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Stephen Leather

Q&A With Stephen Leather

3 January 2017

We’re proud to have over 40 Stephen Leather eAudiobooks currently available on uLIBRARY including The Chinaman, the book behind the new Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan film The Foreigner.

To celebrate the start of our Summer Sound audiobook challenge we asked Stephen about being a writer, potential film adaptations and his love for libraries.

Did you always want to be a writer?
I guess so, but as a teenager I never thought it was a proper job. I’m not sure why because my uncle – Tony Williamson – was a very successful TV writer, working on shows like The Avengers, Department S, Jason King, Adam Adamant, and Danger Man. I studied biochemistry at university but realised halfway through my course that I didn’t want to be a scientist. I switched to journalism, which I loved. I tried to write fiction several times but couldn’t get anywhere but after I’d worked as a journalist for ten years on papers such as the Glasgow Herald, The Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail and The Times, I finally got the hang of writing fiction.

Why did you decide to write thrillers?
I wanted to write thrillers because they are the books I enjoy reading. I’ve never really enjoyed crime novels, at least not the cosy crime books where detectives follow police procedure to solve a case. I prefer reading – and writing - hard-bitten thrillers grounded in the real world.

What’s your proudest moment as a writer?
I think publication of my fourth book, The Chinaman, because it was my breakthrough book and I earned enough money from it to write full-time, which I have done ever since.

Are you excited to see The Chinaman on the big screen when The Foreigner is released later this year?
Hell yeah! Getting The Chinaman made into a film was a very long road, more than ten years in the making! It’s all down to an amazing producer – Wayne Godfrey - and his company The Fyzz. Wayne pushed and pushed to get the film made and it all came together when Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan agreed to star in it. The director is the awesome Martin Campbell who did the Goldeneye and Casino Royale Bond films. The movie will be released in October and I’m really looking forward to it.

I was overjoyed to have Jackie Chan playing the lead in the film, He’s perfect for the role. And I love the fact that Pierce Brosnan is playing the villain, Liam Hennessy. When I wrote the book more than 25 years ago, I had Pierce in mind for the young IRA terrorist in the book, and it’s great that over the years he’s grown into the role of Hennessy!

One of the scenes I saw being filmed was where Pierce is confronted by Jackie and it was great seeing them together. And I watched as they blew up a bus on a bridge over the Thames, which was quite something!

How much involvement did you have with the film adaptation?
To be honest, my involvement has been minimal, though I did visit the set several times. A terrific screenwriter from the States – David Marconi, who wrote the Will Smith movie Enemy Of The State – wrote the script based on my novel and did a better job than I ever could!

Are we likely to see any more adaptations of your work in the future? As you have a background in television writing, could we see you adapting one of your characters for TV?
Tango One, about three young undercover cops sent to bring down an international drugs baron, has already been filmed and will be out before the end of the year. Moves are also afoot to film my self-published book Private Dancer, about a travel writer who falls in love with a Thai go-go dancer.

Your Dan “Spider” Shepherd series has been incredibly successful, could we one day see him on the big screen? In your dream casting who would you choose to take the role of Dan “Spider” Shepherd?
I think the Spider books would make great movies, or a TV series. It all depends on the right producer spotting the books and getting behind them. It hasn’t happened yet but I have my fingers crossed! Tom Hardy would be great as Spider, and he’s about the right age. Jason Statham would be great, too. I love Clive Owen and physically he’d be perfect but he’s probably a decade or so too old to play the part.

We’re releasing a collection of Jack Nightingale short stories in audio in September, could we also see Jack Nightingale in the future? Who would you like to play him?
There are no plans for a Nightingale movie or TV show but again I have my fingers crossed! I always think that Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch would be a great Jack Nightingale.

We’ve released a number of your novels as audiobooks. What’s your opinion on audiobooks?
I love them! I’m so pleased to see how many people now listen to them. Many years ago the spoken versions were really only for the visually impaired and they were seen as the poor relation of publishing. But now audio books are seen as entertainment that everyone can enjoy. I think the arrival of smartphones and download technology has had a lot to do with the surge in popularity. In the old days they came on dozens of tapes, then CDs, and they were bulky and expensive. Now the price has come down and like eBooks they can be downloaded instantly.

Have you heard any of your audiobooks?
I get free copies of all my audio books and I often listen to them. I’m always impressed the quality and it’s a very different experience from reading.

How important do you think finding the right reader is?
I’m lucky in that the amazing Paul Thornley does many of my audiobooks. He’s a great actor, so great he was able to play Ron Weasley on stage in the Harry Potter play despite not being ginger! He has a great sense of pace and timing and goes to a lot of trouble to make sure he gets the voices of the characters right. He often emails me for the backstory of the character in my books so he can nail the accent. He’s a real professional.

Our uLIBRARY service allows you to listen to your local library’s audiobook collection anywhere, where would you recommend listening to your audiobooks?
I find audiobooks are great while driving. I tend to get bored with music on long drives and audiobooks are a terrific way of passing the time, with the advantage of course that you can keep your eyes on the road! If you find yourself on the Tube in London during rush hour there’s often no room to open a book or a newspaper, so audiobooks come in very handy there! They’re also a great way of drifting off to sleep late at night, though I would hope that my books are so exciting that they’d keep you awake!

With libraries across the UK facing closures they’re now seen by some as not being important anymore. Do you have any fond memories of using libraries and do you think they’re an important service?
I spent much of my childhood in libraries. I did most of my homework in the local library as I had four siblings and our house was always bedlam. During the school holidays where I didn’t have a job I would read up to ten books a week from the local library – mainly science fiction. I couldn’t afford to buy books and relied on the library for pretty much all my reading material.

Libraries are a vital resource and it is shameful the way the government –irrespective of the political party in power – have slashed library budgets and caused so many to be closed. The older I get the more I realise that the men and women in power in our country do not have the best interests of our citizens at heart. They are happy to push kids into universities and charge them £9,000 a year for a degree that at the end of the day probably isn’t worth having. But they are closing down resources like libraries that cost the user nothing. Anyone can use a library and benefit from the knowledge within. But our Government doesn’t care about libraries because they don’t earn money. Universities saddle kids with debts of more than £40,000, so the government is happy to let the universities expand. It’s all about money. Universities earn money, libraries don’t, so they promote the former and shut down the latter.

I understand that with the growth of the internet people have access to information no matter where they are. But libraries are more than just collections of books. They are safe places where people – no matter who they are and what their circumstances – can study and learn. And let’s not forget librarians, a free resource for anyone who wants to widen and expand their knowledge.

I’m pretty sure it’s a class thing. Most working class homes are crowded and noisy and don’t have many books. Middle class homes are generally quiet and supportive and filled with books. So who benefits most from libraries? Working class kids. Your average politician – be they Conservative, Labour or whatever – really has no idea what it is like to be working class kid who has to struggle to learn, so they really don’t care about libraries. The more I think about it the angrier I get, so I’d best stop now!