Archer on Judas

Archer on Judas

<p>In his stupendous Thames-side penthouse, the size of perhaps four squash courts, Jeffrey Archer is telling me about his long-standing interest in Judas Iscariot. His eyes are ablaze. &quot;I put to my own parish priest when I was MP for Louth 30 years ago the things that worried me about Judas. At the last supper Jesus says: &#39;One of you will betray me.&#39; Why didn&#39;t he say: &#39;Judas, you will betray me?&#39;&quot; Presumably, I venture, because then Judas would not have been in a position to make the betrayal? &quot;Exactly what the priest said . . . but I think if Jesus had said: &#39;Judas you will betray me&#39;, he wouldn&#39;t have betrayed him.&quot;</p><p>Archer&#39;s next book, <em>The Gospel According To Judas</em>, By Benjamin Iscariot, re-examines the disgraced disciple in detail. It is written as an imagined gospel by Judas&#39; son Benjamin, and to create the work Archer has collaborated with leading biblical scholar Professor Francis J Moloney. He has contributed the research, and Archer the words.</p><p>The 22,000-word novel is styled as a gospel, and split authentically into chapter and verse. Archer hands me the finished item to rifle through, but I am not allowed to stop and read anything in case I inadvertently stumble across one of its six &quot;revelations&quot;. &quot;One is startling, about something you have believed all your life. Something every Christian believes, totally undermined.&quot; No-one could ever accuse Archer of underselling himself or his work.</p><p>He is so protective of the book&#39;s secrets that all related documents have been shredded, while the printed books are locked away in China awaiting simultaneous worldwide release. English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Polish and Dutch versions will all appear on March 20th. </p><p>Moloney is frighteningly intelligent, and is correcting the finished translations in every language except Polish. For the Judas project, he read widely in Aramaic and first-century Greek. He has also roped in the unlikely figure of Archbishop Desmond Tutu to read the audio version. Tutu described the book as &quot;riveting and plausible&quot;--Moloney quipped to Archer: &quot;We know which one of us is riveting and which one of us is plausible.&quot;</p><p><strong>A response to Dan Brown?</strong></p><p>You only need to know a little of Archer&#39;s own story to know why themes of reinvention, redemption and rehabilitation might appeal. &quot;If Peter denied Him, and Thomas doubted Him, and they all ran away at Gethsemane, how come they are all saints and Judas is the most evil person who ever walked the face of the earth?&quot; Archer asks. So a religious conspiracy thriller: is this book a response to Dan Brown?</p><p>Archer denies it, pointing out that he approached his then publisher, Eddie Bell at HarperCollins, with the idea 15 years ago. But it&#39;s clear that the success of Brown is of great interest to all the big thriller writers, Archer included.</p><p>His own website puts his worldwide sales at 125 million copies, and Archer is well aware of the pressure to keep equalling the sales of his last book. &quot;It&#39;s a hell of a burden--but I haven&#39;t got the burden Mr Brown has,&quot; he says.&nbsp; He estimates Kane and Abel has sold 25 million alone. His publisher guesses he is now selling about two million copies per novel worldwide. Nielsen estimates his UK-only sales at 1.2 million since 1998.</p><p>Archer recalls that 17 publishers turned down his first manuscript before Cape accepted it. Since then he has put his name to 14 novels, and become a millionaire many times over from his fiction. Why does he continue? &quot;It&#39;s that or do nothing,&quot; he says, &quot;and I&#39;m not by nature someone who can do nothing. I love my writing.&quot;</p><p>Indeed, the next thriller is well under way. He has just returned from seven weeks of self-imposed purdah on Majorca: for each book he goes into isolation on the island, with no phone, no family, no distraction. He works two hours on, two hours off from six a.m. till 10 p.m., writing 2,000 words a day, longhand. On his return to London he rewrites and polishes the book, again in longhand. He doesn&#39;t know how to use a computer.</p><p>He has never won any literary awards--but he is quick to point to many favourable review comments. &quot;The Washington Post calls me the new Dumas, the New York Times says I write short stories better than Somerset Maugham--that&#39;s not too bad, is it? Anthony Howard writing in the Times says the Prison Diaries are better then anything Dostoevsky did.&quot;</p><p>Is he bothered that he will probably never win the Man Booker? &quot;I always say to people, which would you rather have: 10 million readers or the Booker? I&#39;d take the 10 million readers, thanks very much, if that&#39;s the choice.&quot; His favourite Booker winner is <em>Life of Pi</em>, &quot;a damned good read and beautifully written&quot;, perhaps because it is so narrative-driven. &quot;I always say to audiences: &#39;Have you read Patrick White?&#39; &#39;No,&#39; they reply. &#39;Got the Nobel prize,&#39; I reply . . . &#39;Have you read Nadine Gordimer?&#39; &#39;No.&#39; &#39;Got the Nobel prize.&#39;&quot;</p><p>The company he prefers to keep, in longevity and sales terms, is John le Carr&eacute; and Frederick Forsyth: &quot;We were all number one 30 years ago and we&#39;re still getting to number one.&quot; He always reads their latest books, &quot;as a professional, looking for plot techniques, tricks&quot;.</p><p>His favourite book is <em>The Count of Monte Cristo</em>, but he is a great fan of Austen. &quot;I sit down with her books and think: &#39;How does she do it?&#39; She makes you turn the page; it&#39;s a God-given gift.&quot; For Archer, the narrative, the story-telling, is everything.<br /> <br /> </p>