Jeffrey Archer tells MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER he does not need sex, violence or bad language to tell a ripping good yarn
Lord Jeffrey Archer is holding court and all the acolytes rush to him with their much-thumbed copies of “Kane and Abel”, “First Among Equals” and the latest, “Prisoner of Birth” for an autograph.
As he settles for yet another interview, as part of his six-city India tour, courtesy Landmark, Archer comments with a certain smugness: “Book tours are a necessary evil only if no one reads your books and doesn’t know your name.” Something the 67-year-old author does not have to bother about, considering the rock-star reception he gets wherever he goes.
Talk to him about the obscene sums of money writers get these days and the former MP piously says: “Money does not motivate me any more. For my first book, ‘Not a Penny Less, Not a Penny More’, I got an advance of 3,000 pounds. Now my motivation is just to meet my fans.”
While Archer’s books are marked by breathless plots and extraordinary coincidences; they are singularly lacking in the blood and gore department. “My books don’t have any sex, violence or bad language. Forget all the other rubbish. I believe in telling a good story.”
The comment brings to mind Ian Fleming who drenched his books in sex and sadism but refrained from bad language, attributing the restraint to his puritan Scottish forebears. However, classifying Archer’s work as pulp fiction has him immediately bristling with annoyance. “Pulp implies something that does not last. ‘Kane and Abel’ is still current, 30 years after it first came out. Of course I would not describe my writing as high literature but definitely not pulp.”
It is time to switch to safer spaces like cricket. Ask him about 20/20 and he laughs and mischievously says: “I don’t know anything about cricket! Ah ok, you got me there! 20/20 is hugely entertaining like a circus but has nothing to do with cricket. Cricket is V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid surviving the Aussies.”
And any plans of writing a novel around cricket? None at all says the bestselling author. “My fans from Japan and the United States don’t even know how to spell cricket!”
“Prisoner of Birth” tells the story of Danny Cartwright who is wrongfully accused and fights for his rights in Archer’s trademark entertainingly implausible way. “We are all in one way or another prisoners of birth. Danny is lucky as well as intelligent and makes the most of the opportunities.”
Levels of villainy
Ask him if he is under pressure to step up the levels of villainy in his books to stay current and he retorts, “then older books would just stop selling wouldn’t they? But I agree that the concept of wickedness has changed. When I was young, murder made it to the front page of every newspaper. But now it is finished off on page 37! However, there still are murders that capture the public imagination like the Arushi murder here. But for every murder on the front page, there are so many that go unreported.”
Archer was sent to prison for perjury and his prison term resulted in the highly popular “Prison Diaries” as well as “Prisoner of Birth”. So does going to prison actually help a career? He laughs softly, “Not if it is a really evil crime.”
Indians, Lord Archer says, are a tolerant race. “Not when they are on the road though. They just have to get on to their vehicles and they turn into vampires. Once they reach their destinations, they take off their helmets and voila! They are human again.”
Considering each of his novels are page turners chock-a-block with twists and turns, it is surprising that they have not been translated on screen.
“There have been a couple of mini-series of telly. There are many options and I would like to do a movie apart from those stolen by Bollywood.”
His next book, “Paths of Glory” is about a real person who visits India three times. Along the lines of “The 39 steps” and “Chariots of Fire”, the book that would be out next year will end in a cliff-hanger where the reader has to work out an ending.
“What an interesting choice of word, ‘cliff-hanger’. Remember it when you read the book…” Archer murmurs in conclusion.