Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Special Guests Week: Jack Higgins

Wow, I am so excited to announce that today "The Eagle Has Landed" at Jen's Book Thoughts. I'm honored to welcome New York Times bestselling author Jack Higgins. Higgins, the pen name of Henry Patterson, began writing novels when he was 30. Prior to that, he'd served in the British Army, earned a sociology degree from the London School of Economics, and taught at two English colleges.

Today he's sharing a pivotal point in his writing career with us. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


An old teacher who had taught me at school, met me on his retirement and told me he didn’t read thriller novels but had read mine because I’d been his pupil. I’d written all those early novels and made a certain amount of money but had no more than that. A successful Senior Lecturer, I was in line for what you would call Assistant Professor and was thinking of taking that route and giving up writing. His wisdom saved the day and told me what to do.

He said: “Most thriller writers work to a formula. The story in the fictional life works because the script makes it so and the characters follow the dictates of the script. Real life is an open-ended situation because that’s what life is: so a story line in real life is based on how people behave and react to each other – not the dictates of the script.”

I was amazed at how simple it was to follow his advice. Many writers work out the plot and make the characters act or react as the plot dictates. It sounds simple but for me it was a discovery. I went away, thought it out, and saw it was Hitchcock’s McGuffin*. I took a brief news story of how explorers on the Greenland ice cap had discovered the wreck of a plane, which had been there for years with a frozen corpse at the controls.

That was it. Who was he? Why had he crashed? I didn’t even work out a plot. East of Desolation was created. My agent found a publisher who was interested but said “No More Harry Patterson. New name, now please.” So I gave him Jack Higgins my great uncle - a notorious Protestant activist.

Life was never the same again!

* Hitchcock’s McGuffin [sometimes MacGuffin] is a plot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction. The defining aspect of a McGuffin is that the major players in a story are [at least initially] willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it, regardless of what the McGuffin actually is.


Sabrina E. Ogden December 28, 2010 at 6:40 PM  

Excellent post! It is always amazing to me to learn what makes a writer tick...how they figure it out and where their advice is coming from. I'm thankful for people that take the time share. As this suggests, the littlest of knowledge can go a very, very long way.

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