Jeffrey Archer didn’t start out as a novelist. His first calling/passion is politics. Along his journey he has done some fundraising for various charities for which he was made ‘Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare’ and gaining the title ‘Lord Archer’. So what drew this Lord to start writing novels? It was a burden of necessity. In 1974 he made an investment in a company called Aquablast who claimed to have invented a revolutionary gadget that was set to earn them huge profits. Archer invested his life savings believing he was about to become very rich. Instead the company went bankrupt and Archer, fearing he would have to as well, resigned from parliament.
When you’ve lost your fortune what is the easiest way to make it back? Crime? Careful investing over time? In Archer’s case he wrote a novel called Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, based loosely on his experience with Aquablast.* Some people would say writing a novel was the hardest way to make a fortune. Not only do you have to spend months to years writing and editing the book, you then have to get someone to publish it (and it Archer’s day that meant also getting a literary agent). People then have to like it enough for it to sell tens of thousands of copies. The odds were certainly stacked against this being the solution to Archer’s financial problems. However, Archer is a master of faking it ’til making it (cf the story of how he got the Beatles to appear at Oxford to raise money for Oxfam) and his novel went on to become a bestseller. But here lies his fatal flaw. Archer doesn’t always tell the truth and after lying under oath about a later scandal, he was found guilty of perjury in 2001. He served nearly two years in prison. Once again Archer turned adversity into a money making scheme, this time through releasing three volumes of prison diaries.
It takes extreme self-confidence and audacity to do what Archer did to make a fortune after losing one and that tenacity is admirable. However, he certainly treads on a few toes to get things done. His friend Sheridan Morley reports meeting Ringo Starr at the toilets during the Beatles visit to Oxford (Advertised as ‘Jeffrey Archer presents the Beatles in concert’. Ringo asked Sheridan if he knew Jeffrey Archer bloke. Sheridan replied everyone in Oxford was trying to work out who he was. Ringo said: ‘He strikes me as a nice enough fella, but he’s the kind of bloke who would bottle your piss and sell it.’ 1
Writing a bestseller to avoid bankruptcy has got to be one of the rarest ways to avoid that fate. For pulling it off, Archer deserves a Great Moment in Literature. Next time I’ll talk about authors who passed leaving partially finished novels – some of which still became bestsellers.
*It was the first book of his I read, and I recall enjoying it (I was 12 years old at the time). Nowadays I find his novels to be written in a style which does not appeal to me, though I do still enjoy his short stories.
1 Kelson, P (2001) Mendacious, ambitious, generous and naive https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2001/jul/20/conservatives.archer11