Jeffrey Archer, the author of best-sellers like Kane and Abel and A Prisoner of Birth, visited IIT Bombay for an interactive session organized by E-Cell, IIT Bombay. In this interview, he talks about the success of his books in India, what’s in store in the Clifton Chronicles and the performance of England in the Cricket World Cup.
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You are the most successful international author in India. You too have been quite vocal about the love and affection that you get from your readers over here every time you visit our nation. According to you, what do your books offer that has kept so many readers in India enthralled by your books?
It’s a question I ask myself, for many years. Why me and not many other authors? You like the English. I mean most Indians might not admit it but they like the English. They feel safe with the English language.
You’re all idiots. You love P.G. Wodehouse. so you have to be idiots if you love P.G. Wodehouse because he’s just wonderful. And you love R.K. Narayan and he’s the sort of author I like. So, this is a two-way road.
[pullquote]I think it’s because you’re aspirational as a race, and I am aspirational. My books are aspirational. So I’m not surprised.[/pullquote]I think it’s because you’re aspirational as a race, and I am aspirational. My books are aspirational. So I’m not surprised. I think it’s because you’re aspirational as a race, and I am aspirational. My books are aspirational. So I’m not surprised. You feel in line with that. (Points at camera) Particularly women, because I have supported women over many years. I have a brilliant wife who’s broken all rules in England and the next generation of women will rule this country. I think they like the books as well. But I still don’t know the real answer to that question.
Your first novel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, was published in 1976. 40 years and over 35 novels later, you seem to be getting only better with age. What is the secret of your longevity?
I think you get more experience. I think I’m a better craftsman. I think I’m a better writer. I’m not a better storyteller. Storytelling is the God given gift and you can’t do anything about that. You can become a better writer by being well educated, by being well-read but you can’t become a better storyteller. That’s a gift and I’m very lucky.
Many budding authors lose hope after multiple rejections at the beginning of their career. What kept you going at the start of yours?
Why do so many budding actresses, actors, ballet dancers and opera singers? We’re no different. To get to number one it’s like a mountain. To be on the top, there are lots of people there on the base. But I always say to young aspiring authors, to someone who wants to be an author, of your age, I say, “Go to the ballet” They say, “What do you mean go to the ballet?” I say, “You go sit and watch a ballerina and work out how many hours she’s done to be that good. It’s very hard work.”
So we can’t all be number one, can’t all be the best engineer on earth. There’s a bit of luck involved and the luck is a God-given gift. That’s luck. I can tell a story. That’s luck.
You have created literally hundreds of characters throughout your career. How do you find the variety to distinguish each one of them? How much are your characters inspired by people you have known or met in real life?
A lot. If, bad example, if I were to write about an engineering college in India, I would have you two, I have you four in. Why not? I’ve seen you. I’ve judged you; I’ve felt you. You take what you see and what you know.
Many people have asked me why I haven’t written an Indian novel despite loving India. I don’t have enough knowledge. You pick it to pieces. [pullquote]But in the next book, not in this one, in the next book, nine chapters are in Bombay. I have had the courage at last to bring in a beautiful Indian woman into the story, at last.[/pullquote]But in the next book, not in this one, in the next book, nine chapters are in Bombay. I have had the courage at last to bring in a beautiful Indian woman into the story, at last.
Spoiler alert: In all of your books, till date, you’ve never killed off a central loved character unexpectedly. But you did so in the last Clifton Chronicles novel, where you killed off Jessica. So, what brought that on?
At the age of seventy, I decided I needed to focus; I needed a purpose, not just to relax. So, if I set myself the task of writing the Clifton Chronicles, I would have to get up early in the morning, I would have to work hard, I would have to stay young, so it was that. Now I’ve done five of them, there’s still two more to go. I have to set myself a new target all the time, otherwise I’ll fall down dead.
So, your first book in the Clifton Chronicles series was released in 2011 when you had hit the age of 71. At this age when others would have liked to sit back and relax, you decided to invest another 5-6 years of work into this series. What was your inspiration behind this?
NO. Sit back and what? If you want to reach the top, (at the camera) don’t you giggle. [pullquote]If you want to reach the top, if you want to be the best, you’ve got to go on working.[/pullquote]If you want to reach the top, if you want to be the best, you’ve got to go on working. Of course I could’ve, I could’ve retired after Kane and Abel. I could’ve stopped. Lived off the money for the rest of my life. That isn’t me. I have to work.
What do you think of England’s performance at the World Cup, and who do you think will win?
I think New Zealand look, to me, the most determined side. India are the laziest side. They’ve been messing about for the past six months, just messing about. But they get better all the time, so you can’t underestimate India, because Kohli is so good. I mean he is just, he’s the new Tendulkar. He’s amazing. But you’re lazy, you stroll around the field, hands in pockets, (gestures). The New Zealanders aren’t like that. The New Zealanders will play until they fall down dead. So beware. England, well that’s enough of England I think. Say you no more of England. Who do I think will win? New Zealand. Can India win? Yes. They’ve got a batting lineup that’s the envy of the world. But they’re lazy.
Do you have any advice for the aspiring young authors here at IIT Bombay?
I would say get some experience of life. I didn’t start until I was 32.There’s no hurry. And read a lot. Read good writing. Learn from it. And if anything, start on short stories.