At 76, Jeffrey Archer sets a fearsome pace — an aspect of his persona that is now well known to the public.
Other things about Archer that are equally well known: that his political career (as a Tory MP) ended when he got sent to jail for perjury; that he began writing as a way to escape debt (his first book — Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less — was published in 1976, when Archer was 34); that his Kane And Abel is the 11th best selling book of all time; that he is extremely disciplined and writes for eight hours every day. And he has never suffered writer's block.
Archer has finished the final installment in his bestselling Clifton saga; he's been on a multi-city tour of India in association with the Crossword chain of bookstores to promote the book. In stark contrast to his seven-year, seven-book endeavour, next to be published is a collection of short stories, “not even a million words”.
“These are stories I've wanted to tell for the past 10 years but couldn't because of my commitment to the Clifton Chronicles,” says Archer.
The Clifton Chronicles, Archer took up when he was 70 — a mammoth undertaking at any age. “It did at the time seem ‘mammoth’,” agrees Archer. “You can't guarantee you'll be alive at 77! So I was desperate to finish the series.”
Finishing the long-running saga has left him feeling both bereft, and relieved. It has also now left him ready to take on his “next big book, possibly the last”. All he reveals about this magnum opus in the making is that it's based on an idea he had five years ago, and that it'll be “very exciting if (he) can pull it off”.
At 76, is that something he thinks about a lot — what his last book will be? “Nope,” comes the answer. “I go from one year to the next, one day to the next.”
What about his literary legacy — does that occupy his thoughts now? A stouter “no” is the reply, followed with: “I only know that Kane And Abel will have its 100th reprint next year”.
Archer has been writing for over four decades now. He says his storytelling has stayed consistent over the years, but his craftsmanship has improved. What's certainly changed is what a writer is expected to do to ensure his/her books sell. Archer has embraced the change; he once joked that if feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square would help him sell more books, he'd do it — and gladly. While he hasn't had to resort to pigeon-feeding so far, he has embraced the world of social media with nary a trace of reluctance. “I don't mind it at all,” Archer tells us. “Social media makes it possible to reach a million people in no time. By contrast, on a book tour, you can hope to reach out to maybe a few hundred.”
And being able to reach out to those large numbers of readers is important because their feedback and appreciation is what, Archer says, keeps him going. He has previously said that he “always needs a new target” — does he never take a break?
“Never!” he retorts. “After I finish the first draft of a book, I usually take five days to a week off, go to London (Archer does all his writing in Mallorca), check the mail, do what other people want me to. Five days a year is quite enough, thank you.”
Archer has a near-photographic memory when it comes to the book he's most recently written (he can tell you who said what on which page). Older books, however, he claims to forget entirely, and never looks back on them. Surely that can't be true of Kane And Abel as well — sandwiched as it is between Tolstoy’s War And Peace and Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird on the all-time bestseller list. Doesn't Archer think about a book that might possibly surpass even Kane And Abel?
“Well, it would be very greedy of me to want another of my books to do better than Kane And Abel,” says Archer. A beat later, he admits: “But I would be very happy if one did.”