Jeffrey Archer on prison and hating machines
The older I get, the more time I seem to spend at our house, the Old Vicarage, in Grantchester, near Cambridge. My wife Mary and I were renting a flat before we bought it in 1979 as we couldn’t afford a house. Then, my third book, Kane and Abel, sold for £2.5 million and, overnight, I was a millionaire.
The first thing I wanted was a family home. The children [William, 51, James, 49, their wives and five grandchildren] prefer the house in Majorca. Who can blame them? And there’s the apartment in London, overlooking Westminster. These days, that’s more of an office, but it does hold a lot of my artwork: Picasso’s Two Doves and Westminster by Albert Goodwin. Mary’s banned me from buying more, so I’m trying to think of ways to sneak new ones in.
It’s all politics
As an MP in Ted Heath’s government and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher, I naturally keep an eye on the world of politics. Rishi Sunak seems like a decent man, but the problem is that, after 13 years, the public are bored with us. Do the rules allow Boris to stand again as an MP? Yes. Will he stand again as an MP? Someone I know was due to run for the Henley seat but was apparently told – and this is only a rumour – that they’re keeping the road clear for Boris [the current Henley MP John Howell has announced he’ll be standing down at the next General Election]. Out of politics, Boris would do very well for himself and make a lot of money, but he’s a man who likes to prove he was right.
Partner in crime
My latest book, Traitors Gate, is the sixth in the William Warwick series featuring a fictional detective. Crime fiction was a new direction for me, so I got some help from retired Chief Superintendent John Sutherland and Detective Sergeant Michelle Roycroft, who were both in the Met. The idea was to take Warwick all the way to Commander and, in this one, he’s made it to Chief Superintendent. I’m 83 now and people have started asking me if I’m going to retire after Warwick, but the ideas just keep coming.
Pen to paper
Every year, I spend January to March at the house in Majorca and that’s where I write the first two drafts of each book. I write in longhand with a Pilot Pen, and work in two-hour shifts. Mary tells me I could write twice as fast with a computer, but I don’t want to write twice as fast. I hate machines; I don’t even have email. As that pen flows over the page, I have time to think what I’m going to write. I’ve sold nearly 300 million books, so I must be doing something right.
Arguably the most surprising success is my Prison Diaries series [written in various prisons between 2001 and 2003 when he served two years of a four-year sentence for perjury and perverting the course of justice]. It’s been 20 years since the first one came out, but the books continue to sell. Even today, I have friends who tell me they envy the fact that I went through that experience and, yes, I think it has filtered through into my writing… stories I heard, people I met.
After some blood tests in 2014 I was told that my PSA count was high but as I had no symptoms of prostate cancer, I said to Mary I’d be fine to leave it for a few months. She was having none of it though and immediately made me a doctor’s appointment. I had the operation six months later. That’s just one of the many ways that Mary’s come to my rescue. Without her, I’m totally useless.
Same as every marriage, we’ve had our ups and downs, but this stunningly beautiful, incredibly smart woman has stood by me. Mary is a force of nature. Now you can understand why I always say to her: “Please don’t die before me because I won’t be able to cope.” And I’m not joking.
Written by Danny Scott