Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Jeffrey Archer's prison nightmare

While on holiday, I picked up a second-hand copy of Jeffrey Archer's prison diary. The first volume, in which he describes the twenty two days he spent in Belmarsh.

He called the book "Hell", so I was expecting it to be a bit like the horrific American TV prison drama "Oz" -- but hell for Lord Archer turns out to be bad food and having to shave in lukewarm water. There's one moment when he implies that some young men swear at him in the exercise yard, but that's it for the violence and aggression you'd imagine would be a staple of prison life. Most of the other inmates go out of their way to politely provide him with interesting anecdotes, which he duly types up for profit.

But I was interested in his writing regime. When writing a novel, he says, Archer gets up at five thirty AM and writes for six hours a day, in two hour chunks with two hour breaks in between. He does this for fifty days, at the end of which he has a first draft. He then works for another year until he's written sixteen drafts, at which point he turns it over to his publisher.

Blogger Stan Cattimore at Bete du Jour actually read a whole Archer novel - one that had, presumably, gone through the sixteen draft process and then been edited before finally hitting the shelves - and very helpfully uploaded a few paragraphs to his blog.

This is the kind of prose the best-selling perjurer produces:

There are more excerpts in Stan's post at the link above, which is well worth your time (as is his whole blog). And the interesting thing is that AT NO POINT during his long writing process did Archer read any of those paragraphs back and think "God, that's diabolical. Maybe I should reword it..."

Literary ability aside, I have to admire Archer's self discipline in putting in the hours. And I bet he doesn't waste time writing blog posts sneering at people more successful than he is.

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