The Joy of Writing
Jeffrey Archer was educated at Oxford University. He has served five years in Britain’s House of Commons, fourteen years in the House of Lords, and two in Her Majesty’s prisons, which spawned three volumes of highly acclaimedPrison Diaries. All of his novels and short story collections---including Kane and Abel, Sons of Fortune, and False Impression---have been international bestsellers. Archer is married with two children and lives in London and Cambridge.
Question: What is the joy of writing for you?
Jeffrey Archer: I think the pleasure, finally, enough of the greatest pleasure of writing comes from the response you get from the readers.
Here I am in New York, you walk down the street; people stop and talk to you and say how much they love the book. The praise, and that has been come in for the latest book, is very touching.
So, it is done the hard work, of course, and then to gets ourselves, it is not an easy job being a writer. But once it is finished, you have done it, it is published, it is in the shops and if you are lucky, it goes on the best sellers list--that is very exciting indeed.
Question: What is the struggle of putting pen to paper?
Jeffrey Archer: I don’t find that as a struggle, because I spend a year before I sit down to write on the first day, and then I go away, and have a very disciplined routine. I rise at five in the morning and I start work at six, I work from six until eight, from 10 until 12, from 2 until 4, from 6 until 8. I will go to bed about at 9.30 - 10.00 having a light supper, and then I will get up again at 5 the next morning.
That is, 50 days of that is the beginning of what you call the struggle, and the tough work, and that probably 300 or 400 hours and then I take a break. Then I will go back to it.
The last draft of, “A Prisoner of Birth,” my latest book, was probably the 16th or 17th draft before anybody read it.
Question: How would you describe your creative process?
Jeffrey Archer: The creative pressure is not easy to describe, because it is a bit like, if you are a violinist, or if you are painter, I am story teller. So, this is happening all the time, my mind is buzzing in different directions all the time, but I don’t sit down and write a book until I have had a year of thinking about an idea and taking it through.
So, the idea in “A Prisoner of Birth” is the story of a young man born in the east end of London, the poor part of London, who takes his girlfriend to the West End to ask her to marry him and he gets involved in a fight--nothing to do with him, he is arrested for murder. Then you see the trial and he is condemned for murder and sent to a prison from where no one has escaped, but he does escape, he gets out and he seeks revenge on the four people who put him there in the first place.
Of course, I see it, clearly, as an updating of the Count of Monte Cristo, and the genius of Dumas’ book was the way the prisoner got out and the way he raised the money or adds the money to gain revenge on the four people. So even before I sat down to write I made the decision, I must know how Danny Cartwright gets out of prison, I must know how Danny Cartwright gets the money that will make it possible for him to succeed.
Question: Have you ever had trouble resolving a plot line?
Jeffrey Archer: No, I have had problems where I have got to a point and I can’t see a way out of it, but I have never actually sat down and thought, “Oh, I don’t know what to do next.”
Question: How did you end up moving ahead?
Jeffrey Archer: Well, on that particular occasion it arose in a book I wrote called, “As the Crow Flies,” where I had to a have a man fly to Australia to solve the mystery of how he would inherit the fortune. When he got there, the person who was going to solve it had died a few weeks before he arrived, that was suddenly thrown on me when I went to bed that night, and I didn’t have the answer when I woke the next morning.
So, I walked around a golf course for three days, on and on and on, until suddenly in a split second it broke, and it was so simple as old good ideas are, that got me off the hook.
Recorded on: March 15, 2008.
Archer finds it hard to portray the creative process in words.
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