Internationally acclaimed author and playwright Jeffrey Archer answers my questions about his writing routine, being a born storyteller, his works and projects…
Hello Jeffrey, welcome and thank you for accepting my invitation on “Veronika Asks” to talk about your writing! Can you tell us more about your latest novel “Paths of Glory” (the novel will be available in paperback on September 15th 2009)?
It is the story of George Mallory, a remarkable man who, in 1924, may have been the first person to conquer Everest, and certainly we know he was within 600 feet of the summit when he was last seen, and no one from his generation doubted that he was capable of reaching the top. The real story is so thrilling, that it was a fascinating challenge to turn it into a novel.
Before you started a writing career, you already had a very busy life. What made you want to take a pen (I’ve heard you don’t use typewriters nor computers) and write? Where did the idea for “Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less” come from?
I began to write after I left the House of Commons facing bankruptcy, and indeed the idea of Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less came through the experiences I had in politics. I suspect most first novels are semi-autobiographical, which is why the second is always a bigger challenge. And no, I don’t use a computer, I handwrite all my books.
Your life would make a great bestseller (you’ve probably been told that a hundred times). Would you consider writing your complete autobiography (Jeffrey already wrote the “Prison Diaries” about his years spent on prison)?
I have no interest in writing an autobiography. Much of how I felt about my life and the times I’ve lived in came out in the three prison diaries, and it is a delight for me that they continue to sell in such high numbers.
Your booklist is an impressive blend of drama, thrillers, fiction, non-fiction, real stories, short stories, plays and novels… Where do you take your inspiration from? What makes you think “this is the perfect idea for my next novel”?
This is the question I am most asked and am never able to satisfactorily answer. I can’t play the violin, I can’t sing opera, but I can tell a story, and Heaven knows where the ideas come from, I’m just immensely grateful they do.
You also wrote a few children books. Some people say an author is losing credibility when writing in very different genres and/or for different audiences. What would you answer to that?
An author should be judged on their work, whatever field it is in, though I agree it would be hard, if not impossible, to excel in every genre.
What about research? Your novels explore many different times, places, lives… “The Eleventh Commandment”, for instance, takes the reader to “a Russian Mafia boss’s luxurious hideaway outside St Petersburg”…
I consider research to be half the work on any book, and as you mentioned in The Eleventh Commandment, I did indeed travel to Moscow and had first-hand meetings with Mafia leaders.
How do you work? I’ve read you had a complicated system… Is it true?
I have a very disciplined writing routine. I go away to write in January and February each year, and write everyday in two hour slots – with absolutely no interruptions. I get up at 5.45am, then write from 6-8am, then have breakfast and read the papers, write from 10-12, then go for a walk and think, then have a light lunch, write from 2-4pm, another walk, then my final writing session is 6-8pm, after which I’ll have dinner and then relax and maybe watch a DVD.
You said “You can either tell a story… or you can’t”. Do you mean writing classes are useless? Do you think you have to be born a storyteller to write?
It’s not that I think writing classes are of little value, it’s that you can’t teach someone to tell a story – that’s a God-given gift that you either have, or you don’t.
If you could give an aspiring author a piece of advice on getting published… What do you think is the top quality to have to break through?
My first book was turned down by 14 publishers before it went to Jonathan Cape, and even then they only published 3,000 copies, so I would advise all aspiring authors never to give up.
Is there a book you wish you’d written?
There are too many to mention.
If you woke up tomorrow and had to start your life over, would you change something? Would you do the same things again or try something entirely new?
What you do in life depends on the talents you were given. I would love to open the batting for England against Australia, but unfortunately, it is not a talent I have been blessed with, so on balance, I am thankful for a fascinating and interesting life and I still gain immense pleasure from writing.
What are you working on right now?
I have just completed the first draft of a new collection of short stories called And Thereby Hangs a Tale which will be published in May 2010. The paperback of my latest novel, Paths of Glory is published on 15th September this year, and a month later my publishers are bringing out a 30th anniversary edition of Kane and Abel – in both a limited edition collector’s hardback and softback edition.
Here comes the “Nothing-to-do-with-books-question”: you’ve found $100, how will you use your newly acquired money?
I’d buy two bricks for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s ‘Buy a brick Appeal’ for their new theatre in Stratford upon Avon.
Author & Book: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Movie & TV show: TV show – The West Wing, film – A Man for All seasons
Food: Shepherd’s Pie
Place to write: Majorca
Quote or Motto: Work until you fall
“Tea or Coffee?”
Tea or Coffee? I drink neither. Hot chocolate
Saturday night. Disco & Restaurant or Home, Books & DVDs? Dinner and theatre
Going on holidays. Beach or Mountains? Both
Sleepy Little Town or Crazy Megapolis? Town
Pick a DVD: Comedy or Weepy Drama? Comedy
Like To Travel or Hate to Move? Like to travel but hate aeroplanes
Sport Lover or Couch Potato? Sport Lover
Leader or Follower? Leader
Shy or Easy-going? Easy-going
Serious or Funny? Seriously funny
Thank you, Jeffrey!
You can learn more about Jeffrey Archer and his works at http://www.jeffreyarcher.com