Telling it, Just How it is

Interview with Jeffrey Archer




Jeffery Archer is a bestselling English author who it can be claimed has enjoyed a somewhat colourful life, including an Oxford Education, training to join the police and army, becoming a physical education teacher before serving as a member of the British Parliament in the 1960’s and a stint as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party in the 1980’s. Now published in 97 countries and more than 33 languages, Jeffrey Archer is a well-known story teller, and has appeared many a time atop best sell lists for fiction, short stories and non-fiction.

elocal was lucky enough to catch up with Jeffery who answered a variety of questions for us on topics as wide ranging as books, education, politics and even Trump!

elocal:

New Zealand is heading into an election year this year, under a system of MMP. What would you say to a first-time voter about how to make up their mind and decide who to vote for?

JA:

I have absolutely no idea, though the current PM, Jacinda Ardern, comes over as a highly intelligent and sensible individual.

elocal:

Politics is not a game for everyone, the landscape is constantly changing. How do you see the recent upheaval in British politics changing the course of the way the country will operate for the foreseeable future and is it a positive thing?

JA:

Interesting question…which I can’t answer in under 300 pages.

elocal:

Which one of your ‘life experiences’, whether it be personal or professional has influenced you the most and why?

JA:

The question I am most asked as an author is “Where do you get your ideas?” As if one could pop into the local chemist and ask for a packet of Inspiration. The truth is I’m not a counter-tenor, a ballet dancer or a concert pianist, just a simple story-teller. And I can rarely identify what sparks off an idea that then sends the imagination into overdrive. It might be a childhood experience, or a fascinating person I met on my travels, or even a snippet of a story overheard in a theatre foyer. But what I do believe is that story-telling is a God-given gift, and one which I am exceedingly grateful for.

elocal:

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the world now for the next generations and why, and is enough being done about them?

JA:

Climate change, and accepting that it’s real. Hope you’re listening President Trump!

elocal:

Writing has always been a well loved but difficult craft, what inspired you to start writing and do you ever see yourself running out of words?

JA:

I wrote my first book a little out of desperation. I’d stepped down as a Member of Parliament and couldn’t find a job, but thought I had a good idea for a novel, so decided to give writing a go. Seventeen rejections later, I found an agent to take me on, and soon after that, Viking Press bought Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less. I count my blessings every morning when I wake up with a new idea for the day’s writing ahead.

elocal:

Your latest book introduces a new Character William Warwick, and over the years you have penned and developed many different character types. Tell us about what you think makes a good character, how do you develop them, and which one has been your favourite and why?

JA:

After I’d completed the Clifton Chronicles, so many readers wrote asking me to tell them more about William Warwick, the eponymous hero of Harry Clifton’s novels that I decided to take up their challenge and write a series featuring William’s rise through the ranks of the Metropolitan Police force from a humble constable on the beat through the ranks to commissioner. A writer needs their lead character to be many things, not least someone that the reader engages with, that makes them turn the page. I like to have both heroes and villains in my books, which gives you so much more scope for twists and turns. One of the most popular characters in the Clifton Chronicles was the wicked Lady Virginia, about whom so many readers have asked, ‘Who is she based on?’ The answer is three women. The first, quite the most evil person I’ve ever met in my life; the second, unquestionably the most cunning woman I’ve ever known; and a third, who had five husbands. Say no more. However, I will never reveal the names of any of them.

elocal:

Your books are well loved in many different countries, tell us about your most memorable travel experience and what made it so memorable.

JA:

Mary and I love St Petersburg, and after five trips, we still haven’t conquered the Hermitage. We’ve settled down to doing it in sections, last time were the Dutch rooms. But I think the country which will always hold a special place in my heart is India. It is a vibrant, welcoming and at times humbling country which has always given me the most enthusiastic of welcomes. India has produced some of the best writers and storytellers of any age, and the Indian people of all ages are serious readers. I can’t wait for my next visit.

elocal:

Growing up in post war Britain would have been very different to how it is now, has this generation got it easier than the generation that lived in that era or was it a much simpler life to navigate?

JA:

I was born in London, but we moved to Weston-super-Mare in the west country when war broke out. I have fond memories of my life growing up next to the sea – memories of selling ice creams on the beach, collecting deck chairs, bicycling and Sunday afternoon cricket.

elocal:

I’ve read some about your earlier life and you are reported as saying that education is one of most valuable tools you can glean from, typically now, young people have a myriad of choices when it comes to education, tell us about how you define education and what you would say to a young person about how to educate themselves?

JA:

Education is important, but not everyone will find university suits them, and there is just as much to gain from life experience, apprenticeships, travel. But one thing I would say, is READ, and then read some more – anything and everything, but include the classics.

elocal:

Which form do you enjoy writing most - short stories, plays or novels?

JA:

I enjoy all three forms, but there is no doubt that a full-length novel is a far greater challenge than a set of short stories or a play.

elocal:

Kane and Abel has been your most successful work. But which is your favourite, and why?

JA:

Kane and Abel has without question been my most successful novel to date, but I’m sentimental about Not a Penny, Not a Penny Less, as it was my first effort. And I have a special place in my heart for Paths of Glory because I admire George Mallory so much.

elocal:

Do you set a daily word target when you are working on a new story?

JA:

I never set myself a daily word target, though I know this is something that many other authors do. I prefer the discipline of writing in two-hour segments, so I’ll write from 6-8am, 10-12, 2-4pm and 6-8pm.

elocal:

Do you read a lot? And would be your favourite book that you have read?

JA:

I do read a lot – my favourite last year was A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, but I enjoy dipping into classic short story collections by Du Maurier, HH Munro and F Scott Fitzgerald

elocal:

Will you be coming to New Zealand in the future to promote any new books?

JA:

I have no plans for another trip to New Zealand I’m afraid, though I’ve always really enjoyed my visits there.

elocal:

Are any of your books based on your own life experiences?

JA:

I suspect most authors write about what they know – certainly in the case of the Clifton Chronicles, my own experience as an author is reflected through Harry, and my wife’s experience as an Oxford and Cambridge Don, the chairman of a National Health hospital, and now chairman of the Science Museum is reflected on the page. And my love of politics and the House of Lords can be clearly seen in Giles Barrington’s life, and indeed in many other of my books. So, in many ways the Clifton Chronicles is almost autobiographical.

elocal:

What has been your book to read by another Author?

JA:

I found Stefan Zweig about ten years ago; his novel, Beware of Pity, is a masterpiece, and now one of my favourite books – I’ve given copies to many friends.

elocal:

Which Authors have influenced you?

JA:

I don’t think I’ve been influenced by one author in particular. I fell in love with Richmal Crompton’s Just William series when I was a child, then with Ian Fleming and John Buchan as a teenager, then Shakespeare and Dickens. So, I hope a little bit of all of these great writers and storytellers has rubbed off on me!


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elocal Digital Edition
March 2020 (#228)

elocal Digital Edition – March 2020 (#228)