Master storyteller Jeffrey Archer tells Mini Anthikad-Chhibber Harry’s story is a developing one and he doesn’t know how, where or when the Clifton Chronicles would end
Having just finished the third book in Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles, Best Kept Secret (Pan Macmillan, Rs. 350), I am gnawing my fingernails at the cliff-hanger ending. “You’ll have to wait for another year to find out,” says Jeffery Archer gleefully over the phone from Mumbai. The best-selling author of breathless page turners including Kane and Abel and Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, has flown in from the Emirates Literature Festival in Dubai for a book tour for Best Kept Secret.
In 2011, when Only Time Will Tell came out, Archer said the book was the first of five covering a 100-year-time frame. Set between 1920 and 1939, the book told the story of Harry Clifton, a working class boy and his friendship with Giles Barrington, the son of the owner of the shipping company where Harry’s family work. The fast-paced book with the mandatory cliff hanger ending, follows Harry’s life through the many curveballs destiny throws his way and ends with Harry in America accused of murder.
The second book released in 2012, The Sins of the Father, is set during the Second World War and Best Kept Secret is set between 1945 and 1957. “The fourth is set between ’57 and ’64,” says Archer. So if the fourth of a five-book series ends in ’64, will the fifth cover 56 years? “I do not know! Yes, the time frames are shorter than I expected. It came as shock to me too. I cannot control it you know. At the end of the fourth book, Harry is only 44. Most probably there would be more than five books in the Clifton chronicles.”
The peer says Harry’s story is a constantly-developing one. “He might live to be 100. I can, however tell you, the next book sees a major disaster for Harry which radically changes things.” And I can see myself gnawing my finger nails some more!
Ask the former Member of Parliament why a saga and he says: “I wanted a challenge and liked the idea of covering a family through history.” Harry Clifton like Archer is a writer. “Yes Harry is based on me and Harry’s mum, Maisie, on my mother.” In the book, Harry goes on a book tour in America with detailed descriptions of radio interviews, and the pressure of making it into the New York Times Bestseller list.
“Yes, I have gone through all of that,” Archer says with a laugh. “It is tough living out of a suitcase, but it is part of the deal isn’t it? I enjoy the interviews and meeting my fans. But finally, the books have to tell a story.”
If the books are based on real life, what are the chances that the wicked people will recognise themselves and be offended? “Lady Virginia is not based on a real person. Fisher is based on three people, but I don’t think they will recognise themselves.”
The book is dedicated to Shabnam and Alexander. Archer explains saying while he loves India, he is not confident to write about India. “I don’t have enough knowledge.”
Best Kept Secret has a fascinating auction scene, where Archer’s keen eye draws these lovely word pictures of the swish set not thinking twice about dropping a small-size country’s GNP on the next big thing in art. Apart from auctions and politics, cricket figures prominently in the book, even being a part of a secret service code, which proves unbreakable thanks to the fact that “England had never been at war with a nation that played cricket.”
“Those are two subjects I have immense love for — I do a lot of art auctioneering for charity and cricket is my favourite sport. Like I said before I like to write about things I know and am comfortable with.”
While the book series covers a vast time frame, Archer says his favourite period is the “1960s. It was a time that was fascinating to a lot of people.” In Emma’s emancipation and empowerment, Best Kept Secret follows the women’s liberation movement. “I feel strongly about women’s rights. Emma, Harry’s love, is based on my wife, Mary who is a remarkable woman.”
Writing a saga, the 72-year old bestselling author comments, has pros and cons. “It is a challenge and a tremendous commitment. The pros are that with each book, the characters are established and reader knows them.”
Archer is a disciplined writer who writes 2,000 words “On a good day. I write from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., 10 a.m. to noon, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.” And does he ever face a day when the words do not flow? “That has never happened,” he comments firmly.
Of the Clifton Chronicles making it to screen, Archer says: “I think rather than a movie, it will make for a miniseries. BBC and HBO are looking at it as of now.”
Commenting that the India tour is hard work — “Four cities in seven days,” Archer says he does not have a favourite Indian city. “I come to Mumbai most often, I know a lot of people in Calcutta and love Chennai. But no, no favourite city.”
Signing off with a comment on cricket, Archer says “It is real joy that we beat you to the ground and double joy as you defeated Australia!”