Jeffrey Archer's had a long day, as bestselling international authors often do when on a book tour. For our evening meeting, we are half expecting him to be tired, and to manage only a short and hurried chat. But Archer has us stumped.
He doesn't just talk books - and not just his own, but To Kill a Mockingbird, and Fifty Shades of Grey as well - but also about the England team's poor run at the Cricket World Cup, and why he's used to traffic jams in Indian cities now.
In order to make a point on popularity, and technology, he even whips an e-reader out, and compares his books to that of Dan Brown.
Your ongoing series, Clifton Chronicles, spans over a century. What made you embark on something of this scale?
At the age of 70, I needed something to deeply concentrate on. So I set a target for myself - five books in five years… I have now decided to write two more books in this series. And eight chapters of my next book are set in Mumbai.
One of your earlier short stories - Caste-Off, from And Thereby Hangs A Tale - was also set in India. You seem really attached to the country.
Yes, I am; who wouldn't be, if millions of people here read all your work? Yes, that short story was based on my friends, who I met yesterday over lunch. I think Indians are gentle people. I'm here for the 10th time now. And by now, I've learnt to not lose my temper when I get stuck in a traffic jam. I wish to be the minister of transport someday; it will be a tougher job than that of the Prime Minister of India.
Have you succumbed to technology while writing?
No, I hand-write every word of every draft. I am 74; you cannot expect me to learn how to type (laughs). My wife wants me to change - she is a scientist - but I'm old-fashioned. (Takes out an e-reader and searches for his books) I like to keep a tab on numbers. Check the number of reviews. Each has over a thousand. You name any author, and I can bet they have fewer… Except Dan Brown; he beats me there. You know Fifty Shades Of Grey has sold more copies than Harper Lee's To Kill A Mocking bird and my Kane and Abel put together? (laughs)
You have earlier said that you have often written as many as 14 to 17 drafts before releasing a book. Was the first draft vastly different from the last one this time around?
I wrote 14 drafts for this book. The outline stays the same, but after honing the story several times, most of the details are reworked. Russian history plays an important part of the story as the protagonist helps his colleague get a book on Stalin released. So I met Simon Sebag-Montefiore, a British historian who has written two books on Stalin, to authenticate my writing.
Writers are known to be tremendously reclusive while working on their books. What's your process like?
I become a recluse too. I have a home in Mallorca, Spain, and I often write there. I find the sea soothing, so the Mallorca house overlooks the sea. Also, though I read a lot, I stay away from books while I work on my own.
How much of your work is autobiographical?
A lot of it. I always advise aspiring writers to write what they know of. You don't have to write erotica, or horror, or about space. Write about your own life, and that will be the most truthful writing.
You have always been vocal about your love for cricket. In fact, your Twitter bio reads, "would-be captain of England's Cricket XI". Do you get time to follow cricket amidst your busy book tours?
Absolutely. It's disappointing to see England's performance (in the ongoing Cricket World Cup), though. I must say Indians are playing really well. They are a lazy lot, actually. In front of a weak opposition, they do not put in their best, but the bigger the match, the better their performance. Virat Kohli has been in fabulous form.
Do you see India winning the cup?
Actually, no. If I had to place my bets, I would say, this time, either New Zealand or South Africa.
What's Archer reading?
The authors he loves: I love storytellers. I enjoy RK Narayan's Malgudi Days. I think he should have won the Nobel Prize. I also love Saki (HH Munro) and John Steinbeck.
What he's currently reading: I have been going back to the classics. I'm reading Daphne du Maurier's works, and also To Kill A Mockingbird again after 30 years. I want to connect with the tale before the prequel comes out.
In town for:
On Sunday (March 1), Archer read out excerpts from his latest book at the Crossword Bookstore in Kemps Corner. In the book, the protagonist of the series, Harry, learns that he's been elected the President of English PEN, a writer's association, and he launches a campaign for the release of fellow author Anatoly Babakov's book on Josef Stalin.