James Patterson: ‘I've got too many ideas to write all my books myself!'

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James Patterson has a 4in-thick file where he stores the torrent of ideas pouring out of him every day. He says: “I have so many stories to tell. There are only so many books you can put out there and I could not possibly do all of them myself, so this is one of the attractions of co-writing.” By outlining the plots and using emerging talent to write the first draft, which he then edits and rewrites, Patterson has become a one-man publishing phenomenon. With more than 200 adult and children’s books to his name, he has sold 385 million copies across the globe.

Forbes ranked him as the highest-earning author last year, with the £67million he netted topping JK Rowling’s £43million and Stephen King’s £21million.

The model he has perfected has given him an estimated net worth of £450million, which only Harry Potter creator Rowling can beat.

But it has also proved controversial and divided book lovers, with high-profile authors including King severely criticising him for not writing all of his books.

Horror maestro King, 71, who wrote The Shining, Misery and It, has said Patterson is “a terrible writer but he’s very successful” and can churn out two books in 12 hours.

In his acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement award at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival last weekend, Patterson joked about keeping his co-writers, “my minions”, locked in the cellar of his mansion.

At an event the next morning he also cracked jokes about the persistent barbs from King, saying “we’re buddies”.

But Patterson, 72, admits the criticism, often from people who have not even read his books, does sting. He says: “I would love it if people were a little more charitable in the world but they aren’t. TV shows are written with lots of writers and we accept this. People write jokes for other people and no one has a problem. “If people get their facts straight and they have an opinion, fine.

But they should recognise that I have created so many memorable characters, like Alex Cross, Maximum Ride, Max Einstein, Women’s Murder Club. There aren’t many writers, if any, that have created that many.”

Patterson, who writes seven days a week and relaxes by playing golf, adds: “There are hundreds of thousands of people who don’t like what I do and that is fine but I would prefer for them to at least have read some of the books before being negative.

“And there are millions who love them.”

With nearly all of the thrillers written with others, Patterson, who is a big supporter of literacy and education in the US and has donated more than three million books to schoolchildren and the military, writes a 60 to 80-page plot outline which the co-writer uses for the first draft.

He says: “One year I did over 2,500 pages of outlines, with three or four drafts for each one.”

Some of the ideas he has filed away in the office of his home in Florida are just a single sentence, others are stories he has started before hitting a barrier.

Patterson famously co-wrote a thriller, The President Is Missing, with former US President Bill Clinton last year and it is now being adapted for a TV series.

A lawyer and agent they share suggested they work together and after lots of texting, and Patterson sitting down with Clinton and questioning him about the inner workings of the White House and Secret Service, they produced a book they are both proud of.

Patterson says: “I am not going to get into who wrote what; he wrote some, I wrote some.

“His main contribution was if this happened, here is how the Secret Service would act, here is what would happen in terms of the president… which is what makes the book so good.”

The writer, who has paid for the Buy A Book, Give A Book scheme with Penguin and Asda that will see at least 250,000 books donated to children in disadvantaged communities in the UK this year, says he is willing to work with Clinton again.

But he adds: “It was demanding and difficult. It was very democratic but if push came to shove, he would have the power.” Tireless Patterson is currently writing children’s books aboutAlbert Einstein and two others about Cassius Clay as a boy in Louisville.

He is also writing a thriller about the kidnap of a US president and says he could even contemplate teaming up with a former British prime minister to pen a conspiracy set in Westminster.

Patterson enjoys spending time with his wife Sue and their son Jack, who is in his final year at university. But he has no plans to slow down, saying “so much to do, so little time.

“I don’t work for a living, I write for a living.”

Patterson’s next Alex Cross thriller, Criss Cross, is out in November.

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