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.