I had no idea when I saw Lord Archer speak in Cambridge last Friday that he had recently been operated on for prostate cancer. He was his usual exuberant and confident self, repeatedly saying how thankful he was for his luck which led to his phenomenally successful literary career.
Lord Archer looked fit and well at The Sick Children’s Trust literary lunch at Madingley Hall, a charity which provides desperately needed accommodation the families of children in hospital, amusing us with his anecdotes, and saying, “I never forget how lucky I have been.”
I had no idea that those words could have been a reference to his luck which saved his life following his early diagnosis of prostate cancer last December, which he writes about in today’s Mail on Sunday. The surgical team which removed his prostate included a robot from California called Da Vinci. Lord Archer is lucky that he lives close to the world-leading Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge which has the latest state-of-the-art equipment like Da Vinci.
He laid bare some home truths about the ordeal of getting published and his strict daily writing routine – handwriting his drafts and editing them 14 or 15 times before submitting them to his publisher. It is a long and meticulous process and Lord Archer gets up at 5.30am each day, working solidly throughout with regular breaks, before going to bed early at 10-10.30pm.
Lord Archer reminded us of the luck that is needed by writers to get published in the first place – out of 1,000 manuscripts submitted to publishers, only 1 will be accepted.
His first book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, was rejected by 17 publishers before it was finally accepted – and then it only sold 3,000 copies in hardback – before luck stepped in. The paperback version sold 20,000 copies in the first year and became a best seller. It was adapted for television and has been reprinted 57 times.
Lord Archer urged would-be writers in the audience not to give up on their dreams, but said he did not feel it was true that everyone “has a book inside them”, maybe they just had a short story to tell, but it was one they should write.
Some of Lord Archer’s luck rubbed off on me when I met Patsy Glazebrook, vice-president of The Sick Children’s Trust. We were queuing together to see Joanna Trollope speak at this year’s Cambridge Literary Festival. I told Patsy about my book, The Shop Girls, due to be published on 25 September, and she invited me her charity’s literary lunch last Friday where speakers included the brilliant psychological crime writer Sophie Hannah and poet Wendy Cope, as well as Lord Archer.
I am honoured to be speaking at the charity’s next literary lunch next February. It’s a hard act to follow these three literary greats. I only hope I have some of Lord Archer’s luck on my side!