Jack will discuss his career, books and films, with readings, film clips, audience Q&A and book signing, at The Connaught Studio, Union Place, Worthing, on Monday, February 15 from 7pm to 9pm.
All the money raised will go to fund care for the veterans at The Queen Alexandra Hospital Home. Tickets cost £20 and £25 and are available from www.qahh.org.uk, or you can call the fundraising team at The Queen Alexandra Hospital Home on 01903 218444.
Jack’s wife, Denise Patterson, current High Sheriff of West Sussex, said: “My husband and I are delighted to be supporting the QAHH. I was warmly welcomed this year as High Sheriff and was struck immediately by the tremendous atmosphere of professional calm and dedication of the staff and the contentment of the residents. It is truly a wonderful place.”
On February 16, Jack will be at the Chequer Mead Theatre in East Grinstead for a similar event in aid of the ABF The Soldier’s Charity.
He will have plenty to talk about.
The statistics are staggering. Jack Higgins has sold well over 300 million books in more than 60 languages.
His best-known work The Eagle Has Landed is probably the biggest-selling World War Two novel ever.
Jack lives as a tax-exile in Jersey, but for years he and Denise have had a home near Chichester where he is a frequent visitor.
“For quite a few years before I met my wife I did things like write crime stories and detective stories as a kind of hobby”, Jack recalls. “But what really got me going as a writer was that originally I come from Northern Ireland.
“I have got quite a reputation in my books for writing about the Irish problems. What happened was that when things got particularly bad in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, I had a number of relatives that had a pretty bad time there. I had two cousins that were killed by IRA bombs. Having been raised there, I felt that I actually understood why people were behaving in the way they did.
“The real turning point for me was that I decided to write a book about it. I wanted it to be very much a thriller, a book that people would want to read, but I also wanted to make six or seven major points in it. And so I wrote this book called The Savage Day and I changed to using the name Jack Higgins. I had written my other books as Harry Patterson (his real name). I used Higgins as it was the name of my mother’s family. It was the Higgins family that had raised me in Belfast. And I had an uncle Jack who was very much involved in Orange politics.”
The name Jack Higgins was a winner: “The book came out. It didn’t sell the quantity of The Eagle Has Landed, but then not many books have! But it sold thousands of copies and was serialised. Suddenly I was a serious player. Then after that, I wrote The Eagle Has Landed and that broke the mould. It is still arguably the best-selling novel about World War Two ever written.”
Its authority and its apparent authenticity are probably among the keys to its success.
Jack was in the Household Cavalry, a fighting force which has seen action in a good number of what Jack terms the “little” wars, and it was in the Household Cavalry that he gained the knowledge which underpins the book.
“I was very much involved as a young soldier when the Cold War was still going. I did a lot of security work on the East German border. We were so short of soldiers that we recruited a lot of chaps who had been in the German army. They had their own distinctive uniform.
“And so I was talking to these men – men who had been at Stalingrad. They had been in the winter war in Russia and all that stuff. They were very interesting men. Some of them had been paratroopers. I got to know a lot of chaps like that.
“And it all stayed in my consciousness. When I got around of writing The Eagle Has Landed, there was already a lot in my consciousness and in my brain.”
The story is of an audacious bid to kidnap Winston Churchill during a quiet weekend at a country house in Norfolk. Kurt Steiner and his handful of crack paratroopers are sent in under-cover on the most audacious mission ever conceived…
Of course, it didn’t happen. But Jack was told by strong sources that such a plot was mounted. And in writing the book, Jack was hugely helped by the fact that he had actually known the kind of German officers from whom Steiner could have come.
“The Germans were very much more successful in commando-type operations than people give them credit for. The Germans did some extraordinary things. At the moment everyone is talking about Afghanistan. Let me tell you that the Germans had special forces operating in Afghanistan during World War Two. Very few people know about that.”
Jack was about 40 or so at the time of The Eagle Had Landed and had retired from his job as a senior lecturer at Leeds University. Writing had taken him over.
“I had sold the film rights for a book of mine called The Violent Enemy. The money it gave me paid the mortgage. I was then asked to do another item. I had decided to try this other book called The Wrath Of God. I realised that to do it properly I had reached the stage where my academic work was taking too much time. I decided to give it a couple of years. Having had this film, I had enough money in a professional sense to keep going for a couple of years. I did The Wrath Of God and improbably it was bought by MGM and filmed with a famous actor called Robert Mitchum. I made a great deal of money from doing that. Suddenly I realised that I could last more than two years. It was then that I started pushing the Jack Higgins message hard.
“If I am honest about it, the astonishing thing is that it has continued. I remembered what had happened to a number of writers who had been around for a few years and then written a best-seller. They were very successful and made a lot of money but then they had gone back down again. The Eagle Has Landed was very successful. I thought ‘I suppose I will go back down again now’. But I never did. The success just keeps going on and on. Even after all these books, I am still a very lucky man. I still seem to have my finger on whatever it is that people want to read…”
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