief was published, has debuted at number one on the bestsellers' list, and eight of those books have become Hollywood films.

He is estimated to be worth more than $200-million.

"Whenever I'm tempted to air my views my wife will tell me to get off my soap box," he smiles.

" 'Go write what your fans want,' she'll say. And that's the great thing about The Racketeer: there's no politics there. It's just a fun romp to write and to read. That's my bread and butter."

Grisham has no literary pretensions, he assures me. "I'm not trying to write great literature. I'll leave that to someone else, and I'm glad they do it because I like to read great literature. But I do what I do. It's enough for me that when I write something like The Racketeer, about 5million people all over the world will read it. When I see someone in an airport lounge or on the beach reading one of my books, it still makes me smile, 30 books on."

As for the bad reviews, he stopped reading them years ago.

"I could read two or three good ones and then one bad one would make me want to go and shoot people, so I decided it was best to ignore them."

Even so, the headline on one particularly vicious review of The Client, back in 1993, has been hard to forget. "'More pop schlock from Grisham'," he grimaces. "That was pretty nasty, but if I saw it now it wouldn't bother me at all." Besides which, it's his wife of 31 years, Renee, the mother of his two children, Shea and Ty, who has always been his most stringent critic.

"I once wrote a sex scene and gave it to her to read," he confesses. "I thought it was a really steamy, raunchy scene, but when I sneaked into the room to try to gauge her reaction, she was screaming with laughter. I mean hysterical laughter. 'You can't write sex scenes,' she said to me. 'What do you know about sex?' So people shouldn't expect any erotic fiction from me."

  • The Racketeer (Hodder and Stoughton) available at Exclusive Books, R297

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