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Jeffrey Archer: I’m more a story teller than a writer

Jeffrey Archer sells more copies of his novels in India than in any other country in the world. He narrates an amusing anecdote where he stepped off the plane in Mumbai and was on a taxi to his hotel, when a little boy tapped on the window, asking him if he would like the latest Jeffrey Archer. “I am the latest Jeffrey Archer!”, he guffawed.

The irreverent Archer was in conversation with Barkha Dutt at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Republic Day. Diggi Palace was bursting at the seams with crowds milling to grab a glimpse of their favourite author. And he didn’t disappoint them. He was there to promote his latest book, Heads you win.

Laced with humour, he narrated his experiences with the publishing industry: rejections, media appearances, and good luck. He simply wouldn’t sit down. Everytime Barkha asked him a question, he would jump to his feet, and walk to the front of the stage like a theatre actor. Barkha was at a complete loss whether to sit or to stand, and finally gave up trying to catch up with him. He didn’t need to be asked questions either. The story teller in him had loads of anecdotes to narrate.

He spoke about how he rose again after his time in prison. No one is a saint or a paragon of virtue, he said. We all make mistakes. The important thing is never to give up. His never say die spirit made him keep writing. He said he believed he was more of a story teller than a writer.

When asked who his favourite Indian author was, he was quick to name RK Narayan. RK Narayan was an excellent story teller who wove a story around everyday characters, like a tax collector in Malgudi. It is important to write about what you know. He outlined his writing discipline, which was from 6 am to 8 pm with two hour breaks every two hours. He said his visits to India made him realize how privileged a life he had been leading. But he was upset with the Hindi film industry stealing Kane and Abel and making it into a film. “Bollywood thinks copyright means ‘the right to copy'”, he grimaced. Wonder what Rakesh Roshan has to say to that!

A light near the stage blew up during the stage, catching fire, but no harm was done. As always Jeffrey Archer set the stage afire!

Talking about his future plans, Jeffrey Archer said that he plans to release next a series of books featuring Detective William Warwick who appeared in the Clifton Chronicles. These will not be detective stories, but stories about a detective, he said.

After his session, I stood in a long-winding caterpillar-like queue which wound around two turns to get his autograph. He probably had the largest number of readers at the signing tent. Kids in school uniform, young men and women, greying gentlemen and ladies, they all wanted to talk to him. It was a thrill to get his calligraphic handwriting on my copy of Heads you win.

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