Jeffrey Archer treasures his writing time
Why an egg timer?
It’s a beautiful object, silver and glass. My wife had it made for my birthday by Garrard the jeweller to help with my writing schedule as the sand runs out in exactly one hour. I work four two-hour sessions each day over an initial 50-day writing period and the timer doesn’t allow you to cheat. When you look at a watch, you can easily knock a few minutes off here and there which really mounts up. The timer is a taskmaster and a blighter but I love it.
Do you know exactly what to write when you start a book?
I might have a vague idea of the opening three or four chapters. A writer knows exactly where he’s going, whereas a storyteller shouldn’t be so sure because if he knows, then the reader will know, too. He almost can’t help himself and he’ll give it away. If I don’t know the ending myself, I can’t give it away.
Do you still hand write everything?
Every word and I get through one pen each day. My PA then types up the manuscript, triple-spaced to allow pencil and rubber corrections. I dislike technology . . . I think I’m frightened of it, frightened that I won’t do my best. I like the feel of pen across paper. I like the pace which allows you to think ahead. I have an e-book reader and my family are amazed I can actually work it. There’s considerably less pleasure than reading from a page, of course, but when you’re stuck on a Spanish cliff-top in the middle of nowhere – which is where I write – it’s pretty convenient.
Who are you writing for these days?
When young writers ask me for advice, I tell them not to suddenly start writing ghost stories or tales about vampires just because they’re fashionable. Do what you do, what you know and feel. Jane Austen lived in a small village, writing about her family and produced six of the most-loved, beautifully written books in history. I write my stories hoping that my current readers will continue to enjoy them and that new ones may come aboard. Obviously, people do come in and out of fashion; take old Terrence Rattigan, for example. When I was a child, he was the most-adored playwright. Then he went through an age when people simply didn’t want to know. The next thing, he had three plays running in London at the same time. But you mustn’t think to yourself “Demons are in this year, I’ll write about demons.” Just tell your stories.
You have two more writing sessions left today. Do you really not know what’s going to happen?
Actually, the next session is relatively clear because of what I wrote just before you rang. I’m working on the third volume of the Clifton Chronicles and I now know that, by the time my sand has run out twice today, I need to arrive at a vote of no-confidence in a Labour Party constituency meeting in Bristol.
Jeffrey Archer’s The Sins Of The Father, volume 2 of the Clifton Chronicles, is published by Macmillan, £18.99