Deep lines run across his forehead. His hair is silver but his wit sharp. Jeffrey Howard Archer, the 76-year-old master storyteller, is all about quintessential English charm. His connect with India is not just evident in his works, but also in the phenomenal success that they enjoy here.
In Mumbai to promote his new book, ‘This Was A Man’, the seventh and last part of, ‘The Clifton Chronicals’, the author spoke to us about why he thinks he was born to be the Minister of Transport in India, his aversion towards Bollywood, Donald Trump’s surprising victory and more…
Apart from the fact that India is one of the biggest markets for your books, what else fascinates you about this country?
I’ve been coming here for 20 years and I find the changes fascinating. The infrastructure has changed beyond belief — the airports, roads and buildings. And most of all, women. There is a new generation of women in this country who are powerful and will take over soon.
India always gets your books first. Why is that?
It’s because of piracy. If they don’t get my books first, they will buy them from whichever country gets it, print it and it’s on the streets in 48 hours. They sell it at a third of the price.
Kane and Abel has sold around 38 million copies and is in its 100th edition? How has it affected you?
Well, it has changed my whole life — in the sense that you can’t have 35 million people reading a book. And now, Google has announced that it is the 11th most successful book in history – one behind ‘War and Peace’ and one ahead of ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’. So, it has changed my whole life and everything. I was only 35 at that time. India really took to ‘Kane and Able’.
What do you really like about Mumbai?
I love the bustle of this city. When I first came here, it made me cross that it took so long to get to the hotel. A lot of things made me cross. Now, I just take it as India and live with it and love it. You either do that or you give in.
You hate the traffic issues in all our cities.
Well I am born to be the minister of transport in this country and get it finally sorted out for you all.
What else do you detest?
I don’t like Bollywood. I think it is too much of an influence on the young.
Is there a method to your writing?
No, I am a born storyteller. It’s a God-given gift. That is what I do. If there was a method, you would walk out of this room and say, ‘I got it, I will do it myself!’.
What is the one thing that you keep in mind while writing?
The most frightening thing is that every time I sit down to pen a new book, I become aware of how many people had read the last one. That is a tremendous physical and mental torture.
You have a house in Mallorca, Spain, called ‘Writer’s Block’. How do you deal with a writer’s block?
I have never had a writer’s block. Never. The Gods have been very kind.
What inspires you to keep writing? Does travelling help?
If you walk into a hall, and 3000 people are sitting there, that’s pretty big inspiration. You get to the top of the best-seller’s list, well, that’s pretty big inspiration. My wife inspires me – now Dame Mary – a remarkable woman, chairman of a great hospital. She goes on to be the chairman of the Science museum. Also, I travel a lot and meet many fascinating people. There is no shortage of stories coming my way on a daily basis.
Of all your books, which one would you like to see as a Bollywood movie?
I don’t want a Bollywood movie, I would like a serious film made. There are some great Indian directors, actors and actresses, but I don’t like Bollywood. I’d like the ‘Clifton Chronicles’ to be made into a TV series and a film on ‘Paths of Glory’. And then, I am in talks for a remake of ‘Kane and Able’ – I will enjoy that immensely.
You’ve said in an interview that RK Narayan is your favourite Indian author. Who among the current breed of new Indian authors do you like?
Graham Greene said that R K Narayan should win the Nobel prize. And I agree with him. He writes the story of an insignificant Indian in an insignificant village, doing an insignificant job, but it’s still a page-turner and that is because he is a brilliant storyteller. I like Vikram Seth, but I haven’t read modern writers. Yesterday, I started reading Sea of Poppies. I read a couple of chapters and I think he (Amitav Ghosh) writes beautifully.
You always say that you are a storyteller, not a writer. What’s the difference?
A writer is a well-educated person, a well-read person, a well-informed person even. But storytelling is God’s gift. According to the former emeritus Professor of English at Cambridge University, for every thousand writers, there is only one storyteller.
Donald Trump has been elected the President of the United States. Did you get stumped by Trump?
I was surprised rather than stumped. Because, you wouldn’t go to a heart surgeon and ask him to perform an operation on your feet. He has no experience of anything political, and he is going to run the biggest legislature in the world. However, I agree with outgoing President Obama that you should give him every chance to do it – he may prove us all wrong. God willing. But it’s a hell of a task he has set himself. I sometimes wonder if he ever wanted the job or whether it was a massive public relations exercise for the Trump name. He certainly achieved that.
Your next is a collection of short stories? Does India feature in them?
The collection will be out by early 2017. While two of the stories have come from India, they aren’t about India. The stories are about what happened to some Indians when they were abroad. One of them is magical — a man from Kolkata gave it to me. It’s a very clever story, but he didn’t realise that he was actually giving me a story. People often narrate incidents, but fail to see the story in them.
Online Source: The Times Of India.