By Rituparna Mahapatra
He lives the life of a real Hero, a superman of sorts , whose life and career is nothing short of a thrilling story — novelist, playwright, former Tory deputy chairman, a mayoral candidate for London, champion athlete, a celebrity, and tragically a prisoner and failed businessman — he has done it all and triumphed. His stint in prison could not pin him down and there he wrote his Clifton Chronicles, a runaway bestseller yet again. Although he is reluctant to talk about most parts of his life, Jeffrey Archer has mastered the craft of popular storytelling, and has understood and grasped the dynamics involved in it.
His books have sold over 300 million copies worldwide, and translated in over 37 languages. But he has not won a single literary prize in the UK. Regardless, Archer thinks of himself as a storyteller, one who is gifted and says it’s difficult to be considered a good writer if you are a storyteller. He says he is lucky to be a storyteller since you are not confined to a particular niche of readers or time, you go beyond that. That is the reason Dickens and Jane Austen are read widely even now, he says.
He stresses the importance of discipline and hard work for aspiring writers. “There are no short cuts,” he says. His famed writing regime is about 8 hours of writing every day, which begins at 6am in the morning and ends at 8pm in the evening. He writes for two hours at a time with breaks in between, when he goes for long walks. He mostly writes from his house in Majorca, overlooking the bay. He still handwrites his first draft, with Staedtler pencils and even after authoring 150 books, he is nervous when he starts a new project.
Interestingly, writing was his second career option, which he had to fall back upon to pay off his debts, which he incurred as a failed businessman. Other than that, he loves Cricket, and says he would have been a cricketer if he hadn’t been a writer.
At 76, he shows no signs of slowing down, his mind still brimming with new ideas and his body as fit as ever. Having survived prostate cancer, he proudly says, “I train three times a week in the gym, and have an outstanding New Zealand trainer who pushes me as far as she can, and I certainly benefit from it.”
Speaking about the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature at Dubai, he says it’s a brilliant platform, an event managed wonderfully by Isobel Abulhoul, and is getting better by the day.
You have been writing for more than three decades now, and even now your books are loved by millions the world over. How does it feel and how do you manage to do it?
I’m very lucky to be born with the simple gift of storytelling, and although I work very hard, I enjoy what I’m doing, and the reactions from my readers.
You call yourself a storyteller. How important is it for you to tell a story? Do you follow a specific structure in your storytelling?
It’s hugely important to tell a story, and have a beginning, a middle and an end. When I start a new book, I have in my mind an idea of where I want to the book to go, but sometimes the characters take me in an entirely different direction, or I come up with a brand new ending half way through. You should always be open to this.
Tell us something about Kane and Abel?
Kane and Abel is the story of two men from totally different backgrounds, one very rich, one begins life without a penny. They only meet once, and it influences their whole lives.
In this age of social media, the internet, flash stories, 140 character stories, you manage to remain one of the most successful writers. How do you keep yourself relevant to the current scenario?
I think it’s important and fun to connect with your fans and readers through social media, but I always tell aspiring writers to write about what they know. It’s no good following fashion and writing a book about ghosts, or whatever is popular at the time – write about what you know, especially at the start of your career.
Are your main characters based on real life?
I believe any writer will take inspiration from people that they’ve met in their lives for their characters in a book, and certainly in the Clifton Chronicles, there are elements of me in both Harry and Giles – and of course Emma is based on my wife Mary, and Maisie on my mother.
Your Clifton Chronicles are #1 in the Sunday bestseller list, #1 in India, South Africa, and New Zealand. How does it feel?
It’s thrilling to go to #1 on the bestsellers list, and it’s something I never take for granted. Even with my last 15 books going to #1 around the world, the pressure on your last book being #1 only adds to the pressure of writing the new book.
Have you read any Indian authors? Who are your favorites and why?
As a nation you’ve produced so many great writers, that have even gone on to win the Nobel Prize, but my favourite is R K Narayan, particularly Malgudi Days, and frankly like Graham Greene, I believe he should have won the Nobel Prize.
In spite of there being several successful Indian authors, both in India and abroad you have always been the most read, most loved by the Indian readers. What do you have to say to that?
I can’t fully explain why my Indian readers have been so supportive, but I am hugely grateful. I suspect it’s because most are as aspirational as I am, and enjoy a good story.
What advice would you like to give to aspiring writers, about the craft?
A well-educated person can always expect to be a good writer, but on top of that they need to be a storyteller, and that, I’m afraid, is a God-given gift.
What advice would you like to give to your readers on life?
Learn from all experiences, whether good or bad, and look forward, never back.