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This interview comes from :http://www.independent.co.uk/edu/971023ed/passfail.html

Interview by Johnathan Sale

Picture Jack Higgins is the pseudonym of Harry Patterson, 68, who has written 59 novels, including 'The Eagle has Landed' and 'The Eagle Has Flown'. 'The President's Daughter', published last week, is the sixth thriller to feature the reformed Irish terrorist Sean Dillon, a character thought up by Higgins after he happening to pass Downing Street during the 1991 mortar blast. A former teacher and lecturer, he has been writing full time since he was 41.

Reading age?
I was reading fluently from the age of two. I remember when I was four sitting on the knee of my great-grandfather, who was a pastor of the Plymouth Brethren, and reading the Christian Herald to him. When we lived in the Shankhill [in Belfast] I went to Nettlefield, an elementary' school which a few years later produced a footballer you may have heard of, George Best. The teachers used to make me sit at the front and read to the class or describe the story of a film.

Apart from that, master Higgins, how did you enjoy the film?
I have a great cinematic knowledge. My step-grandfather, a wonderful rogue, was a salesman and at one point was selling Paramount News. He would take me into the cinemas and I used to see a quarter or third of all the movies. In the mid-Thirties there was a lot of trouble in Belfast and when he took me to see King Kong, an IRA man blew up the foyer.

A big break?
We moved to Leeds and I went to a school where you wore a blazer and could take School Certificate. I got nothing. I was a complete failure. The headmaster gave me a flogging for the heinous crime of throwing a snowball at the clock on the old stable block. There was no glass on it and the snowball made the hands go backwards so that break lasted for a full 30 minutes. He gave me nine strokes on my backside and said, "Get out!" When I got to the door he said, "You're useless. You're never going to make anything of yourself."

Jack of all trades?
I left at 151/2 and did some miserable jobs, then did my National Service, when the Army discovered I had an IQ of 147. I came out at 21 and took a number of jobs while I worked in the evenings at my A-levels in European Political Science, I think it was called, and Classics. I was supposed to be learning to be a road engineer and a man called Frank Agutter used to take me out to hold his tape measure; if he had known that his granddaughter Jenny would be the star of The Eagle Has Landed ...

Lighting the candle at both ends?
I took a diploma at a teachers' training college. I'd no money so at half-past nine in the evening I would go out to work until 5am and grab the early morning bus back. I started teaching and then realised I needed a degree, so I signed up at the LSE for an external BSc in Sociology. It was a three-year course but I did it in two years in my spare time, sitting up to write essays until 2.30am. I taught for six years in a comprehensive and then spent four years lecturing at [the then] Leeds Polytechnic. As the writing started to pick up, I retired.

Does the story stand up?
When I was given an honorary doctorate at Leeds Metropolitan, I told the story about the headmaster and got a standing ovation. Afterwards a chap walked up to me and said, "I went to the same bloody school and the headmaster told me I'd never amount to anything. I'm a visiting professor at Leeds and a professor at Manchester University."