‘My favourite place to write is at my home in Mallorca’: Author Jeffrey Archer on how to be a master storyteller
Jeffrey Archer, arguably one of the most successful writers of our time, is also a politician and a peer of the realm. Ever since his first book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less came out in 1976, the iconic British author has written numerous bestselling blockbusters, and in 2011, he embarked on the seven-volume series called Clifton Chronicles.
Fans of his earliest books - Kane and Abel and The Prodigal Daughter - believe they are his best novels ever, but many readers have enjoyed the recent series too. His book Kane and Abel sold one million copies in its first week of sale and the sequel was just as brilliant.
Born in London and raised in Somerset, Jeffrey studied at Oxford and later became a Member of Parliament for Louth at the age of 29. Despite many ups and downs in his career, he continued to write and continues to be the much-loved literary figure who writes enthralling novels for his readers across the globe.
Recently, he took part in the Tata Literature Live! Mumbai Litfest 2020 online event and gave a talk on 'Do you want to be a storyteller'.
During the talk, when asked about how to be a good storyteller, he explained why it was important to learn to be yourself as a writer, write about what you know and stick with it. Get your story reviewed by a stranger to get the right perspective of your work, he added.
When asked about his recent favourite books on the show, he mentioned, A Gentleman in Moscow, which combines good storytelling with good writing, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which was a remarkable story that rang true and Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig for its exemplary use of language.
In an interaction with YSWeekender, Jeffrey spoke about his writing journey, his latest book Hidden in Plain Sight, and his future projects.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
YSWeekender [YSW]: Can you tell us about your latest book and what is special about it?
Jeffrey Archer [JA]: My latest book, Hidden in Plain Sight, is the second in the William Warwick novels. William has been promoted to Detective Sergeant, following his success in tracking down the Rembrandt and arresting Miles Faulkner. He and his team are now working on Operation Trojan Horse to track down the man behind a notorious south London drugs cartel.
Jeffrey Archer's new book is about tracking down the man behind a notorious drugs cartel
YSW: How did you start off as a writer and what has your writing journey been like?
JA: I began writing at the age of 35, after a disastrous investment and not knowing what to do next, I thought I’d try writing a book, as I had the idea for a story inspired by what I’d been through – Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less. I feel privileged to have been able to do something I love as a job, and while story-telling is a gift, I hope my writing has got better with each book.
YSW: You are one of the most successful international authors in India. Can you tell us about this bond with the Indian reader and the country?
JA: I’ve always loved visiting India. It’s not just the beauty of the country, but the kindness I receive when I’m there, and the enthusiasm of the people. Your love for books and reading is obvious, and it’s a joy to interact with my readers at bookshops or schools around the country.
YSW: What is the secret of writing a bestseller, and how have you written so many?
JA: I wish I could tell you the secret, but I’m afraid there is no one thing. You have to tell a story which captivates the reader and keeps them turning the page.
YSW: Many budding authors lose hope after rejections in their career. What kept you going at the start of yours? Did you face any obstacles?
JA: My first novel was rejected by 17 different publishers, but I persevered, and in the end was taken on by the literary agent Debbie Owen.
YSW: How many characters in your books have been inspired by real life?
JA: There are many characters over the years who’ve been inspired by people I’ve met. Indeed, in the Clifton Chronicles, there’s a bit of me in Harry Clifton, and certainly my wife Mary was the inspiration for Emma.
YSW: What is your advice to aspiring authors?
JA: Keep going. Read a lot. Don’t stop after your first draft – there are always improvements to be made.
YSW: How do you write? What is your writing schedule like? Do you go to any special place to write?
JA: My favourite place to write is at my home in Mallorca. I have a writing room which overlooks the sea and the Tramuntana mountains in the distance.
It’s very quiet and I have no distractions there, so I can write for four sessions a day – 6-8 am, 10-12 pm, 2-4 pm and 6-8 pm – and in between, I take a long walk, or do a bit of reading, or watch cricket or a drama on TV.
YSW: How has your creation process improved over time?
JA: My writing routine has been the same for 40 years, as has my creative process, as I’m fortunate to have ideas for storylines every day.
YSW: What are your plans and projects for the near future?
JA: I plan on writing another five William Warwick novels, which will see him progress in his career from Detective Sergeant to the highest rank in the Metropolitan Police – Commissioner. However, his progress will depend not only on his ability and determination but on my longevity.
(Images credit: Jeffrey Archer team)