LONDON (Reuters) - British author Jeffrey Archer seeks to scale Everest in his latest novel, a story based on the life and times of George Mallory whose attempt to climb the world’s highest peak in 1924 is still shrouded in mystery.
And unlike earlier false starts, the writer as famous for his politics and imprisonment as his prose is confident that this time his book will make it to the big screen.
“Paths of Glory,” which hits shelves Thursday and is published by Macmillan, is a fictionalized account of Mallory, the British climber who may or may not have reached the summit of Everest before dying on the mountain in June, 1924.
His frozen remains were discovered 75 years later hundreds of feet below the peak, and the climbing community is divided to this day over whether Mallory was the first person to stand on the roof of the world.
For Archer, best known for pacy thrillers like “Kane & Abel” and “Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less,” Mallory was not an obvious choice. But he was drawn to the story by late friend Chris Brasher, and, once he started his research he was gripped.
“I got so involved that I wished I was 24, and wished Mallory had said to me ‘I want you to come on the trip with me’,” Archer, 68, said in an interview.
“I got so excited. I was in his shoes. I was looking at the top,” he added in his luxury London penthouse home, overlooking the River Thames and surrounded by valuable works of art.
Mallory was inspiring not only for his climbing prowess but his political ideas that were radical at the time, his modesty, his involvement in World War One, the illustrious company he kept at Cambridge and his marriage to the beautiful Ruth.
“This very remarkable, very complex man, he’s a big figure and that made writing it so much more fun.”
Almost as important in Paths of Glory is the figure of George Finch, an Australian who accompanied Mallory on an expedition to Everest but was excluded from the ill-fated third trip after falling out with the British organizers.
Archer spoke to members of Finch’s family who are convinced that the accomplished climber was excluded by the likes of Arthur Hinks because he was not British and was not part of the traditional “establishment.”
“I can’t prove that, but I spoke to his grandniece ... and the grandniece said to me: ‘They treated (Finch) disgracefully. He would have been the first (up Everest) if that awful man Hinks from the Royal Geographical Society hadn’t stopped him.’”
Archer said he reveled in recreating the rivalry and respect between two men he felt reflected his own life both as a member of the British “elite” and a convicted outcast.
“I see myself as a bit of Finch and a bit of Mallory, but aren’t we all? Which one is different?”
Archer was a favorite of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, served in parliament, was made a lord, has sold tens of millions of books and mingles with the rich and famous.
And yet he was jailed in 2001 after lying in a libel trial against a newspaper which said he had had sex with a prostitute, and served half of a four-year prison term.
“I still love my politics, I’m still in touch with everybody involved, but I’m well past a job for 101 reasons, and I’m no longer interested. What I want now is to write better and better books,” Archer said.
He is also in contact with a Hollywood producer to adapt Paths of Glory for the big screen. But he remains cautious.
“I agree with my son on this. He has a marvelous expression: ‘Dad, we’ll all believe it when we’re eating the popcorn.’ And I think that’s right with films.
“I’ve had disaster after disaster in the sense that people pay me money, people pay for the rights, I’ve had three mini-series, I’ve never had a film.”
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
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