Small Talk: John Grisham

John Grisham was working as a criminal lawyer at a Mississippi practice when he began to write fiction. His first novel, A Time to Kill, was published in 1988 but it wasn’t until his second, The Firm, became a bestseller in 1991 that he devoted himself to writing. He went on to publish numerous legal thrillers, including The Pelican Brief (1992) and The Associate (2009). He has sold a total of around 300m books worldwide in 40 languages. Born in Arkansas, US, in 1955, Grisham is married with two children and lives in Virginia.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

Mark Twain’s book Roughing It, although I first read it about 20 or 30 years ago. It’s about his early days in the Wild West and the silver mines of Nevada and California. It’s always a great pleasure to get a Mark Twain book and sit down and start laughing.

What books are on your bedside table?

I keep 10 or 12 on there. I start two or three books a week but seldom finish any because I lose interest. But I have just read a great one, The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje. Also I always have a stack of non-fiction books about legal issues – I’m always probing for something that might turn into a novel.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

I never made the decision; it wasn’t a childhood dream. It started as a secret hobby – then, halfway through A Time to Kill, I remember thinking it would be nice to publish it: I could make a few bucks and take the pressure off. It was the success of The Firm that allowed me to start writing full time. A little hobby turned into a vocation.

What book changed your life?

There are a few that I remember having a profound impact. The first was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer when I was a kid. Then Huckleberry Finn and later Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

What is your writing routine?

Once there’s a deadline for a book I start each morning at 7; same desk, same cup of coffee, same everything. I work for four hours. It’s quiet, private, there are no phones, faxes, internet. On a good day I’ll do eight to 10 pages; on a slow day, five or six.

What book do you wish you’d written?

Bleak House by Dickens is my favourite book about the law. I couldn’t have written it, though. Another book that has always inspired me is Little Drummer Girl by John Le Carré but I couldn’t have written that because I didn’t live in that time.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

I would have to say our horse farm in central Virginia, as we chose to live there. When we travel we often go to Paris; my wife likes Paris.

John Grisham’s latest novel is ‘The Litigators’ (Hodder & Stoughton)

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