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Interview

Jeffrey Archer p2

Jeffrey Archer talks about some of his favorite classics.

Mr Archer said he liked grand stories like The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas, The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky, and Great Expectations by Dickens. His latest novel Only Time Will Tell has a bit of a Great Expectations feel about it, particularly in the relationship between Harry Clifton and Old Jack Tarr, which reminded me of Pip and Magwitch; and in Harry Clifton’s rise through society.
Archer seems to tip his hat to the book when he mentions how Harry Clifton studies Great Expectations for an exam. Thomas Hardy and his novels like Far From the Madding Crowd get a similar mention.
Mr Archer said his wife liked Dickens’s Bleak House but he couldn’t get into it, and nor could I to be honest.
His favorite novels were all good stories first and foremost. He said he thought of himself as a storyteller more than a writer. “It’s a gift,” he said. “I work very hard indeed, but let’s not kid ourselves; it’s a God-given gift.”
I wondered how he engineered his plots. I told him as far as I could tell, he planted questions every five or ten pages, that the reader would want answers to: Is Emma pregnant? How will Harry’s mother get the money to pay for his boarding school? Did Harry Clifton’s father really die in World War One?
His eyes seemed to sparkle a bit there. “Interesting observation,” he said. “I just write and pray.”
I wondered whether the genesis of his latest novel, Only Time Will Tell, might have been an article he’d read about a dock worker who’d been sealed in the hull of a ship. He said no; he had heard from a seaman that such a case had happened, but he’d heard that after he’d written the book.
I’d read he usually researched for a year for each novel and then spent a year writing it. But I wondered how he’d manage with his current project.
“It’s going to be tougher. I’ve done all of the research already for book two.”
He said the books were contemporary with his own life from now on, so the difference wouldn’t be that great.
He said it would be more a process of thinking about what would happen to Harry and how the other characters like his best friend Giles Barrington and his lover Emma would come back into his life.
One of Jeffrey Archer’s favorite novels of all time was The Count of Monte Cristo. Mr Archer said that with his novel A Prisoner of Birth he was trying to write a modern Count of Monte Cristo.
“I’m a great admirer of Dumas,” he said.
After reading A Prisoner of Birth, I started reading The Count of Monte Cristo. I told him I liked the detail Dumas went into, for example, describing all the rigging on the ships. He said he thought Dumas had spent a lot of time hanging around the docks. He said Dumas had done his research.

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-copyright Simon Sandall.

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