Lord Jeffrey Archer was in India for the Landmark Jeffrey Archer Tour, to promote his latest page-turner, A Prisoner of Birth. The 68-year-old best-selling British author, as his books advertise, has served five years in the House of Commons, 14 years in the House of Lords and two in Her Majesty’s prisons. The latter were probably the most productive of all; they spawned his critically acclaimed A Prison Diary , a three-volume account of the time he spent in prison for perjury.
Still controversial, always entertaining and full of experiences after the change in habitat, Archer spoke to Lounge about his latest book which he says was inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Edited excepts:
Can you explain the basic premise of the book—that people’s life is limited by to whom, when and where they are born?
You are a prisoner of birth. I am a prisoner of birth. The little girl, four or five years old begging at my window last night when I was in the traffic, is a prisoner of birth. You can’t do anything about your parents, the cot you are born in. You can fight and you can go certain ways, but for most people, the whole of their life is influenced by where they are born.
Anti-hero: Archer’s new protagonist is wrongly convicted for crime (Photo by: Colam Getty / bloomberg)
Do you think Danny Cartwright (the book’s protagonist) broke the mould?
Ya, I think he is one of the exceptions. He did break out.
Can you think of anyone else who did?
(Points to a name on the Acknowledgements page.) Billy Little. Couldn’t read and write when he went into prison. Now doing a master of arts and then he’s going to do a PhD (Archer met Little while they were both in prison).
Is that where the idea for the book stemmed from?
The essential idea came from The Count of Monte Cristo. But I saw this in the people I met and the characters I mixed with. Certainly, they hadn’t had the opportunities I had; I have been very privileged. But I did see clever enough people like Billy that could break out of it.
Do you think revenge drives people in real life as much as it does in fiction?
The readers love it. But no, I don’t. I’m not at all revengeful, so no, I don’t. One of the fascinating things I learnt from writing this book and Dumas taught me, perhaps, is that you can’t seek revenge if you haven’t got any money.
Dumas’ hero finds the island of Monte Cristo, he finds his caskets of gold. My hero had to find some way of being rich enough to win the battle.
Why are best-selling authors haunted by rumours of ghostwriters?
I think it’s jealousy and envy, usually. In my case, it stopped overnight when I went to prison (and wrote A Prison Diary ). Yes, all my ghostwriters were sitting in the next cell, they got into prison on the same day. People were finding it very hard to say that someone else was writing my books when I had three award-winning prison diaries.
It’s not helped by James Patterson doing four to six books a year and actually putting another name on the cover with him. So, they think we all do it.
Did you plan to write the prison diaries before you stepped into prison?
No, my son William wrote a note to me on the first day saying: ‘For God’s sake, write down everything you see. Don’t say you’ll do it afterwards. You have this gift.’ His point was that if I came out of prison and said, I’ll now write my prison diaries, I would have forgotten everything. So, I wrote it every day. I haven’t read them in six years. I had to look up one fact for this book and had forgotten it completely and got it wrong. I was very glad I did it on a day-to-day basis.
Tell us about your blog. Isn’t it a big commitment for someone who is tech-challenged?
A friend of mine who runs a blog, who is the chairman of my publishing company, was getting 50,000 people (hits) a month. He said, ‘You should do it Jeffrey’. So I did, and last month, 540,000 people hit the blog.
I don’t post the blog. I handwrite it, give it to the secretary and she posts it. When I sit down to breakfast, I get a pile of emails from the blog. Twenty-five per cent of them at the moment are from India, but that will probably change when I leave.
What are the best and worst parts about being in prison?
There are no best parts. The worst are the noise, the violence, the sheer boredom. I wrote a million words in one year. Normally when I write, I write 100,000-150,000 words a year. So, that will give you a clue how pointless the whole thing is.