The success of Jeffrey Archer’s 35-year literary career is undeniable. His bestsellers, including Kane And Abel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less and Honor Among Thieves, can be seen featured in most bookstores even decades after their launch. And thanks to a large number of fans in India, the writer has made regular visits to the country over the years. We met the 75-year-old on the last leg of a five-day tour in India for the launch of the final installment in the Clifton Chronicles series.
You keep coming back to India. What fascinates you about the country?
It’s been a love affair with India for some time now. And it’s an affair that has lasted. It’s pretty exciting for an old man to walk onto a stage and see 2,700 young people screaming. And two-thirds of the crowd are women between the ages of 18 and 22. I’m told that no author gets that treatment in India. I’m a 75-year-old author and these young kids are shouting for me. It’s wonderful to be here.
Is there anything you dislike about India?
I used to disapprove of the way women were treated in India. When I first came here 30 years ago, they were second-rate citizens. Then I got to the group who began to get jobs, and that was about 15 years ago. Now, I think women here have a more equal footing. The head chef here [in the hotel I’m staying at] is a woman. The flight I took to India was piloted by an Indian woman. I’ve been saying that the crowd [of women] who came for my launch is going to dominate this country. Men are going to have to stay very alert.
Now that the last book in the Clifton Series has been launched, is there a sense of relief?
I feel a sense of relief and loss because I got very attached to Harry Clifton [the protagonist] and Emma [Barrington], to Giles [Barrington], and the wicked Lady Virginia. They were a big part of my life for seven years. I am relieved how kind the critics have been about the series and the last book. So, I am glad on one level, but slightly sad at another. I’m doing a set of short stories next. I have been collecting them for the past 10 years, and they are set to come out next March or April.
Do you find writing short stories easier?
They are easier in the sense that they have a beginning, a middle and an end within five thousand words. The challenges of 1,20,000 word book are different. But they’re just as demanding in the sense the reader wants to be satisfied and it is more difficult to satisfy a reader with a short story than it is with a novel. Every word has got to count in a short story. Every sentence they look at should matter. Because at the end of it [the short story] I want them to says ‘Wow’. So, yes it’s easier in theory but it’s just as demanding.
Tell us about some of your favourite short story writers.
Hector Hugh Monroe, who wrote under the pen name Saki, wrote a story titled Tobermory. It’s the story of a cat who can talk. It’s deadly because the cat sits in the corner listening to everybody. The story is very clever. He wrote another short story called Sredni Vashtar which is also a masterpiece. I put F Scott Fitzgerald, O Henry, Guy De Maupassant up there, but HH Monroe is the best short story teller. There’s also R K Narayan.
You’ve been on a non-stop book tour in India. Did you get a chance to travel to other cities?
It’s been an incredible week in India. Around 3000 people came to hear me speak at the Crossword Bookstore in Mumbai. It was amazing experience. I’ve been to five Indian cities in five days. But the trouble with the tours is I don’t get a single moment off. Every hour of every day is allocated to various activities. But I am not here to holiday, I’m here to work. I definitely want to travel. I am yet to see the Taj Mahal.
Have you ever had a writer’s block?
Never. I’m very lucky indeed. I have this tiny gift – to be able to tell a story. I’m a storyteller not a writer. I handwrite every word and I write three or four pages ahead and after that it never stops. I think because I write long hand it helps. When the pen moves it helps me think. I am very afraid of typing and if I type instead of writing I am not sure the brain would react in the same way. I do like the slowness of the pen’s movement.
Have you ever considered writing an autobiography on your life?
I wouldn’t want to do that. The Clifton Chronicles are very autobiographical. I am Harry and there’s a bit of me in Giles. My wife is Emma, my mother is Maise but I am not going to reveal who Lady Virginia is (laughs). I’m a writer, please read my books. Don’t bother with what I do. It’s the writing that matters not my personal life.
What is the difference between your readership in India and UK?
Around 700 people paid 50 pounds to hear me at a speech I did in London, UK in Cadogan Hall but nobody pays for me here in India, which is fine. I regularly draw a thousand in London but my biggest crowd is in India. I get much more reception here. It’s much more cross-section here. The chef came to see me because he’s read my books, the man who brought me breakfast has read my books and there are more of such people in India, than anywhere else in the world.