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James Patterson’s novels have earned him $700m. Now he’s written a memoir

BOOK OF THE WEEK

THE STORIES OF MY LIFE

by James Patterson (Century £20, 368pp)

Anyone who has ever embarked on a James Patterson thriller knows how damn hard it is to put it down. And the same goes for these vibrant, invigorating memoirs.

Patterson is a literary leviathan who sells millions, who more or less wipes out everything in his path; one of the world’s best selling and most lucrative authors whose sales exceed 400 million, making a fortune of approximately $700 million along the way.

He is certainly the world’s most prolific writer, with over 400 titles to his name: thrillers, nonfiction on topics ranging from Jeffrey Epstein to the Kennedys to emergency room nurses, plus true crime novels, children’s and youth stories.

Star-studded: James Patterson and Dolly Parton.  James's uplifting autobiography features stories of A-List friends, such as the country star herself

Star-studded: James Patterson and Dolly Parton. James’s uplifting autobiography features stories of A-List friends, such as the country star herself

This invigorating, wildly upbeat autobiography appears to be the tenth book he’s published this year alone. He has a passion for reading and with his wife, Sue, he does a tremendous amount to promote reading, help children and schools and develop bookstores. And he’s 75. Does he never take a break?

Well no. He knows everyone and likes to let us know. Dropped names tumble through the pages like apples falling from a tree.

It’s a gossip columnist’s paradise: here Jim Morrison of The Doors hangs upside down to test the light installation at a music venue where young Patterson is at work; here’s Dolly Parton, a potential collaborator and, reassuringly, “real, thoughtful, smart as a whip, funny and self-deprecating.” She calls him ‘Jimmy James’ and sings Happy Birthday over the phone.

Tom Cruise (“not so short and an absolute joy to talk to”) calls him in LA for an appointment and gives him his personal number. Idris Elba (“very funny”) wants to talk about the role of Alex Cross, Patterson’s troubled detective hero, originally played by Morgan Freeman in the film Along Came A Spider, Patterson’s first major novel to go nuclear. The same goes for Jamie Foxx, who calls a youthful Paramount executive a “squirrelly little f***er.”

James remembers Dolly calling him

James remembers Dolly calling him “Jimmy Jim” and singing Happy Birthday to him over the phone. He met at a music venue where he worked

Meanwhile, Serena Williams wants his autograph after a flight from Florida.

On the sidewalks of New York, he and Woody Allen wave hesitantly as they pass each other; Tennessee Williams sits at the next table in a Manhattan restaurant; and while he’s having a drink at a piano bar, who else but Joe Cocker should walk in for an impromptu two-hour jam session.

He chews the fat with Kurt Vonnegut on the steps of the Slaughterhouse-Five author’s house. At a cop’s house, he watches as Norman Mailer and James Baldwin—”two little fellows who looked about as athletic as French poodles”—struggle in a row over what is good literature and what is not.

There is never a dull moment. He loves his golf and has scored nine holes in one. Which seems like a lot. He plays the game with Presidents Bush and Clinton, even though Trump is the most natural golfer, he says, with a really low handicap.

He is a friend of the Clintons after collaborating with Bill on two huge bestselling doorstop thrillers, The President’s Daughter and The President Is Missing. (See the theme there.) Not surprisingly, Hillary helps with a very supportive quote on the cover of the memoir.

On his way to literary world domination, Patterson had found the time to become CEO of the advertising giant J. Walter Thompson at the age of 38.

James (pictured) is a friend of the Clintons after collaborating with Bill on two huge bestselling doorstop thrillers, The President's Daughter and The President Is Missing

James (pictured) is a friend of the Clintons after collaborating with Bill on two huge bestselling doorstop thrillers, The President’s Daughter and The President Is Missing

He was clearly a brilliant advertising executive and copywriter: he managed the Burger King account, Miller Beer and Philip Morris. This was the Mad Men era of expense accounts, martinis, long days and very late nights, when senior female executives still had to wear hats in the office.

Patterson doesn’t mince words: When British marketing conglomerate WPP attempted a takeover led by Martin Sorrell, it’s fair to say it didn’t click. “I’ve always thought of Sir Martin as a … rather obnoxious, fire-breathing bean counter.”

Patterson was working tirelessly, but had his eye on another world beyond ad-land’s offices. He would become a writer: “I got up at five o’clock every morning to work a few hours before going to work in the advertising factory. I would write early in the morning every morning. I would lock my office door at lunch and write for half an hour. I would write on the plane during any business trip. I would write pages at four in the morning and I would write again until midnight.

“I refused to give myself up.” So that’s how you do it: you have to work hard.’

You also have employees. No wonder he has published so many titles. Look at any shelf of Patterson books in your local store and you’ll notice one thing: most of them are co-authored. And as Patterson knows, people can get terribly conceited about that.

THE STORIES OF MY LIFE by James Patterson (Century £20,368pp)

THE STORIES OF MY LIFE by James Patterson (Century £20,368pp)

He handles that criticism fairly quickly. Look, he writes, ‘Simon & Garfunkel, Lennon & McCartney, Gilbert & Sullivan, Woodward & Bernstein, Rodgers & Hammerstein…’ and so on. Collaborations are common and often work beautifully, he says. Too True.

This is not a conventional autobiography. It’s told in fast, snappy little chapters, two or three pages at most, that make it pretty much impossible not to read on. The language is informal, friendly.

It is richly entertaining. And it is full of stories, just like his novels. “One thing I’ve learned and taken to heart about writing books or even giving a good speech is storytelling. Story after story after story.’

Patterson rambles through his early life, a happy childhood in upstate New York, where he was educated in Catholic schools, learned to play the piano with an elderly nun, loved sports and developed a passion for Elvis Presley, much to his mother’s disapproval, who wasn’t so thrilled, and had him confess to a priest that he owned Elvis trading cards. The priest replied, “Who doesn’t love Elvis Presley?” Quite.

In his twenties, he reached Woodstock, where he fell asleep in the mud, had a fondly remembered anonymous erotic encounter during a Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead performance, and landed a job as an intern nurse at a psychiatric hospital. at Harvard. It was here, in the long nights when not much happened, that he developed his love for reading and passion for books. All books, all books. And he started writing his own stories.

Of course, since this was Patterson, he had a number of A-list patients, including James Taylor (“stunningly handsome”), who sang in the hospital coffee shop, and the great American poet Robert Lowell (“disturbed but bright and interesting” ), which would give private lectures to a few patients and staff. Hell, Patterson not unreasonably remarks, “I was paid to listen to James Taylor and Robert Lowell.”

It’s quite a life, Patterson’s, and this bubbly, funny, often deeply moving memoir is a perfect way to understand the dizzying world of a bestselling author.

How does he do it? Well, he says, with a large folder full of unused story ideas and the fact that everything he writes is outlined in great detail.

Is it that easy? I doubt it, but I loved this book.

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