What books introduced you to commercial thrillers? The kind of book you devour– with a terrific story, wonderful characters and a driving plot. With surprises and twists and breathtaking endings. I remember sneak-reading On the Beach and Seven Days in May and FailSafe when I was a teenager. Then came college and all the classics, but later as an adult, reading for fun and entertainment, I clearly remember Stephen King’s the Stand as gasp-worthy and memorable. But, as I told Jeffrey Archer, I will never forget the days in 1980 when I was immersed in his book Kane and Abel. He is such a story-teller! (See below for how well that book did—and the inspirational story of what happened before.)
What an honor to be able to interview him, and you can watch the whole rollicking–– yes, rollicking––chat here.
And this icon of the fiction world was generous enough to answer our Career Authors 11.
1. What book changed your life?
Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig – he was an Austrian who escaped to New York in 1938, and although he only wrote two novels, he’s recognised as one of the great storytellers and writers of his day. Most of all, he taught me just how hard you have to work if you want to produce something memorable.
2. Was your first published book the first manuscript you ever wrote?
Yes – I was in a difficult financial position, and hoped I might have one book in me, so sat down to write Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, which was turned down by 16 publishers. The 17th only printed 3,000 copies, which just about sold out in a year.
Ed. note: His 1980 book, Kane & Abel is among the top 100 best-selling books in the world, with a similar number of copies sold as To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind.
3. Stephen King says, “The hardest part is just before you start.” What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
I don’t think there’s one part of the writing process that’s more difficult than any other, though I suspect you have to get the first draft right, otherwise you’ll spend a long time getting back on track. So I advise new authors to take the first draft very slowly and most importantly, to realise it is only the first draft.
Ed. note: Jeffrey Archer writes all of his first drafts in longhand, and in Mallorca, at a home he calls Writers Block.
4. Do you know the story’s ending before you start?
Not always, no – usually I’m lucky if I know three pages ahead!
5. When you’re having a difficult writing day, what do you tell yourself to get through it?
I rarely have difficult writing days, because I enjoy the process so much. Perhaps I’m both unusual and lucky in that way.
6. Do you read your reviews?
Yes I do, and learn a lot from serious reviewers who do not want to be authors themselves, or if they do, there’s no sign of it in their opinions.
7. Besides being persistent and correcting your spelling errors, what’s your best advice for a new author?
Don’t imagine that when you’ve done the first draft, you’ve completed the book. My publishers get to see about the 14th draft, and even then, I’ll probably do two or three more. And read. Read a lot.
8. What’s your definition of writer misery?
When I write the words, THE END. Although it never is, because I so often go back and begin all over again.
Ed. note: That is the first time we have ever had that as the answer to this question.
9. What’s your definition of writer happiness? (Speaking of which—what’s your newest book?)
Seeing the published book for the first time. It still gives me a thrill to physically hold the book, turn the pages, enjoy the print, examine the cover and feel one’s created something. My latest book is Over My Dead Body, the fourth William Warwick novel – and currently in the New York Times bestseller list.
Ed. note: Although they are a series, you can read Jeffrey Archer’s books in any order.
10. What’s your favorite book on writing?
F Scott Fitzgerald’s Notes for an Author. He’s one of the greatest writers of the last century, and I found his insight into how he goes about writing his books absolutely fascinating. I commend it to anyone before they write their first novel.
11. What book are you reading right now?
The Girl in the Striped Dress by Ellie Midwood. Not only it is a genuinely original subject, but she writes beautifully.
Jeffrey Archer, whose novels and short stories include the Clifton Chronicles, the William Warwick novels, Kane and Abel and Cat O’ Nine Tales, has topped the bestseller lists around the world, with sales of over 275 million copies. His newest novel is OVER MY DEAD BODY. He is the only author ever to have been a number one bestseller in fiction, short stories and non-fiction (The Prison Diaries). A member of the House of Lords for over a quarter of a century, the author is married to Dame Mary Archer, and they have two sons, two granddaughters and two grandsons.
photo: Toby Madden