JACK HIGGINS HOMEPAGE Main Books Biography Other Forum
No navigation frame on the right? Click here

This interview comes from: http://www.s-t.com/daily/05-96/05-05-96/3showt.htm.

newStandard-------copyright 1996-------AdLine

Writing is Higgins' compulsion

Novel airs as Showtime miniseries

By Luaine Lee, Scripps Howard News Service
Best-selling author Jack Higgins admits that writing, for him, is a compulsion.
The author of such hits as "The Eagle Has Landed," "Night of the Fox," "Sheba" and "Angel of Death" couldn't help himself, even when his books moldered unsold in a bottom drawer at his mother's house.
One of the series of adventure thrillers featuring his Sean Dillon character, "On Dangerous Ground," has been made into a miniseries starring Rob Lowe. It will air on Showtime May 12, 13 and 20.
Reared in a working-class family, originally in Belfast, Mr. Higgins (whose real name is Harry Patterson) displayed one unusual talent as a kid.
"I had a freak reading ability," he says, stretching his long legs out in front of him in a conference room at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Pasadena, Calif.
"When I was a child of 3 or 4, I could read marvelously. I used to sit when I was 5 on my grandfather's bed and read the Christian Herald (newspaper) to him. He was a very religious man and his sight was going. I had this gift. I was lucky."
In spite of his exceptional talent, Mr. Higgins' upbringing was not exactly Little Lord Fauntleroy's.
"My mother remarried when I was about 13 and we went to live in Northern England, in Yorkshire, in a very industrial, provincial city -- in very working-class circumstances. There were back-to-back houses, the toilet was outside in the yard. I remember we didn't have a bathroom."
Mr. Higgins was a bit of an outcast in his own house.
"My mother was a good woman, a hard-working woman. She worked 60 hours a week as a waitress. My stepfather bitterly resented my presence. He never had any children and I think, God rest him, he looked on me as excess baggage. We never got on. It was just one of those things."
But rising above the station he was born into was more important to Mr. Higgins than he cares to admit.
"You're looking back on different times and different attitudes, a time when you knew your place," he says, trying to stifle a deep-chested cough.
"The idea of doing different, really different things for working-class people was laughed out of court," he says.
But Mr. Higgins did benefit from some unexpected help along the way. He entered a short story competition just before he was drafted. He didn't win. But one of the judges was kind enough to write and encourage him to continue with his writing.
"I think if he hadn't said that maybe I would've dropped the whole idea."
He left school at 15 and managed to get his high-school equivalency by attending night school.
Then, at 26, he trained at a teachers' college and fell in love.
"I was 26, she was 19. It ended up as a big romance and it got me interested heavily in writing," he says. "I wrote a very serious novel which was a love story, a serious love story -- a very French-style short novel called 'Phoenix in the Blood.' "
Because of that book he was able to snag a literary agent, who didn't really like the story but encouraged him to pursue writing. A book about life during the Cold War followed; it, too, was rejected.
"Then I remembered when I got out of the service I'd written a novel which I hadn't quite finished, and it was in the bottom drawer in mother's house."
He mocked the quasi-Hemingway style he'd affected, but rewrote the book and managed to get it published.
For 10 years Mr. Higgins taught school and wrote on the side. Finally, in 1970 he was earning enough with his writing to quit his day job.
Looking back at age 66, he says, "It was really the army that changed me. Because I was in a very famous regiment -- the most elite regiment -- the Household Cavalry, the Queen's Guard. They were also fighting soldiers, very elite ... my squadron leader was the Duke of Wellington. They used to give you psychology tests and it turned out I had a very high IQ, 147, so that alerted me to the fact that I had an ability that had never been recognized by other people."
He served in several regiments in the army and got acquainted with people who had worked with the SOE (Special Operations Executives). "They're people you see in old movies parachuting into France and so on," he says. "They were all amateurs. They weren't the usual intelligence people. They were university professors, lecturers, women, men, some were Americans, in fact, working for the British before the Americans came in (the war.)"
Mr. Higgins wrote several books about people like that, including "The Night of the Fox."
Like many famous Brits before him, he fled England to escape the high taxes. Relocating to Jersey cost him his first marriage, he thinks.
"Reluctantly the family followed me," he says. "My wife then was never happy with the whole thing."
The father of three girls and a boy, Mr. Higgins remarried. But his second wife (who is 25 years younger than he) doesn't like Jersey, either. "She has a house in the South country, offshore, a tax haven," he says. "I commute often."
Mr. Higgins still writes in longhand, saying there is a connection between him and the pages. And he can whip up a novel in two months. It's the research that takes the time, he says.
"The Eagle Has Landed" is still his most successful book, having sold 26 million copies. "It's a long book, 400 pages, and I actually wrote it on paper by hand in eight weeks. Then somebody typed it and I went through it again and made all the alterations I wanted. But the research took me months and months and months," he says, shaking his head and wincing.
A second miniseries based on his work, "Jack Higgins' 'Midnight Man,' " will premiere on Showtime early next year.