Jeffrey Archer

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 March, 2011, 12:00am

MOTHER COURAGE My childhood was quite a bit like Harry Clifton's [from Jeffrey Archer's latest novel, Only Time Will Tell]. I had an energetic mother, very bright, who was determined to get me into the right school and give me a chance at things. My mother was a journalist, columnist and she even wrote a novel, though it was never published. I have the manuscript; she was about 70 when she finished it. She took a degree at 60. She didn't have the advantages women have today.

In my day, I had the advantage of being a good sportsman - in track and field - which, in school, is a useful attribute, among boys in particular. One of the sadnesses of my life, however, is that I love the game of cricket and I'm no good at it. You need a wonderful eye and wonderful timing. But it's a God-given talent, you can't teach hand-eye co-ordination; some kids can just do it. My sons are both quite good, but they haven't got 'it', whatever 'it' may be.

YOUNG AND FEARLESS I read education at Oxford University; I wanted to teach but I fell in love with politics when I was there. I invited The Beatles to my college. We were trying to raise a million dollars for Oxfam and [The Beatles] were the biggest thing in the world at the time. If they gave their support, we were almost guaranteed to succeed. I just called them; they certainly had no idea who I was. I mean, the young do the most remarkable things, don't they! To them, there are no barriers. The young are wonderful that way.

My wife's a distinguished scientist, the chairman of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. She's the serious one in the family. She was way ahead of her time when I met her [at Oxford]. She did her PhD in solar energy with George Porter [1967 Nobel Prize winner, in chemistry]. She was appointed president of the British Energy Foundation and carried it on for a while but, once she'd taken over the hospital trust, I didn't allow her to do anything else. What I said to her was, 'You are either running the hospital or not running the hospital. Now, you drop out of everything else.' I got my sons on my side and we convinced her. It's such a big job; I didn't want her doing other things. She thinks she can do 10 things; I'd rather her do one thing extremely well.

STARTING FROM SCRATCH 'Writing as a financial necessity' - my foray into storytelling has been worded that way by a lot of press, but, of course, that's a joke because I've never heard of anyone who started writing to make money. It's just not possible. For me, it is 35 years later that I feel some success, not at the time. You'd be lucky to scrape together enough for bread and butter and water as a first-timer. I got into writing more because I couldn't get a job than anything else. I'd just left the House of Commons, I was in a tremendous amount of debt; it wasn't easy to get a job. Until I sat down to write Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less [his first novel, published in 1976], it had never crossed my mind that one could be paid for being a raconteur. But there was a story inside me. I'd say there are a third of my fans who still believe that's the best thing I've ever done. Others tell me, every day, that they've read Kane and Abel [Archer's 1979 novel] and it has helped them believe that they can achieve their goals. That anything is possible is something I subscribe to in life.

I think my latest is the best I've ever done, of course. And the other four planned in the series have got to be of the same standard. It's the most ambitious arch yet, spanning 1920 to 2020 through the story of a family. This is the big one for me.

HARD WORK PAYS I've been writing in Majorca [a Spanish island in the Mediterranean] for the last 20 years but I've only recently built my own house. A friend first lent me his home there for writing years ago, and I fell in love with it; in January and February it's so pleasant you can walk around in a T-shirt. My writing schedule is as such: six to 8am, 10am to 12, two to 4pm, six to 8pm, in bed by 9.30, up again at 5.30am, start again at 6am.

I've just finished the first draft of the following book. Typically, it takes 400 hours for me to produce the first draft but it'll be another nine months before I'm ready to show anyone. I don't bounce ideas off of anyone during the first draft. It would be foolish to do that. I'm the ideas person; you can't ask anyone to do it for you. There's no substitute for hard work, no excuse for not doing it. It's the first draft that's the tough one. That's the handwritten one. Then there come a number of drafts; for that last one, there were 14. Of course, you need to take a break in between each revision; I do work in theatre, help out with charity auctions or watch a cricket match.

My family comes and goes as they wish during my periods of writing, but the rule is that they can't speak to me until eight o'clock in the evening.

I'm a storyteller not a writer. Storytelling is a God-given gift. A storyteller can say 'Once upon a time ...' and off they go. A writer might like to do that, but they can't. A writer is someone who is well-educated, has a great command of language, probably very well-read. It's possible that the orthodoxy of their upbringing does not allow them to go off in a hundred directions at once. Someone who's read the classics at Oxford would be at a distinct disadvantage, in my opinion.

ON THE MOVE I've just come from the India leg of my book tour and it was a fantastic experience. You can't expect at 70 years old to be mobbed by children - 12-, 14-year-olds who have read all your books - who had sat there for four or five hours waiting for me to get there. I never get that kind of reception at home. Indians are very aspirational, the girls in particular. The next generation of girls in India - better keep an eye on them, they are on the move. I feel that now, in particular in India, the young are almost the only people who treat me totally as an equal. And they just charge in and charge up; that's wonderful.

At 72, I'm nowhere near ready to call it a day. As my son says: 'Don't bother making a will, dad, you'll outlive us all.'