John Grisham: ‘Non-lawyers who write legal thrillers often get things so wrong’

In 1984, 29-year-old John Grisham was a small-town lawyer working at the DeSoto County courthouse in Hernando, Mississippi when he witnessed a trial that changed his life. Two young sisters had been attacked and raped in a remote farmhouse just miles from his law office, and as he listened to the 12-year-old give her harrowing testimony, Grisham began to wonder what would happen if the girls’ father decided to take justice, or vengeance, into his own hands. In that moment, the seed of Grisham’s debut thriller A Time to Kill was planted. “I saw the spark because I happened to be in the right place at the right time,” says Grisham, now 67. “Most lawyers are good storytellers because they tend to embellish and they see a lot of crazy behaviour. I had never written before, never thought about it. But I recognised a great story.”

Eventually published in 1988, A Time to Kill marked the start of a literary career that has seen Grisham grow into one of the world’s bestselling authors. His books have sold 300 million copies worldwide, including no less than 28 consecutive number one fiction bestsellers over the past three decades. His first big hit came in 1991 with his second novel, The Firm, a rollercoaster legal thriller about an ambitious young attorney who finds himself in the grasp of organised crime. It spent 47 weeks on the bestseller lists on its way to being crowned the year’s highest-selling novel and was adapted into an acclaimed film starring Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman in 1993. “The Firm set me free,” recalls Grisham. “It found a market real fast, became popular, then went nuts when the movie came out. Suddenly I was bored with the practice of law and realised I could make more money writing about it.”

Continue reading at The Independent