Jeffrey Archer likes to say he’s a story-teller, a yarn-spinner. That’s what people want, he avers, “a good yarn, me dear.” This last bit added in a pantomime twang. No mention of art or writing, certainly not literature. A fake man writing fake stories (some of them borrowed) about fake people. I’ve got a terrible feeling it works because the undiscerning reader imagines they’re being granted an authentic insight into unauthentic, fake lives – political people who will do anything to succeed in the Game of Getting On.
He mentions in an interview that Kane & Abel has sold 37 million copies. “Are these 37 million idiots?” he asks defensively. Not idiots, necessarily (though some of them may well be), but undiscerning readers certainly. Archer’s success is only explicable in terms of a dumbed-down, undiscerning, celebrity-obsessed culture. He’s an appalling man and a worse writer. Apparently, it takes him fifteen drafts before he’s done. Fifteen drafts or thereabouts. Fifteen drafts! Let’s be clear, then: the shallow, badly written crap you’re holding in your hands when you buy an Archer took fifteen drafts, and is the result (make no mistake about it) of a lot of disciplined hard work. Jeffrey wants us to know this.
As well as being a producer of crap, Archer is a tetchy, self-important scamster, who doesn’t like being mocked. For British people of my vintage, this is the defining interview:
Despite a life of dodgy deals and dubious investments, he decided to stand for London mayor in 2000 backed by Thatcher and Major, and the then leader of the Tories, William Hague – and that was when the Daily Star libel case came back to haunt him. The prospect of Archer attaining a political office with real power was too much even for the people who had lied for him in the past. This is Archer on Michael Crick, a reporter for whom he doesn’t much care:
The Daily Star libel case is amusing, inasmuch as a tawdry tabloid newspaper’s allegations were true (Archer had visited a prostitute, and he did later give her £2000 to leave the country). But Archer sued, the judge (Justice Caulfield) salivated over Archer’s “fragrant” missus, and Archer won the case. He’d probably have got clean away with it had his political ambitions not reared their (very) ugly head again.
Things fell apart for Archer, and he ended up being tried for perjury. He was found guilty, and sentenced to four years in prison. Archer was by this time already enough of an absurd fiction himself for this to be absorbed (as an admittedly biggish chapter) in the dreadfully purple story that is the Life of Jeffrey Archer. He wrote and published his prison diaries, and has gone on writing successfully (in the kerching sense) ever since.
He’s seventy-four now, and goes on unquietly and unapologetically being Jeffrey Archer – storyteller! Like Patterson, another non-writer who presumes to hold forth on the subject of writing. Unlike Patterson, this clown’s British, and still a Lord of the realm.