By Rituparna Mahapatra

jefferyHe 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.

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By Rituparna Mahapatra

On 3rd March, 2017, the much loved Emirates Airline Festival of Literature opened in Dubai. The festival is on for nine days from 3-11 March, and is held during the UAE’s Month of Reading. Welcoming more than 180 authors from all over the world, including 70 authors from the Arab world, this event is marked with 250 sessions of master classes, workshops, talks and interactive panel discussions from the very best in the literary world. The festival widely covers all areas of creativity from literature, art, music, cooking to photography.

There are over 50 children’s session, the most popular being ones with Francesca Simon, the creator of the Horrid Henry series, and Julia Johnson. The highlight of the festival is talks and interactive sessions by master storyteller Lord Jeffrey Archer, and talks by John Hemmingway, the grandson of the legendary Ernest Hemmingway, celebrated crime writer Kathy Reichs, veteran Emirati author Abdull Aziz AlMusallam and award-winning journalist Christina Lamb.

From 5th to 7th March, the festival conducts a residential writing course for aspiring writers conducted by award winning international authors. The students will get an opportunity to present and discuss their manuscripts and meet with various publishing houses and agents; the first of its kind in the region.

By Aminah Sheikh

kankana-basu

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Growing up in a big family of book-lovers and where the head of the family was a distinguished author, it was inevitable that one got books as birthday gifts. Added to that was the daunting task of delivering an oral essay of every book read to a stern panel of adults! The love for words, consequently, was destined to bite very early. Although I trained for commercial art and worked as an illustrator-visualizer in my early years and aspired to paint in oils someday, the weight and thrust of words and story ideas was too great at one point and they threatened to erupt and take precedence over everything else, including my domestic life. I had no option but to sit down and put pen to paper. All of life’s experiences appeared to be translating into words somehow, and the need for self-expression took the form of writing (both fiction and non-fiction). Painterly aspirations went flying out of the window.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What are you trying to say or achieve with it?

My most recently published book is a collection of short stories, Lamplight: Paranormal Stories from the Hinterlands. Some of the stories in this collection are loosely based on the ghost stories handed down from generation to generation in my father’s family. My grandparents lived in an old rambling house in Munger, Bihar, where all kinds of creepy things are supposed to have happened and I’ve taken inspiration from these.

I’m a huge admirer of the subtle form of story-telling, especially when it comes to the paranormal. Authors like Henry James, Stephen King and Ruskin Bond who create menacing atmospherics with the crafty use of language, where the reader’s mind can come unhinged with terror and imagination run rampant by the mere use of subtle suggestions, is the kind of craft I aspire to. Not for me the over-the-top spooking with blood, bones, screams and a whole lot of pyrotechnics. In Lamplight, I’ve taken an empathetic stance towards ghosts. Along with being chilling entities, I’ve tried to portray ghosts as piquant, funny, amorous, lovable and even gluttonous! I’ve allowed my ghosts to have the blast of their lives (or death, as the case may be!) in the stories.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I was barely nine when I read this magical novella called The Grass Harp by Truman Capote. The plot remains fuzzy in mind, it had something to do with an orphaned boy and two elderly ladies sitting on a branch of a tree and observing life. But till date I remember the vivid scene created by the author’s prose, that of a sea of emerald green grass waving in the breeze, bright golden sunshine, an idyllic summer’s day and a child with a head full of impossible longings. I love the auditory and visual qualities that certain writers conjure up by the magic of their prose. Some books titles are forgotten, one may even confuse plots but certain passages remain in the mind with their wonderful imagery. A rainy city at dusk, the lapping of waves against a boat on a starlit night and the silent aftermath of a riot-torn area are just some of the assorted bits that have stayed in memory after reading a couple of recent books. A book’s plot is of prime importance, for sure, but the rhythm of words, vibrant imagery and the ability to create a frequency that connects instantaneously with the reader is what I hope to achieve with every work of fiction I write. It is also immensely interesting to explore the secret worlds that people inhabit. There is a gray zone between what most people appear to be and what they truly are and it is an author’s privilege to explore this no-man’s land. Fictitious characters are almost always based on real life models, the twists and loops in their personalities, the angled perceptions of reality by different characters (reality, as it is, is a very subjective affair), mirages of the mind and the point where the real often blends into the surreal….. I try to explore these aspects in my writing.