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Jeffrey Archer: on the write track

Does he court controversies or do they woo him? Author Jeffrey Archer in a chat with Anamika Chatterjee.
Hindustan Times | By Anamika Chatterjee, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 20, 2008 10:59 AM IST

His life is stuff bestsellers are made of. There are scams, trials and of course, his favorite theme, prison. All this and more makes Lord Jeffrey Archer a man worthy of a tête-à-tête. Currently the author is travelling across the country for the first time for Landmark's Jeffrey Archer tour. He is actively promoting his latest book, A Prisoner of Birth, a rags to riches tale of a man wrongly convicted for a crime.

In a rather candid chat with HT City, Lord Archer not only talks about his latest book, but also clears the air about the rumours related to his writing, and, of course, why he wouldn't really want Hilary Clinton to be another Florentyna Kane (The Prodigal Daughter).

The rendezvous starts on a rather unexpected note. Before we pose a question, it is Archer who throws one for us. The question is --- "Have you read the book?" It's only after a loud "YES" that the chat progresses. "India is a great place. People actually read books here." This coming from a man who has sold more than 130 million copies worldwide. "One hundred thirty only? I don't know how many more I have sold in India because of the piracy," he says.

Many reviews have stated that the book is explicitly based on The Count of Monte Cristo, and Archer, on his part admits to being influenced. "Well, I's say it is a modern version of The Count of Monte Cristo. That book is 1,700 pages. It was written at a time when there was no radio, no television, and very little theatre. People read big books then. Things have changed now." Well said Lord Archer. But when quizzed about his own stint in the jail and if it had influenced the plot, the author couldn't help but get into a diplomatic mode. While trying to settle in his chair, he says, "We all use the knowledge that we have. You write about your experiences. For instance when I go back to England after spending 7-8 days in India, I would have an Indian story. Here I have come across situations and people I would want to write about." So, is this the formula for a bestseller? Apparently not. "Then you would have been writing a book," says the author unassumingly. "You write when you have a story to tell. It's a god gifted. And of course you write about what you know. Jane Austen wrote about a small village and how a couple of sisters get married. And these went on to become the five of the greatest novels ever written. Write what you know about. Otherwise there will be four pages of sex and four pages of violence, and then four pages of a story. "

He spoke about the first woman president of America in Florentyna Kane, the lead protagonist of The Prodigal Daughter. An obvious question is if he's routing for Hilary Clinton for the US presidential elections. He laughs his heart out and then responds, " Twenty years later, the Americans have woken up. I would actually like Barack Obama to win. I have followed the elections very closely. I think he is very exciting. I believe he's beaten Mrs. Clinton already and he can beat Senator Mc Cain." But what about the buzz that Florentyna Kane's character was closely modeled on Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi? " By the time I wrote the book, there had been 5 women PMs in the world. What Mrs. Gandhi, Mrs. Thatcher and Mrs. Meir had in common was their toughness. As for Mrs Thatcher, I worked for 11 years with her. So it would be difficult to write a book and not be influenced by her. By then there had been 5 women PMs in the world. In fact Mrs. Thatcher once said that to beat a man you have to be twice as good, and she was, in fact, twice as good."

While the readers just can't get enough of him, his detractors, however, have had a mixed opinion about his writings. One of the more popular rumours revolves around his wife Mary, and many have gone to the extent of claiming that she often writes for him. When quizzed about the same, Archer loses his composure and points out, "Yeah, my wife was in prison and writing the books for me. My wife could not write a book to save her life. It's been the most ridiculous statement ever made. I will tell you a little secret, when I went to prison, stupid people stopped saying that someone else wrote the books. I wrote three books from there and they went on to become number one. She's a scientist. I can't write her books either."

Moving on to a more cheerful topic (read: his blog), the author professes his love for blogging and feels it's an easier way of connecting to a number of readers. "I get 542,000 hit on my site last month and about 25 per cent of my emails are from Indians." Since he's also a cricket buff we asked if he'll be catching up on the ongoing IPL series. He was planning to watch one on Saturday evening, but confessed that Twenty-20 wasn't his cup of tea. "I prefer to follow test matches." So was there anything else that he was looking forward from his Indian tour. "England beating India, five matches in a row. But then, that's not possible."

For someone so prolific yet controversial, one couldn't help but ask if being controversial comes naturally to Archer. "Well, I have not been controversial for the past three years. I have written six books, and have been doing a lot of charity work." Any regrets in life? "No way, you've just got one life, live it as best as you can. Work hard and live your life." Now that's what we call living live king-size!

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