Lord of long­hand

Au­thor, mil­lion­aire and peer of the realm, Jef­frey Archer, will be in Townsville to­mor­row for a lunch at James Cook Univer­sity. Mary Ver­non caught up with him ear­lier this week in Mel­bourne

Townsville Bulletin - - NQ Life -

EV­ERY Jan­uary, Jef­frey Archer, Lord Archer of We­ston-su­per-Mare, leaves his home in Cam­bridgeshire and trav­els to his house in Ma­jorca, car­ry­ing with him a large box of Pilot felt-tip pens and plenty of lined pa­per.

There, he sits down ev­ery day for about seven hours and writes a book. In long­hand.

‘‘ I don’t know how to type and I like the feel­ing of the pen slid­ing across the pa­per,’’ he said.

‘‘ But it means I have to be very dis­ci­plined to get it done. I go to Spain to do it be­cause I love be­ing warm and hate the cold. My wife vis­its me when she can get away from work.’’

The first draft is com­pleted by Fe­bru­ary, then his typ­ist cre­ates a triple-spaced ver­sion which he re­vises. There are usu­ally at least 12 more drafts un­til the book is ready for the pub­lisher.

This year, that dis­ci­pline has pro­duced his lat­est book which he’s pro­mot­ing on a tour around Aus­tralia, Only Time Will Tell.

It’s the first of a planned five-vol­ume saga span­ning more than a cen­tury and fo­cused on the life of Harry Clifton from his hum­ble be­gin­nings in 1920 to his death in 2020.

This first one cov­ers his first 20 years and, like all of Archer’s books, is com­pul­sively read­able.

Harry is a bright boy, liv­ing with his wid­owed mother, his grotesque un­cle and his deaf grand­fa­ther in most in­salu­bri­ous cir­cum­stances in Bris­tol. His am­bi­tion is to be a pro­fes­sional foot­baller and he works on the docks un­til it is dis­cov­ered that he has a won­der­ful singing voice.

This changes ev­ery­thing and we fol­low Harry’s stel­lar ca­reer through to Ox­ford and the out­break of World War II.

The punch­line is ex­actly like those in the old Satur­day af­ter­noon se­ri­als – leav­ing the reader hang­ing out for vol­ume 2. Which, of course, is the point.

Archer says that this pro­ject, five books in five years, for which he has re­port­edly been paid an £ 18 mil­lion ($ A28.4 mil­lion) ad­vance, will be the big­gest chal­lenge of his ca­reer – one that has pro­vided enough chal­lenges for sev­eral life­times.

His orig­i­nal love was pol­i­tics and he won a seat on the Greater Lon­don Coun­cil in 1967. Two years later he won a by-elec­tion for the Tories and, at 29, be­came Bri­tain’s fourth youngest MP.

His po­lit­i­cal ca­reer was de­railed when he in­vested his life sav­ings in a crook Cana­dian com­pany and lost the lot.

In 1974, fac­ing bank­ruptcy, he wrote his first novel Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, pub­lished in 1976. Crit­ics panned it, but read­ers loved it, as they have ev­ery­thing he has writ­ten, and his ca­reer as a nov­el­ist was launched.

By 1985, now a wealthy man, he went back to pol­i­tics and be­came chair­man of the Con­ser­va­tive Party, a po­si­tion he only held for a year. He re­signed when the Daily Star news­pa­per re­ported that he had paid a pros­ti­tute £ 2000 ($ A3150) . He sued the pa­per and was awarded £ 500,000 ($ A790,000) in dam­ages, a win which would come back to haunt him.

More books and lots of char­ity work en­sued and he was awarded a life peer­age for his fundrais­ing for the Kur­dish cause.

Ev­ery­thing looked rosy and in 1999 he won the Con­ser­va­tive can­di­dacy for Lon­don’s Lord Mayor. But he had to stand down be­fore the elec­tion when a scan­dal blew up about the li­bel trial from 15 years be­fore. He was ar­rested, found guilty of per­jury and served two years in prison.

The ex­pe­ri­ence has not dented his boundless en­thu­si­asm, al­though he does ad­mit that he won’t

Crit­ics panned his first book, but read­ers loved it, as they have ev­ery­thing he has writ­ten, and his ca­reer as a nov­el­ist was launched

go into pol­i­tics again. He’s per­fectly happy with his gru­elling sched­ule as an au­thor.

Gru­elling it is. This pro­mo­tional tour started in In­dia.

‘‘ This is how pub­lish­ing works these days,’’ he said. ‘‘ You have to pub­lish in In­dia first be­cause if you pub­lish some­where else first there will be pi­rated copies of the book on the streets of Mum­bai within 48 hours and by the time you get there no­body will want to buy yours.

‘‘ Then, be­cause of Aus­tralia’s ridicu­lous pub­lish­ing laws, you have to pub­lish in Aus­tralia within four weeks of pub­lish­ing any­where else in the world, or else any­one can pub­lish it, you lose your rights to your own work

‘‘ It won’t be pub­lished in Bri­tain un­til May and I hope they like it as much there as ev­ery­where else. It’s the first of five, so I’ve got to get this one right.’’

Only Time Will Tell came out in March in In­dia and was an im­me­di­ate suc­cess.

‘‘ The In­di­ans are great read­ers, es­pe­cially of English lan­guage books. They be­lieve they have to read English to ad­vance and read they do,’’ he said. ‘‘ In In­dia 50 mil­lion peo­ple have read Kane and

Abel, my most suc­cess­ful book so far. But the in­ter­est­ing thing is that there, an av­er­age of 25 peo­ple read each book. That’s com­pared to just 2.3 peo­ple for each book in Aus­tralia.’’

De­spite ini­tial lack of suc­cess with the crit­ics, Archer said that attitude had changed.

‘‘ I have won a few ma­jor lit­er­ary prizes in France, Ger­many and the US which has forced them to re­think. Only re­cently the Lon­don Times re­ferred to Kane and Abel, which has now sold 33 mil­lion copies, as ‘ a mod­ern clas­sic’ which was quite a sig­nif­i­cant change of attitude.’’

He loves warm weather and is look­ing for­ward to vis­it­ing Townsville to­mor­row, al­though the visit is very brief.

‘‘ It’s been a very suc­cess­ful tour in Mel­bourne and Syd­ney, so I hope for more of the same in Townsville.’’ Lord Archer, who rarely uses the ti­tle, will speak at a lit­er­ary lunch to­mor­row at noon at the JCU Med­i­cal Theatre precinct. You can book on www. jcu. edu. au/ alumni/ or buy a ticket ($ 30/$ 25) con­ces­sion at the door.

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