Jack Higgins interview in the Yorkshire Evening Post in May 1994
With his six foot frame folded into a deep chair and sipping a Bushmills, Harry Patterson is in nostalgic mood at the Queen's Hotel.
Harry, AKA Jack Higgins, has plenty to be nostalgic about. This Jersey tax exile, millionaire thriller writer, is back in his old stamping ground, Leeds. And being back here, promoting his latest book, has set him reminiscing ...
About the time he was flogged by the head at Roundhay School during a snowy wartime winter. Harry had made time stand still by lobbing snowballs at the clock over the stable block.
"That day he flogged me, I was in agony of course. He didn't just give me six, he gave me nine strokes.But I was buggered if I'd blubber for him," recalls Harry in his usual forthright style.
The very same head told him "you'll never amount to anything Patterson," a prediction which Harry is happy to trot out. And despite that flogging, he did, eventually, become a teacher too.
He'd arrived in Leeds at the start of the war. A 12-year old who'd lived both sides of the sectarian divide in Ulster, a youngster who recalled his mum throwing herself over him in a Belfast tram as it was raked with bullets in a Feinian outrage.
"Leeds always had a great reputation for taking people in, the outsider, the foreigner. It was a great melting pot. Thanks to Adolf Hitler, there were kids like me from everywhere. Refugees from France and the Low Countries. Jews from all over Europe." Harry's mum had re-married. His
stepdad played in a band at the old Victory Hotel in Briggate. His mum was waitress at Marshall and Snelgrove. But times were very hard. His early memories of Leeds are of a Harehills back to back with no bath, and the ragged kids at Gipton Elementary.
His scholarship to Roundhay School - "I hated school. I did really badly" - could have been a passport into the middle classes. It wasn't. The blazers, the masters' gowns, the French and German left him cold. He left at 15 for a series of jobs which included tram driver, circus hand and council minion at Kirkstall Road cleansing department.
"It wasn't until national service, with the Royal Horse Guards at Windsor, that I realized I was Actually intelligent. I went through the confidential files and, to my amazement, discovered I had an IQ of 147."
But unlocking the grey cells, via evening classes, teaching and two degrees, took a few more years. And in between there was the Bohemian life of fifties Lees, much of it revolving round Tim's Bar, a haunt of actors, writers and artists.
Peter O'Toole was there - and still had his Leeds accent. They acted together at the Arts Center and remained good friends. John Braine, the Bingley librarian whose Room At The Top redefined the British novel, was a mate too.
But Harry's writing burned on a slow fuse. As a teacher, then a lecturer, it was for evenings, weekends and school holidays, a grueling apprenticeship papered with rejection slips.Until 1959 when his first novel, Sad Wind from the Sea, was published. Even then, there was no overnight success. He was 45 when The Eagle Has Landed let him spread his wings. Still one of the bestsellers of all time, the book sold 13 million copies and the film was seen by millions more.
With a grand total of 53 (since the interview 56) books now published and 220 million in 45 languages sold - Harry Patterson is a one-man industry. His thrillers have a penchant for heroes who suffer, "good men dragged through the fire like corn kings for the rest of us."
Characters come first, not plots, says Harry. And you must have what American crime and thriller writers call a Maguffin: a key object or document which is the main spring of the plot, the object of a race against time, like the Maltese Falcon, for example.
"I spent years learning my craft, writing all sorts of things. Short stories, radio plays. Four or five unpublished novels.
"You've got to be obsessive, prepared to stick at it, spend enormous time and effort and then still get nowhere.
"But it's a bit like acting. You need a touch of luck as well. The right person reading your manuscript at the right time. And even if you have one great success, like my great friend John Braine, you can lose it all. He ended up broke in a one room flat in Hempstead."
There's little fear of that for Harry Patterson.