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Jeffrey Archer p3

Jeffrey Archer talks about researching his novel Only Time Will Tell, and lists some of his favorite books.

On the topic of research Jeffrey Archer said the character Jack Tarr in Only Time Will Tell was partly based on Sir Tommy Macpherson, Britain’s most decorated living war veteran. Mr Archer had read his autobiography Behind Enemy Lines and spoken with him. He’d “had long sessions with him on aspects of World War Two”.
Also he’d gone to a club in Bristol where his friend was the secretary. The friend introduced Mr Archer to five men of roughly Archer’s age, and he consulted them on the manuscript of Only Time Will Tell, to correct any mistakes. These men included a sailor, and an ex-Lord Mayor of Bristol. Three had attended Bristol Grammar School, as did the main character Harry Clifton. Mr Archer said talking with these men added nuance to his work, to get the correct names of streets and the feel of Bristol.
He said he chose Bristol as a setting because no one had done Bristol, and he knew the area so well. “I knew that area very well indeed.” He was from the West Country. “I’m a Somerset man.”
He said the book was semi-autobiographical, although he was born later than Harry Clifton. “There’s a lot of Harry in me.”
He’d also read books about Britain in the twenties. He said you’d read 500 pages and get maybe 10 facts you could use, to get a sense of what was going on in these times.
For example, Woodbine cigarettes were referred to as coffin nails.
Jeffrey Archer listed his favorite books of all time. Sometimes he gives a tip of the hat to favorite novels in his own books. One of Mr Archer’s favorite books was the novella The Diamond as Big as the Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In Only Time Will Tell, one character presents another with a ring which he says is as big as the Ritz.
As mentioned earlier, Mr Archer told me that with his novel A Prisoner of Birth he was doing a retelling of another of Archer’s favorite books, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas.
Other favorites included The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan; Under the Banyan Tree and other stories by R.K. Narayan; and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
Jeffrey Archer keeps good storytelling alive, and one hopes more writers follow his example. At the end of the interview he autographed my copy of Only Time Will Tell, and he wrote a personalised autograph in A Prisoner of Birth to the Archer fan who loaned it to me.

-copyright Simon Sandall.