They say we mellow with age. At 72, Lord Jeffrey Archer doesn’t seem to have chosen that option. When you’re with the man who has countless bestsellers and a fair share of scandal to his name, he demands your complete attention and he gives you all of his. This can be unnerving. The creased forehead, the booming voice, the precise answers, the sharp counter-questions — Archer is a commanding presence. He’s also irreverent and hasn’t a tentative bone in his body, which makes a conversation with him as gripping as one of his books. The author was recently in Mumbai and he spoke to DNA about Best Kept Secret (the third volume in the Clifton Chronicles series), Shane Warne, RK Narayanan, vampires and more.
The Clifton Chronicles:
I am Harry Clifton (the protagonist) but there’s a bit of Giles (Giles Barrington is Harry’s best friend and the son of the man who owns the company where Harry’s father works) in me as well. My mother is Maisie (Harry’s mother, who works as a waitress to send her son to school) and my wife is Emma (Harry’s childhood sweetheart and Giles’s sister). I’ve lived with strong women all my life and Emma is dominating the fourth book. That’s my wife.
Harry’s life is going to continue for another three-four books atleast. Harry, at the end of the fourth book, is only 44 years old. I want him to live to a decent age, till a 100 at least. I thought it was going to be five books but if that’s the case, I will have to kill him off in the next book. The Clifton Chronicles has got out of control in popularity, its sales have gone up. It is no 1 in Australia, selling 40% more than the previous book and everyone is going back and reading the first two books. I think it is silly of me to want him to live to a 100.
Archer, the fanboy:
I’m reading Hilary Mantel this week, Bring Up The Bodies. She’s brilliant. I’m also reading The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.
Among Indian authors, I adore RK Narayan. I think he is your greatest storyteller. He wrote absolute magic and his feel for India cannot be matched. At the airport yesterday I passed a sign that said ‘Deputy Customs Inspector’ and I immediately thought of RK Narayan. He would’ve written an entire story around that! I like Vikram Seth. Some of your more famous ‘sacred cows’ I can’t always finish. Most people can’t, but we all like to go around saying they are wonderful. If you look in South Africa, the great Nadine Gordimer — she got the Nobel Prize and is clearly a genius — but she doesn’t make me turn a page. It’s difficult to make things simple.
The market for books:
The arrival of Magzter and Amazon is going to change books in this country. Right now, the book business is having a tough time. Except me. I am selling more books than ever before and all over the world. I’ve got a theory on that. I think in this flux, the public wants to stay with people they feel safe with, so it is the young authors who are suffering. I can’t handle these endless books about women meeting men and getting married, the erotica rubbish and vampire stories. It’s like the end of the world for good writing.
A cricketing love story:
I love cricket and follow it all over the world, particularly the Indian team. I hate the IPL. Its got nothing to do with cricket. I say this at big meetings and it brings gasps from people. I love the Indian team. You’ve got such wonderful players, [Rahul] Dravid or [Pravin] Kumar and the late Nawab of Pataudi, they’re wonderful.
Shane Warne is my favourite player. I once faced him, he removed me at the first ball. I told him ‘Do that again, Shane’ and he did it again. I never saw the damn ball. [Virender] Sehwag is probably the greatest batsman I have ever seen in my life but he is lazy. I would’ve dropped him too.
I’ve got about ten short stories that will be with you in five to six years time, once I’m done with the Clifton Chronicles. One of them was given to me by an Indian in Calcutta. It’s a once in a lifetime story. Paths of Glory is being made by Columbia. It would make a wonderful film if they choose the right actor to play George Mallory. I would like Damian Lewis. CBS have got The Eleventh Commandment and are making a pilot. I think the Clifton Chronicles would be a wonderful mini-series.