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Friday 19 September 2014

'My sex scenes make my wife laugh out loud'

Published 17/11/2012 | 06:00

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John Grisham's spouse is his most stringent critic, he tells Celia Walden

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Every morning at 7 John Grisham sits down at the computer in his farmhouse in rural Virginia with a strong cup of coffee. It's the same computer he's used to bash out 25 bestsellers and the same brand of organic coffee he's drunk for the past 20 years.

"I'll have two cups and then switch to decaf," he says in his deep southern drawl. "My office is dark, warm and cosy with no phones and no internet because I'm terrified my stuff will be hacked into. I'll get five or six pages done before lunch, then at around 12.30pm I'll drive into town for lunch. If you get into a rhythm of doing that every day, with a few days off here and there, those pages pile up and you can get one book done a year."

Last week, the 57-year-old writer, whose latest thriller, The Racketeer, has just knocked JK Rowling from the top of The New York Times bestseller list, cut the writing short to go and vote.

"I was encouraged because we're mostly Democrats around here, and there was a good turnout. But things only really got exciting in the evening when it became clear that Obama was going to win."

Grisham doesn't sound excited, though. He may be a lifelong Democrat, but he's not Barack Obama's biggest fan.

"I think he has a solid core and is a good, honest, bright person but over the past four years I've found myself getting extremely frustrated with him for spending so little time at the desk. What's frustrated me the most has been his pursuit of celebrity. Last month he came to address the UN but instead of meeting Benjamin Netanyahu, he raced across town to appear on some celebrity women's TV show."

Mitt Romney never stood a chance in the Grisham household. "His willingness and ability to shift in the wind and his insincerity were a real turn-off for me," he says.

The "hot-button" issues of abortion, gay rights and gun control pushed Romney to the far-Right, he maintains, and may have cost him the election. With nine states now legalising gay marriage and two legalising marijuana for recreational use, the US is becoming a more liberal place.

"It's astonishing how much things have changed in my lifetime," says Grisham. "Ten years ago a movie about a gay couple would have made us all squirm but people are no longer afraid to come out and have normal lives."

Known to be vocal about his political beliefs, Grisham, who served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1983 until 1990, has been criticised in the past for allowing those beliefs to seep into his writing. This seems a little unfair. Aside from two novels on the death penalty, one on the corruption of judicial elections and a non-fiction book about wrongful convictions, Grisham tends to stick to what he does best.

He has good reason to. Every legal thriller he's written since 1992, when The Pelican Brief was published, has debuted at number one in the bestsellers' list, and eight of those books have become Hollywood films.

He's estimated to be worth more than $200m. "Whenever I'm tempted to air my views my wife will tell me to get off my soap box," he smiles.

Grisham has no literary pretensions, he assures me. "I'm not trying to write great literature. I'll leave that to someone else, and I'm glad they do it because I like to read great literature. But I do what I do.

"It's enough for me that when I write something like The Racketeer, about five million people all over the world will read it."

As for the bad reviews, he stopped reading those more than a decade ago. "I could read two or three good ones and then one bad one would make me want to go and shoot people, so I decided it was best to ignore them."

Besides which, it's his wife of 31 years, Renee, the mother of his two children, who has always been his most stringent critic.

"I once wrote a sex scene and gave it to her to read," he confesses. "I thought it was a really steamy, raunchy scene but when I sneaked into the room to try to gauge her reaction she was screaming with laughter. I mean hysterical laughter.

"'You can't write sex scenes', she said to me. 'What do you know about sex?'."

The Racketeer, by John Grisham, (Hodder and Stoughton, RRP £19.99) is available now

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