Great Cambridge Characters – Jeffrey Archer With Sue Dougan

jeffrey_archer12:12 Friday 19th April 2013
Sue Dougan In The Afternoon
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[S]UE DOUGAN: Lord Jeffrey Archer is alongside. Good afternoon.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Good afternoon.
SUE DOUGAN: So nice to have you here ..
SUE DOUGAN: .. in the flesh, on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. It’s been out for some weeks now, The Best Kept Secret is your latest book, in hardback.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Well I noticed you didn’t ask me on six weeks ago. I would have been here …
SUE DOUGAN: The invite was issued.
JEFFREY ARCHER: .. like a flash.
SUE DOUGAN: Our people were talking to your people.
SUE DOUGAN: But actually it’s a really good point to talk to you, because it’s been selling so very well. You were telling me, as we stand at the moment, you are number one across six countries.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Yes. It’s funny, because I wrote .. I set out to write five books in the Clifton Chronicles, which was a terrific challenge at the age of seventy, to write five books in a row. But I wanted to do it because I wanted to focus, I wanted to really do something that was tough. And I’d been warned that second books and third books, fourth books have a tendency to drop slightly. Second book .. first book was Only Time Will Tell, and they were happy with that. That went to number one. But the number two book sold 40% more. And the number three book, Best Kept Secret, which is out now, sold 40% more than that. So the public have been wonderful, absolutely terrific.
SUE DOUGAN: Is that because you’ve been rather clever, and although it’s part of a greater whole they can be read as individual novels, can’t they?
JEFFREY ARCHER: Yes you’re quite right. You can read them individually. You don’t have to come in anywhere, come or go, you can read as you wish. But there’s never an explanation with the public, because I always say to anybody who says, I want to be a writer, I want to be a singer, I want to be an actor, I said it is the public that will decide, not you, whether you’re up to it or not.
SUE DOUGAN: Quite. We’ll continue this conversation in a moment.
JEFFREY ARCHER: I’m looking forward to that. And then I’ll read the weather for you.
SUE DOUGAN: (LAUGHS) Fine. We’ll get you a script.
JEFFREY ARCHER: And all the sports news.
SUE DOUGAN: Jeffrey Archer is here this afternoon, and indeed as he’s been explaining part of the Clifton Chronicles is Best Kept Secret, which is out at the moment. And there’s a lot of conversation I suspect in the offing as well. It’s just gone sixteen minutes past midday. Let’s do this.
SUE DOUGAN: Jeffrey Archer alongside at the moment. Best Kept Secret.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Best Kept Secret.
SUE DOUGAN: In hardback at the moment. It’s part of the Clifton Chronicles of course. You’re currently working on the next one, but you say that you couldn’t possibly tell me what it’s likely to be called, or any hint at all about the plot.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Certainly not.
SUE DOUGAN: And I asked so nicely too. Let’s talk a little of Harry Clifton and Giles Barrington, because this is a story about inheritance, about exacting revenge, about how, at the point of inheritance, that’s it. Destiny is fixed on how these two people will deal with this in their lives.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Well they’re born only two months apart, but with the same father, Harry Clifton and Giles Barrington. In the first book, Only Time Will Tell, you’re not sure .. you know one is older, but you’re not sure who the father is. And then you discover who the father is. And you have the problem that in the will, everything is left to the first born, if he can prove he is the first born. So he’ll get the title, he’ll get the money, he’ll get the land, he’ll get everything. And in the end it ends up in the House of Lords, with them having to debate and decide which one of these will become Sir Giles or Sir Harry, and get everything. So that was book one. And book two, Sins of the Father. And this one, Just come out, Best kept Secret. So at the moment it’s five in theory, but I had a call yesterday pointing out .. someone rang and pointed out to me that poor Harry’s only forty four at the end of book three. And how can I possibly do it all in five books? So it may even be more than five books, the Clifton Chronicles, in the end.
SUE DOUGAN: Ok. So you don’t have it sketched out that tightly.
JEFFREY ARCHER: No. I wish I .. No. I’m not .. No I am .. basically .. I am basically a storyteller. They just .. they come. And if it takes ten .., if it’s a ten year period, or a twenty year period, that’ll work. If it’s a five year period, that’ll work. I’m not able to just .. some authors are .. some plot it all out before they even start. I like to know three or four pages ahead, if I’m likely, three or four pages ahead, and then pray.
SUE DOUGAN: And we’re in such a wonderful time, aren’t we, where authors are far more accessible than they ever were. Most of you have web pages, or a presence on social media.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Yes. Very important.
SUE DOUGAN: So therefore I guess your audience ask you more, tell you more, suggest more.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Oh yes. My blog goes out to three and a half million people a month. I’m on Facebook. I’m on Twitter. And in fact my American publisher said we don’t need you any longer. I said, I beg your pardon. When I was a child I wrote a book called Cain and Abel. And I did a seventeen city tour in twenty one days. They said we don’t want to take you to San Francisco Jeffrey. We don’t want to take you to New York. Put out a blog. Put out a Tweet. Put out a book, and they’ll all know the book is there. So now I don’t even tour. I go to Cambridge local radio, because I live here.
SUE DOUGAN: (LAUGHS) And we’re always glad to see you. You’re always welcome. In fact there’s something in this with one of your characters in Best Kept Secret, isn’t there? Harry Clifton, who’s an author. And he goes on a tour of America, and it all starts quite grand, and then it gradually descends a little bit. He starts off in five star hotels, and he ends up in motels by the side of the road, doesn’t he?
JEFFREY ARCHER: Yes. Well it’s the story of what happened to me in Cain and Abel really. They took me over. No-one had ever heard of me. And they kept saying to me you must say Cain and Abel, Cain and Abel, Cain and Abel again and again and again. And I forgot to do this, because I got so interested in the interviewer and the person, and I got so fascinated by America, they kept telling me off and saying I was saying Concorde is the thing you know.. The British have now got this plane called Concorde. And it’s the fastest plane in the world. And they’d say stop talking about Concord. And when I go to India now I can’t stop talking about the cricket, because I love my cricket. And the publishers would always say please say Best Kept Secret. Don’t say, what is happening to Tendulkar. Well that’s very interesting, now you ask what’s happening ..
SUE DOUGAN: So you’re saying there’s a lot of you that bleeds into your book.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Yes. Oh yes. I think if you’re going to write five books in a row that go from 1920 to 2020, they’re going to cover a century of what’s happened in this country. As I was born in 1940, and I’ve got into .. I’m now up to 1964, I’m able to remember all these things, and think all these things, and get them into the book. And I hope, make younger people say, oh gosh, was it really that grey, was it really that dull, was it really etcetera etcetera.
SUE DOUGAN: And was it really that grey?
JEFFREY ARCHER: Oh yes. I think, looking right now, whenever I see a good 1940s film … and I love them. I love black and white movies. I think they’re great .. I think, wow, yes I remember that. And you take so much for granted now. You see children in the street aged ten with mobile phones ringing each other. It’s unbelievable. And heaven knows where it will be in fifty years time.
SUE DOUGAN: We live life in such sharp focus now. Almost a little too much, would you say?
JEFFREY ARCHER: Well certainly there’s more communication and more television and radio, everything, than there ever was in my day. Cain and Abel was watched by seventeen million people. But if you ask why, I’ll tell you, because there were only three television programmes. There was BBC1, BBC2 and ITV.
SUE DOUGAN: No choice, or little choice.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Yes. So seventeen million people watched Cain and Abel. Nowadays, if you get nine million, as Coronation Street does, or EastEnders does, it’s amazing.
SUE DOUGAN: But yet your strength now as an author was forged back then. And I would imagine that those who are reading your more contemporary books were your fans back then. They got to know and to love your structure and your creativity back then when there was just three channels.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Yes. You build a fanbase, and if you .. they stay with you if you’re loyal. They’re loyal if you work hard and deliver they’re intensely loyal. They will desert you. There are authors who’ve gone steadily downhill and lost their fans. But I write simple stories with a beginning, a middle and an end, and I’ve been very privileged and very lucky.
SUE DOUGAN: And you know what you’re getting with a Jeffrey Archer book.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Yes, you know what you’re getting.
SUE DOUGAN: You know what you’re getting. (THEY LAUGH) So you’re writing number four at the moment, number five. And essentially whatever else happens after that, and you’re prepared to be quite fluid about the future. in that respect. Are you someone who sets yourself the daily task of sitting down and for the next four hours with a coffee break I shall write today. Is that your methodology?
JEFFREY ARCHER: I rise at five thirty in the morning. I start work at six. I do six until eight, two hours. I take a two hour break. I do ten until twelve for two hours. I take a two hour break. I do two until four for two hours. I take a two hour break. I do six until eight for two hours. I have a light supper. I go to bed at nine thrty to ten, get up at five thirty the next morning. Th first draft is fifty days, approximately three hundred hours. The second draft which I’ve just completed of the latest book was twenty one days, so roughly a hundred and twenty hours. I’ve got a three week break now, then I return again and do a two week period. This goes on until I’ve done about sixteen hand written drafts. Then I allow the publisher to see it. That takes roughly about a thousand hours, roughly nine months.
SUE DOUGAN: you must be an editor’s delight, because most authors and writers I know they tend not to deliver on time. They tend not to stick to a schedule so hard as you.
JEFFREY ARCHER: I’m very disciplined. I cannot understand people. I once remember, this particular week of course it comes to mind, I once remember Margaret Thatcher was falling behind on her mnemoirs. And I said it doesn’t really matter Prime Minister, if you’re a few days late, No-one will notice. “I have never been a few days late Jeffrey. I said I will deliver the book on August 1st, and I will deliver the book on August ..” and I think that got into my mind. Once you’ve made the deal that you will hand it in, you’ve got to keep to it.
SUE DOUGAN: Let me talk a little about ..
SUE DOUGAN: .. Lady Thatcher’s funeral this week. Because I know that you and your wife were mourners this week. In fact you’ve been blogging about it, haven’t you, about how you ..
JEFFREY ARCHER: Yes, Mary and I went to the ceremony.
SUE DOUGAN: .. it was a bit of a push to get their on time wasn’t, given the clamp down in central London.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Well spotted. We set off. My son said I’ll drive you to St Paul’s. And we got within two miles and you couldn’t move one inch. The cars were just blocked. So I got out and said to Mary, I walked round the corner and said, I’m sorry but they’re not moving. We’ve got to walk. So we walked, and I thought I must have taken the wrong route. I must have gone .. and then suddenly I noticed everyone else was getting out of their cars and walking. And suddenly there were a thousand people walking the last two miles. So we weren’t late. We got there .. we were meant to be in our seats by ten. We got there at five to ten. But then there was a queue of a thousand people going through security. So I didn’t actually sit down until half past ten. But it was wonderful there. St Paul’s looked wonderful. The singing was wonderful. The flowers were beautiful. And it was like the old days, because all of Margaret’s people were there. It was very wonderful.
SUE DOUGAN: Wonderful and sad at the same time.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Yes, but I think she would have .. of course it was sad, because of course it was sad. We can’t be beaten up any longer. We can’t go along and .. (LAUGHS) But I think she would have been very proud. It was a state funeral in everything but name. And the presence of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh just added to it. I think that would have shocked her. I think she would have been surprised that (hers was) the first Prime Minister’s funeral to be attended since Winston Churchill., I think that would have surprised her.
SUE DOUGAN: Did you spend much time with her in her latter years? Were you still acquainted with her ?
JEFFREY ARCHER: Yes. Mary and I went to see her regularly. In fact I think I saw her a lot more after she stopped being Prime Minister, a lot more. And of course she came down to Cambridge many many times. She spent the weekend with us in Cambridge, and used to visit the hospital while I took Dennis off to the rugby. (LAUGHS) We had some wonderful weekends.
SUE DOUGAN: (LAUGHS) In the book, Jefrey, you actually write about the meteoric rise of a Labour MP, rather than a Conservative MP. Is that to suggest that there’s a lot that’s similar actually between both sides of the House?
JEFFREY ARCHER: I think in modern politics, everyone is fighting for the centre ground, and there isn’t a lot between the two parties, unless you’re an extremist, unless you’re an extreme right or an extreme left. The difference say for example between Tony Blair and Michael Heseltine, I wouldn’t have thought there was a great deal there. In fact Tony Blair won three elections in a row pretty well sitting on the centre ground.
SUE DOUGAN: Do you engage much in politics these days? Are you able now just to sit back and observe?
JEFFREY ARCHER: Well I’m seventy three, so I’ve a tendency to sit back and watch… Yes I follow it every day, and I’m fascinated by it. Of course I’ve never been involved in a coalition, so I’m glued into that, and wonder what will happen at the next election. Are we now going to have a series of coalitions, sometimes with the Labour Party, sometimes with the Conservatives? Is a party going to win outright? It’s very different. It’s only twenty years ago Margaret was Prime Minister, and only fifteen years ago that John Major was Prime Minister. And it’s changed since then beyond recognition.
SUE DOUGAN: Indeed. .. It’s been very nice to meet you.
JEFFREY ARCHER: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me on.
SUE DOUGAN: I wish you all the success with book number four.
JEFFREY ARCHER: That’s very kind of you.