Q. When will your next book be published?
A. I have just completed book five of The CC series. Mighter Than the Sword has just been published in hardcover in the UK and will soon be available around the world. Please visit the Books and plays section to learn more about books one – four in the series. You can also watch a documentary about the series and read my blog for news of upcoming appearances and book signings.
Q. Have you written any short stories lately?
A. My most recent collection of short stories, And Thereby Hangs a Tale, was published in November 2010 and is now available in all formats. I will be writing a new set of short stories when I’ve completed The Clifton Chronicles.
Q. Are your adaptations available on video or DVD?
A. Kane and Abel was made into a CBS television miniseries in the US starring Peter Strauss as Rosnovski and Sam Neill as Kane. It was subsequently made into a television mini-series by the BBC in 1986. This original series was released for the first time on DVD on 18 October 2010 in the UK, and in Australia in early 2011. First Among Equals was televised by ITV in the same year, and Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less was televised, again by the BBC, in 1990. Unfortunately, these are no longer officially available on either video or DVD. As for films, I’ve never had a film made of one of my books but I remain hopeful.
Q. Have you ever written a screenplay?
A. I’ve written two – “Paths of Glory” about George Mallory, which is also the title of my latest book – all we’re looking for now is the finance. I’ve also recently finished the screenplay for False Impression.
Q. Of the books you have written, who is your favourite character and why?
A. Miss Tredgold in The Prodigal Daughter. She was meant to be in the story for just a few pages, but she ended up dominating half the book.
Q. Is it true that you often don’t know how a book will end?
A. I usually know the first four or five chapters in detail, and the next 10 in outline, which will take me to the middle of the book. Then it’s time to pray. As I write, I’m wondering what will happen on the next page. My theory is: If I wonder what will happen on the next page, there’s a good chance you’ll wonder what’s going to happen on the next page, as well. If you know exactly what’s going to happen two chapters down the line, you’ll give it away. If you don’t know, you can’t give it away.
Q. Do you write with a specific reader in mind or do you write for yourself?
A. I write what I feel at ease with, and then hope that it works for the reader—it might be a saga, or a thriller, or short stories.
Q. Do you prefer writing novels or short stories?
A. I enjoy them both but for different reasons. As I mentioned, with a novel, you haven’t got a clue where you’re going—you look up there and you pray. With a short story, you have to know the end. It’s only 3-5,000 words, not much in between. You begin and you know what the last line is going to be.
Q. What is your writing day like?
A. I am very disciplined and usually go abroad to write to eliminate any distractions. I work in two hour blocks – and I have a huge hourglass, which was a present from Mary, on my desk to ensure that I work for the full 120 minutes of each session. I write from 6.00am to 8.00am, then break for two hours for breakfast and to read the morning newspapers, or catch up on the cricket scores around the world; then from 10.00am until 12.00pm, when I break to go to the gym or for a long walk before a light lunch. Back to work at 2.00pm until 4.00pm, after which I might relax by watching an old episode of my favourite TV show, The West Wing, and then my final session is from 6.00pm till 8.00pm. For the next book, during my breaks I’m planning to catch up with the new series of House of Cards and Borgen. I find that my morning sessions are usually the most productive.
Q. How long does it take you to write a book?
A. I normally spend a year doing research, followed by a year of writing. I follow that schedule above, and it normally takes me about six weeks to produce a first draft. I then take a four-week break and get away from it. I come back and do another draft. That takes another four weeks, and I handwrite the whole thing out again. A Prisoner of Birth took 17 drafts – and took just over 1,000 hours.
Q. Is it true that you still write your books by hand?
A. Yes! I can’t type- I can just about switch a light on. My ability with anything mechanical is almost zero. I handwrite every single word.
Q. What are your favourite books?
– The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
– The 39 Steps – John Buchan
– A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
- A Diamond As Big As The Ritz – F Scott Fitzgerald
- The Prodigy – Hermann Hess
– Sword of Honour – Evelyn Waugh
– Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
They all have one thing in common, not only are they good writers, but great storytellers.
Other favourites are Wisden – A Cricketer’s Almanack, any PG Wodehouse and How to be Topp by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle.
In 2000, The Guardian published a list of my favourite political books.
Q. What are your favourite films?
A. A Man for All Seasons — for the magnificent direction of Fred Zinnemann, incisive script by Robert Bolt, and superlative acting of Paul Scofield.
The Sting — witty, fun, and I don’t think there’s been a better ‘sting’ film since; fine performances by Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and brilliant direction by George Roy Hill.
I’ve recently enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, which is a marvellous example of British film-making at its best — fine acting and great directing (and let’s hear it for the costumes — they won an Oscar); and Shrek — I thought Eddie Murphy’s comic timing as the donkey, was as good as Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen at their best.
Q. What’s your favourite music?
A. I’m a huge Sinatra fan, and have at least five of his CDs in my Mini, as well as Sammy Davis Jr, Tony Bennett and Bobby Darin. I’ve also recently discovered Lionel Ritchie, which is wonderful for playing in the car while I’m driving around London looking for a parking space.
Q. Is it true you had a cameo role in Bridget Jones’ Diary?
A. Yes, I had a small walk-on part. You’ll have to watch it again to see if you can spot me.