The Consummate Storyteller – An Interview with Jeffrey Archer

April 18, 2013

Lord Jeffrey Archer, one of the most successful writers of our times has magically been at the top of his chosen profession for about 35 years now. No mean feat in a field as competitive and tough as being a full-time author. But wait! While best known as an author, hasn’t he also been a politician? Well, yes, and probably the only one ever to put his stint in the government “guest house” on record in a couple of successful books. 

Success! He found success with his first book in 1975, Not A Penny More, Not a Penny Less (which, I still claim is his best ever, but then, that’s me!!), followed swiftly by the landmark Kane and Able. Amazingly, he has managed to keep the fickle mistress — success — firmly on his side through 31 novels (ranging from fiction to short stories, almost all of which have hit the Bestseller’s List), non-fictional books and even plays. 
But the author wears humility as a strong suit as he politely but firmly requests you not to use the “Lord” while addressing him, Currently working on a five part series, The Clifton Chronicles, Archer was in India on a book tour as a part of the promotion for the third part, Best Kept Secret.
In an exclusive interview with IndiaBookStore, Jeffrey Archer speaks about The Clifton Chronicles and a free-ranging flow of topics. 
In the third book of the Clifton series, the truth regarding Harry’s genealogy is expected to be revealed. The title Best Kept Secret could either mean a tell-all book or actually be a pointer of things to come? What can readers expect from this book?
There are still many twists and turns to come in the saga of the Clifton and Barrington families. I have ended each book so far with a cliff-hanger, but have always resolved that in the next book, only to leave the reader with a new, and even more dramatic ending. I’m a better storyteller than a writer.
In the past you have said that you admire the works of Dickens, Dumas and of course R.K Narayan but who is your favourite author/ favourite book of recent times?
That’s a difficult one to answer as I read a lot of books, but one that I recently enjoyed is The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, which is quirky and well-written.
Some time ago, you had said that Miss Tredgold from The Prodigal Daughter was your favourite creation. Since then you have created many more characters. Does Miss Tredgold still remain your favourite or have you got a new one? 
Charlie Trumper, the central character from As The Crow Flies. I enjoyed writing about an East End of London barrow-boy who makes it to the House of Lords.
It is said that all writers have at least one character based on themselves. Which of your characters comes closest to who you are?
Friends who’ve read The Clifton Chronicles have said that they recognise some of Harry Clifton in me, and I accept that. We were both brought up in the West Country of England, we both had strong mothers and both married feisty, intelligent women.
Do you think e-books will replace the conventional books? When compared, which would you pick to offer your books to the readers?
The rise in e-books has been phenomenal and has made it increasingly difficult for conventional retailers, particularly the smaller, independent bookshops, to compete on price. I have an e-Reader, which has proved very worthwhile on long flights when I’m able to download several books before I travel. But I will always prefer to go into a book shop and browse the shelves and buy the book itself. I also find it more of a pleasure to read an actual book.
What is your take on audio books?
The sales of audio books are rising steadily, particularly as more and more people have mobile devices such as iPhones and e-Readers. I’ve been lucky enough to have some wonderful actors reading my books for audio, including the acclaimed National Theatre actors Alex Jennings, Emilia Fox and Roger Allam.
You’ve always said that you liked India. What facet of India has appealed to you the most?
It’s the people, who have always been so friendly and welcoming to me. I admire how calm and patient you are; I am rarely either. I also love your enthusiasm and energy – and of course you’re great readers, so it’s a very important market in terms of book sales. 
A novice writes a book and comes to you for advice on getting it published. What steps would you advise him/her to follow?
Firstly, I would say that just because you’ve written the first draft, don’t think it’s ready for publishing. You need to go over the book several times editing and re-drafting before you should be satisfied with it. Then you need to find an agent, as very few manuscripts are seen if they are just send direct to a publishing house – in fact one in a hundred thousand.
Aspiring writers should…
Write about what you know, persevere, and don’t get discouraged. My first book, Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less, was turned down by 14 publishing houses, and only sold 3,000 copies in hardback. Kane and Abel sold a million in its first week, and changed my whole life.
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