Book piracy? He'll get these readers one day, says Archer

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 March, 2013, 4:47pm

Jeffrey Archer's Clifton Chronicles continue in Best Kept Secret . The book is full of the twists and turns which are Archer's trademark - and hallmarks of his life. Jailed in 2001 for perjury and perverting the course of justice, Archer has enjoyed a lucrative second chapter in his writing career since his release in 2003, selling at least 270 million books worldwide. He talks to James Kidd.

Best Kept Secret is the third of your five-book Clifton Chronicles, which begins early in the 20th century and extends to the present day. How challenging is this vast project? 

I am writing book four which ends in 1964 and [protagonist] Harry [Clifton] is still only 44 years old. I can't kill him off in book five. So it may end up six or seven books.

The book features two heroes: Clifton, a writer of popular fiction; Sir Giles Barrington, a politician. These were also your twin careers. Is this your most personal novel to date?

It was very personal. The character of Emma [Harry's wife] is based on Mary [Archer's wife]. Harry's mother, Maisie, is based on my mother. I took a criticism many years ago that said my heroes were very heroic and my villains were very villainous. I tried very hard with Harry and Giles for them to have failings, and be human and make mistakes and for you to be on their side, even though they do. Giles is a flawed character but it doesn't stop him being a basically good man.

Your description of Harry's publicity tour in America was intriguing. Has promoting novels changed during your career?

I loved those tours, but you don't do them anymore. I did a 17-city tour for [1979 novel] Kane and Abel. Nowadays you do Twitter, you do blogs and you do Facebook. They don't even want you to get on a plane because you will hit more people on the internet than in person: 2.5 million read my blog, 167,000 follow my Facebook, and I'm up to about 13,000 on Twitter. I have just started tweeting. It's not a big number, but … you do more people than you do if you go to San Francisco.

As well as reviewing the past century - its wars and great events - you are reviewing your own lifetime. Has it made you nostalgic?

No. I think the youth of today have more advantages than we had. Mary often asks whether it is an advantage to be disadvantaged. I am not saying I would like to go back. Mary once said, 'I've been rich and I've been poor, and on balance I prefer the former.' I think she's right.

You seem to have attracted a vast new audience in India, where you are now touring on a regular basis. Why are you so big there all of a sudden?

I have always been published there. But a few years ago, The Wall Street Journal asked whether I knew I was read by more people in India than America. I said that wasn't possible. I rang The Times of India, and they said 50 million people had read Kane and Abel. I said that wasn't possible, but they pointed out that two-thirds of my books were pirated copies, at a third or even a quarter of the price.

How do you feel about that? After all, piracy robs you of money.

I'm delighted. Read by 50 million? Thank you very much. You will capture them at some point. You will get them.

One element of is the strong, liberated women characters. Not just Emma Clifton, who looks set to take over her family's shipping firm, but her mother, her sister and Giles' girlfriend. Are clever women an important part of your life and work?

I feel very strongly about it. My mother took a degree at the age of 50 because of [my wife] Mary. I have watched Mary go from this 16-year-old who was offered a place at Oxford to Dame Mary. What she has done is amazing, but it won't be amazing for the next generation.

You have sold more than 270 million novels over the past 40 years. What have you learned about the secret of literary success?

Some are unexplainable. E.L. James for one. I always tell young writers that the public will decide. Don't kid yourself. I can think of two authors who can't sell 3,000 copies - and they are household names. Why? Because their novels are rubbish. In the end, you have got to do what you do. Don't do ghost stories. Don't do erotica. Don't do violence because you think that's in. Jane Austen taught us all. Write about three women who want to get married, and their mother wants to marry them off. Austen's a great writer. But much more important, she's a great storyteller. She turned the page. That's the gift.

Do you ever have regrets?

Of course. There is a difference between having regrets and looking back. Sometimes when things go wrong, people spend their life saying, It wasn't fair was it? You mustn't do that. You must say that you made a fool of yourself, got it wrong. Dust yourself down. Get back in the game.

How about the future? Do you ever worry about death?

I have had a wonderful, wonderful, life. Are you asking if I would like to do it again? Yes please. But do I worry about death in the sense that it would be unfair? No. I am 72. I have had a wonderful life. I hope I will live to 85. That would suit me fine. But I suspect that when I get to 85 I will sit across from you saying I want to get to 100.