Interview with bestselling author Jeffrey Archer

Bestselling author Jeffrey Archer talks to The Hindu about the craft of storytelling, what he likes and dislikes about India, and what his ideal cricket World Cup finals would be like. He also shares his tips for writers as requested by The Hindu's readers on social media platforms.

Your first book Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less was published in 1976. Decades later, several works of fiction, non-fiction and short stories later, your books are still as popular. What do you think makes your books click with millions of readers across the world?

I am a storyteller, not a writer. I think people like a good, story, a good tale; they like to be able to turn the page. I think that's the secret but its a god given gift, you can't be taught it.

In the age of internet, e-publishing and 140-character stories, how do you manage to stay relevant?

I think I have a very interesting life, a full life. I meet interesting people all the time. I have to keep up-to-date the whole time. But I've been lucky in the sense that I don'y think I've grown old. I think I am still young. And it's probably because I mix so much with the young. like the young. And i am very flattered that in India, I would think the average age of my audience is 18, 19, 20... That would not be true in any other country on earth.

Given your sense of humor, can we look forward to a full fledged comedy?

You've got seven Clifton Chronicles. Five of which have been written - number five is out now. I am working on number six. And there's a number seven to come. After that I will do a series of short stories. I will do 12 short stories and then another novel.

Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less is humorous. And one or two of the short stories will be humorous. And I hope I bring humor into every one of my works. But if you mean an individual book of comedy - no! You go and do it yourself!

You've been to India quite a few times, right?

This is the 11th time.

What about our country fascinates you?

It changes over the years. For example, now I am very aware that you have at last got some decent roads. And a bridge. You ought to have 10 bridges, but you've got one. At last your traffic is moving, even if it is moving in the wrong direction. Even if you still believe that the white line goes down the middle of your car. I have never understood how you can be such an intelligent race and think that white lines were put there to go down the middle of the car - that's got me fooled - and yet mastered it, because if you were stupid, it would really worry me. But you are not stupid. And you still put the white line down the middle of the car. I should be Minister of Transport for this country, then there would be some changes, I can tell you that!

The biggest change has come in the power of women. Women who certainly 30 years ago had no importance at all, and usurped, trodden on and kicked to death. Men ran this country, despite the fact that you had a woman Prime Minister. But now, I can see young women are taking over India. They are bright, hardworking, well-educated. And they no longer believe their role is simply to be mothers, And simply to be usurped. If you'd seen the audience last night (at the meet and greet with fans at Crossword Bookstore in Mumbai), I would say 70 per cent were women. Of those, 50 per cent were under the age of 25. That's remarkable.

You have revealed that in your next book, there will be an Indian character and that eight chapters will be set in Mumbai. So how comfortable were you writing about something you may not be too familiar with?

Well, I am not comfortable. I've written it. I've done the first draft. In Banglore, I will meet a friend of mine who is bringing with him someone else I've known for years. He is among the cleverest young men I've ever met in this country - book wise. And he is going to read the eight chapter and he will point out any mistakes I've made. So I have to go rewrite probably. But the story won't change - the story of the beautiful young Indian girl, who Sebastian (son of Harry and Emma Clifton) falls in love with. That won't change.

The character of the girl is set to have an arranged marriage...

She is visiting England and they meet at a cricket match at Lord's. He falls in love with her. She kind of ignores him, but he persists. And then they fall in love but she is taken back - virtually kidnapped - to India. Remember, this is 1970. He comes to chase after and bring her back to England. And then it is what happens in Bombay.

You have been vociferous about your adoration for R.K. Narayan...

A great writer. A great storyteller.

...Are there any other Indian writers you have read.

You've got a bunch of nobel prize winners and great people. But they are writers. V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie - they are writers. I am a lover of storytellers. R.K. Narayan is both - a writer and a storyteller. That's why I love him. Malgudi Days is a masterpiece by any standards.

Any new Indian writers that you've read?

If you count Vikram Seth as a new Indian writer, certainly I admire him. But he's an all-rounder, a polymath. He can do anything. Unless he doesn't open the batting for India.

A lot of our readers have asked for you to share some tips for young and aspiring writers...

They're a waste of time. You are born with the gist of storytelling. Writing - you don't need tips! You need to work hard, you need to read great works, and learn, and get a decent education. Don't start until you are 30. Get some life behind you. But now I cant give you tips, otherwise you will be the bestselling author in the world, wouldn't you? It's a gift - like a ballerina, a violinist, an opera singer. You are not going to be the leading opera singer in the world, shall I tell you why? Because you can't sing! And it doesn't matter what tips I gave you, you still couldn't sing! Could you? No!

You have said that they could read some "great" books. Any that you would suggest?

You should read the classics. Learn from them. Certainly you couldn't hope be a writer of any caliber unless you've read all the people who are great writers.

Finally, a cricket question...

Ah! A cricket question! 'Why are you so convinced that England will win the world cup?'

But we are not! You obviously are an English cricket fan. What would your ideal cricket world cup scenario be?

Obviously, England would beat India. In the final. The score would be: England - 450 for no wicket and India 12, all out!

Your message for the English cricket team.

Nah.. they've no hope. They're rubbish. They're no good. India have a chance - in my view as an outsider - only because they rise to the big occasion. They are a lazy team. The laziest team is the West Indies. You are the second laziest. If you are not playing a match that's important, you walk around the pitch, drop catches and don't care. When you care, my god, you are good. And I think, Kohli is as good a batsman as I have ever seen. I think he is very special. I like Pujara. I think he is great for Test matches. But I am not sure about the future of Test matches in this country. But Kohli is the real thing.

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 1:35:15 PM |

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