What does an author fear most? Someone who says, “If I told you my life story, it would be one of the best sellers in the world, and if you wrote it, I would be willing to share the proceeds with you.”
My usual response is, “Did you kill your wife or at least one other member of your family?” This is usually greeted with a look of horror and the words “Of course not.” To which I reply, “Let me know if you do.”
Fast forward: When the Covid lockdown ended, my wife Mary and I were invited by Tors Hagen, the owner of Viking Cruises, to join him on one of his ships sailing around the British Isles. This was a welcome distraction as we had been holed up in our house in Grantchester for a few years.
After climbing aboard and settling in, we went to Tors for dinner with some other guests. I was placed next to a lady who, before the soup had even been served, exclaimed, “I can tell you a story, it could be your next novel!”
STAFF. There is no escape.
Lord Jeffrey Archer (right) stands next to Alan Gard as his perfect copy of the 1937 Imperial State Crown
The Imperial State Crown has 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 5 rubies and is a priceless symbol of the British monarchy
There was only one attempt to steal the Crown Jewels, by a Colonel Blood in 1671, and he was caught before he and his conspirators could escape the Tower of London (photo)
I was stuck next to this woman for the next two hours, and she certainly didn’t look like the kind of person who would have killed her husband. In fact, he was sitting on the other side of the table and looked very healthy.
“How interesting,” I said politely, but it only got worse. “I can tell you how to steal the Crown Jewels,” she declared.
I wanted to remind her of something every schoolchild knows: there was only one attempt to steal the Crown Jewels, by a certain Colonel Blood in 1671, and he was captured before he and his conspirators could escape the Tower.
In fact, he ended up locked up in the Tower because of his troubles.
Soup is served, so I have little choice but to listen to this woman tell me how to steal the Crown Jewels. I was fascinated when she explained how it could be done in three minutes, maybe four minutes.
My first reaction was, how could she have figured out something so simple that the rest of us had all missed? Then her cover was blown when she admitted she was a member of the Royal Family and had been for a number of years.
And so my latest novel, Traitors Gate, was born.
I couldn’t sleep that night as the idea kept buzzing around in my head, and by the time the ship docked back in Southampton I had written a 30-page draft, despite my wife reminding me we were on holiday .
The moment I returned to London the research began, as I needed to be convinced that the premise was even possible. First I visited the Tower of London and made a careful study of the Crown Jewels, and in particular the 1937 Imperial State Crown (which we all saw King Charles III wearing at his coronation) and the Sword of State.
Ahead of the publication of his latest book, Jeffrey Archer (photo) shares the story behind Traitors Gate
Alan got to work some 17 months ago and 500 man hours later he unveiled the masterpiece you can see now (pictured in the box)
After completing this task, I went to the gift shop, where I was able to purchase several books on the history of the tower and the Crown Jewels. I devoured this over the next few days before moving on to Research Part II, which consists of talking to experts.
In this particular case, a retired Tower watchman, a taxi driver and a Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector. The ex-director briefed me on the process that takes place when the Crown Jewels leave the Tower, after being released by the local governor, before being taken to Buckingham Palace, the day before Her Majesty’s then Queen’s Speech. The first room.
Next came the taxi driver, who told me about the six possible routes an armored car carrying the jewels could take from the Tower to Buckingham Palace.
I chose two. One from the Tower to Buckingham Palace (the shortest route) and a second from the Palace back to the Tower, where the Crown Jewels are taken the afternoon after the speech.
I then walked both routes that I had chosen and ultimately opted for a route with more roundabouts, zebra crossings and traffic lights. I avoided the underground tunnel in the city, but took advantage of Tower Bridge.
No matter how fascinating you may find a study, never use it unless it advances the plot. A writer’s job is not to prove he or she is smart, but to make you want to turn the page.
Next I had to find out about the speech the monarch makes before the House of Lords whenever the government of the day wants to announce its legislative program for the next session of Parliament.
Lord Archer visited Alan Gard at his Dickensian workshop in Hatton Garden to ask him if he thought it was possible to make an exact copy of the 1937 Imperial State Crown (pictured)
As a member of the Senate, I was able to walk the route the monarch would take, from the moment she steps out of her carriage to be met by the Garter King at the Sovereign Entrance, up the stone stairs to the Robing Chamber on the first floor , through the long gallery, opposite the Prince’s Chamber, before entering the House of Lords.
I did everything a monarch would do, except put on the crown and sit on the throne.
Then I performed the entire exercise in reverse order. After completing this, I returned to the Tower for Part III of the Investigation.
I took the riverboat from Tower Wharf to Westminster Pier (16 minutes), then returned to the Tower and made the same journey by Tube on the Circle line from Tower Hill to Westminster (seven stops, 14 minutes).
I then headed back to Tower Hill tube station, but stayed on the Circle line to Baker Street (nine stops, 21 minutes).
Then I walked to the Jubilee line and took the tube to Westminster (three stops, seven minutes).
When I got back to Westminster I crossed the road and walked to the Sovereign’s Entrance. You must have realized by now that everything depends on timing. First to steal the Crown, then for Chief Inspector William Warwick, my main character whose series now spans six books, to move in and solve the crime.
I then started writing the first draft of Traitors Gate when another problem arose (not uncommon): the reader would have to believe that even experts would accept that a fake crown was real. Otherwise my story wouldn’t work – and no reader would accept the premise that it was even possible to steal the Crown Jewels.
Lord Jeffrey Archer poses with Alan Gard’s perfect copy of the 1937 Imperial State Crown
Meet Alan Gard, master craftsman and jeweler extraordinaire. Alan started his working life as an apprentice at Asprey at the age of 15. At the age of 26, he was running his own company and is now considered one of the leaders in his field.
I visited Alan at his Dickensian workshop in Hatton Garden to ask him if he thought it was possible to make an exact copy of the 1937 Imperial State Crown.
The 85-year-old craftsman, who had been an apprentice more than 70 years ago, said he needed some time to think about it.
Alan visited the Tower several times over the next two weeks before returning and saying, “I think it’s possible.”
He did point out that the original crown was set with 2,868 diamonds in silver settings, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 269 pearls. These include the 317-carat Cullinan II diamond, the 104-carat Stuart sapphire and the Black Prince’s Ruby, which was said to have been worn by King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt.
Alan started work about 17 months ago and 500 man hours later he unveiled the masterpiece you can see today.
What exactly does Alan’s Crown have to do with my latest novel, you may wonder – and to find out you’ll have to read Traitors Gate. But just to keep you guessing, you can read the first chapter tomorrow in the Mail on Sunday…