Talk about writing what you know. In 2003, best-selling British author and former member of Parliament Jeffrey Archer was released from a two-year stint in prison for perjuring himself during a 1987 libel case. Now, five years and three published Prison Diarys later, the author revisits life in the clink in his new novel, A Prisoner of Birth. The 500-page whopper, set in contemporary England, borrows its general plotline from Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo: An innocent man, Danny Cartwright, is sent to jail, only to escape and seek revenge on those who put him there.
Archer, 67, drew on his own prison experience for the book, even modeling Danny on his cell neighbor and convicted murderer Billy Little (who's thanked in Prisoner's acknowledgments). Even so, Archer notes: ''I wouldn't call [writing the book] therapeutic.'' Some of Archer's inspiration came from his more lordly life. He built Danny's revenge strategy around Japanese knotweed a plant that nearly eroded the foundation of his property in Liverpool and based one of his villains on a group of vain actors he knows in England's theater scene. ''If you meet interesting people, why not write what you see?'' he explains. ''Why invent it when it's right in front of your eyes?''