“If this interview isn’t on every front page in the world by next week,” says Jeffrey Archer, “you’re fired!”
He’s joking, of course, but if there’s a man used to the front pages, it’s Archer. Bestselling novelist, former Conservative party deputy chairman, peer of the realm, and, famously, convicted perjurer, Archer’s many incarnations have long attracted equal parts admiration and ridicule. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone with more shelf space in Waterstones, or more column inches in Private Eye.
We’re here to discuss Archer’s newest novel, writes Luke Rix-Standing, Nothing Ventured, a spiritual if not direct successor to his bestselling Clifton Chronicles. A rollicking crime caper centring around an art heist, our new hero is William Warwick, a fledgling detective collaring the crooks his barrister father sets free.
After a chance meeting at a carol service, Archer recruited retired Chief Superintendent John Sutherland as a sort of ‘crime consultant’ while plotting the book, and the young Warwick bears a suspicious resemblance to the ex-cop.
“You’ve got to think like a criminal,” says Archer, “and the good policeman does. I had a scene where a bent policeman sees three bags of money, and only sends two back for evidence. John said, ‘No, it would be much wiser to take a bit of money out of each of them!’”
The first instalment of a proposed eight-part series, book two has already entered its sixth draft, though Archer generally aims for 14. “That’s how you get the speed. It’s about making it faster and faster, making you want to turn the page. How dare you put this book down!”
Archer’s calling is as a storyteller, a weaver of tall tales and fulsome fictions that have struck an evident chord with the reading public. “It’s a God-given gift”, he says. “I’m very lucky. I wanted to captain the England cricket team, I failed. I wanted to be Prime Minister, I failed. So they said, all right, we’ll make you a storyteller.”
He releases one book a year but Archer is surprised by suggestions that he’s speedy. “I think I’m slow but I’m a totally driven, disciplined human being. I rise at 5.30, work six to eight, take a two-hour break, work 10 ‘til 12, take a two-hour break, work six ‘til eight, and I’m in bed by 9.30.” He’ll be writing new chapters as long as he draws breath.
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