Lee Child on Birmingham: ‘The pollution was insane. Rivers would catch fire’

The Jack Reacher author recalls his childhood in a prosperous city, haunting the library and the strong work ethic that has stayed with him

I was conceived in Leicester, born in Coventry, and moved to Birmingham when I was four, in 1959. I lived there until I left for university at 18. Those were my formative years, both in a sense of day-to-day experience, and in an overarching existential sense of being raised determinedly middle class surrounded by an infrastructure and a culture created entirely by the skilled working class.

Birmingham was amazingly prosperous in those early years. Factories were humming, and workers were well paid. I remember my grandma visiting from Yorkshire for Christmas in the early 1960s and helping my mother with some last-minute shopping. She came home trembling with excitement. For the first time in her life she had seen an ordinary person holding a five-pound note.