The Day of the Jackal Sets a High Bar for Thrillers

Author Lee Child has published 25 thrillers, featuring Jack Reacher, which have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.So when he says The Day Of The Jackal is “a year-zero, game-changing thriller, one of the most significant of all time” you listen.

It is 50 years since the book by Frederick Forsyth was published but, in a new introduction to a special anniversary edition, Child says it still feels “luminously fresh and new”.

And no-one is more surprised than Forsyth himself. Not only was it his first novel, but also he tells the BBC: “I’d never written a word of fiction in my life.”

Back in 1970, the former RAF pilot and war correspondent was out of work. “[I was] skint, in debt, no flat, no car, no nothing and I just thought, ‘How do I get myself out of this hole?’ And I came up with probably the zaniest solution – write a novel,” he says.

Forsyth “dashed off” The Day Of The Jackal quickly on an old typewriter in 35 days. It is a gripping tale, set in 1963, about an Englishman hired to assassinate the French president at the time, Charles de Gaulle. But publishers were not interested. After all de Gaulle was very much alive, the mission had obviously failed, so where was the suspense? That, says Child, is the key to its success.

“It had a wholly new approach. It was talking about how things were done, rather than would something succeed. [read more from the BBC here]. PS: I smiled when I read this article and hope that my new thriller is a success because the mission given to the lead character fails to unfold in the way we would expect. (oops, did I give too much away?)

Writers need to read – Ian McEwan and Lee Child

Great advice from Ian McEwan. He believes that many people start (or try to start) their writing careers too early. First, he suggests, they need to read. As Lee Child puts it, “My advice to writers is to start late! For people who write too young, it’s a hollow thing.” (see more here).

I agree. I love reading, but not fiction. Yet, I enjoy writing fiction. Perhaps this is why I enjoy fictional writing and also like it to be realistic—believable to the reader. I forced myself to finish a Dan Brown novel 18 months ago. I hated it. False, awkward plot, impossible situations, etc. Why write a thriller that couldn’t happen? It would be better to call it fantasy? You can view Ian McEwan’s advice for aspiring writers, here.

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