A blog from Chase Placement student, Elspeth Latimer, Curatorial Assistant of the Lee Child Archive during 2019-20 and Curator of the Noirwich 2019 Crime Writing Exhibition, featuring archive material from Louise Doughty (pictured) and Denise Mina.
In the basement of UEA library, safely stored in an air-conditioned vault, are Lee Child’s handwritten early drafts, diagrams, notebooks, typescripts, publisher correspondence, fan mail, memorabilia. This unique literary archive gives the inside scoop on the making of Jack Reacher, one of the most iconic figures of contemporary crime fiction, and for the past 14 months I’ve had the privilege of spending a day a week as curation assistant at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing (BACW), helping to organise, preserve and catalogue 40 boxes of material, ready for the public launch of the Lee Child Archive in 2021.
Under the expert guidance of lead curator Justine Mann, I’ve acquired a host of new skills and got to grips with the protocols of working in an archive. I’m studying the Jack Reacher series as part of my creative-critical PhD on how character is constructed and maintained in crime fiction series, and my doctorate was already underway when Child deposited his archive here. Thanks to my funding body, the Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts South-east England, I was able to arrange a placement at BACW.
Curating Lee Child’s archive has shown me the journey from those first pencilled pages to a crime series that is read across the globe. It is a thrill to watch a work of literature take shape before your eyes. A literary archive allows you to be there in the private moment with the author, see and hold the original notes and pages, sharing the steps the work has taken, from first draft to final proofs. A published book has a fixity, and there is a real excitement in glimpsing this creation when it is still in flux.
It has been a joy to examine the early drafts of Child’s novels, to read his margin notes and edits and observe his craft, and this has helped me develop as a crime writer myself. I’ve also had the chance to view the fan mail Lee Child has received over the years. Jack Reacher is only words in a book, but he means a great deal to a lot of people and their letters are very moving. In addition to working on Child’s archive, I designed and curated the BACW exhibition at the 2019 Noirwich Crime Writing Festival. Louise Doughty and Denise Mina loaned material associated with their latest novels, including notebooks, photographs, early typescripts, structure notes, and it was fascinating to devise an exhibition around these items, giving visitors an insight into the creative process.
My placement at BACW is at an end, but once the Lee Child Archive opens in late 2021, I will be back, and embarking on new research. Lee Child is a key literary figure, in the UK and internationally, and his archive is going to catalyse global scholarship. I am excited to see the studies that emerge, but I am also pleased that the archive will allow his many fans to view this material. We are very lucky to have the BACW here in Norwich. It is an asset for all of us, a wealth of creative and intellectual possibilities.
@ElspethLatimer #crimewriter UEA Prose Fiction MA. @CHASE_DTP Creative Writing PhD on crime series. LL Mslexia novel comp. Former assistant @LeeChildReacher @UEAarchives