The audience listens with rapt attention to Jeffrey Archer in conversation with Anthony Horowitz at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Friday. Image Credit: Francois Nel/Gulf News

Dubai: Jeffrey Archer, best-selling novelist, charmed a sold-out session at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Friday with his wit and humour as he spoke about his books, his experience, where he gets ideas for his stories and advice for budding writers.

Archer, who is best known for his book “Kane and Abel” — which he said sold 37 million copies and is on its 97th reprint, said that he was “a story teller and not a writer” and that he is happy to be so.

“I tell a tale that starts with once upon a time and pray to god you turn the page.” Archer said. As to why he still writes, he said “come and look at this audience, why the hell do you think I do it!” He added that what he wants most is to be the most read author on earth.

He advised people who want to write to write what they are good at and not what is popular at the moment. “So, if you think dinosaurs are in, you do not have to write about it, if you think erotica is popular – which it is – you do not have to write about it….”

Archer also said that one should never give up if they get turned down, as his first book “Not a penny more, not a penny less” was turned down by 16 publishers.

As to whether he still feels pressure when he writes, he said the last 16 books have gone to number one, and added, “Do you think there isn’t pressure when you sit down with a pen and say there are all out there waiting. It is one hell of a pressure.”

“I tell myself every day I must do better.” Archer said.

The 72-year-old said that he always tries to meet people who can give him story ideas. He said that it could be a small incident that happened to them that they themselves do not realise is a story because it is part of their everyday life.

Archer said that “nothing is worse than someone who says to me ‘Jeff, I could have written one of the world’s best-sellers but I did not have the time’. Find the time and fail, it is better to find the time and fail than convince yourself that you might have made it…do not let anything stop you.”

About the characters in his books, Archer said that some were based on people he knows in real life. “If you know people who are interesting in your life, you will write about them so much better than someone you are just inventing.”

The session was moderated by author Anthony Horowitz.

Horowitz asked Archer where the villains he writes about come from. He said that when you have worked in politics you meet a lot of these kinds of people. Horowitz also asked about the strong women in his books and where they come from as he said it could be hard for a male writer to write about women.

Archer said that they are inspired by strong women in his life — his mother, Margaret Thatcher, –whom he worked with for 11 years, and his wife Mary who he said was the strongest woman he had ever met.