If one ever had a doubt, Jeffrey Archer has never experienced writer’s block. The author of almost two dozen novels and the man behind best-selling Kane and Abel series and The Clifton Chronicles says that in his four-and-a-half decade long career, he has “never encountered writer’s block,” so naturally, “there was never a question of overcoming it”.
I was not told to write Kane and Abel, I wanted to write it. If you are sitting there just to make money, you won’t.
Archer adds that his intent has only been to write a compelling story. “That’s what I always tell young writers. Don’t be influenced by people telling you what you must do. Kane and Abel has been read by 100 million people. I was not told to write Kane and Abel, I wanted to write it. If you are sitting there just to make money, you won’t,” says the 80-year-old, who was part of this year’s TATA Literature Live, the eleventh edition of the event.
In an otherwise breezy conversation, Archer’s authoritative retorts make its presence felt thrice. Once, when asked about the aforementioned writer’s block, it then comes across during his impassioned advocacy for RK Narayan’s unrecognised literary prowess in the West, and the third time it’s reserved for India, a country he says he has visited almost 15-20 times.
The author, who was raised on a steady literary diet of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, by his mother, labels those years as “a traditional upbringing”. But it was not until he discovered RK Narayan that he found prose that “one can go back to”. Archer names Narayan and Stefan Zweig as his favourite authors. The latter’s Beware of Pity, he says, is a masterpiece. Archer adds that he admires RK Narayan a lot as the Guide and Swami and Friends writer was a “remarkably gifted man”. He says, “RK Narayan was a genius and a wonderful combination of a great writer and storyteller. He should have won the Nobel Prize.”
RK Narayan was a genius and a wonderful combination of a great writer and storyteller. He should have won the Nobel Prize.
The author’s no stranger to India, a country that makes him “feel like a pop-star”. “I was once at a literature fest and 7,500 people came to see me speak,” he quips. One of the reasons he loves coming back to the country is because he feels that Indians appreciate good literature and over the years have produced the finest writers of English prose. He adds, “Indian is still one of the biggest book reading countries on earth. Indians are a very shrewd and clever race that realised the way to rule the world was the speak English. The Indian community is a triumph in the United States and England.”
Archer, who started out as a politician, entered the House of Commons at the age of 29 and had a whirlwind of a political career. In 2001, he was imprisoned which many saw as his fall from grace, turned out to be far from it. He was 61 when that happened. Does he ever think about what would’ve happened had he continued being a politician? “Yes, I do think about that because when I entered the House of Commons, I was only 29. If I remained in politics, I might have had a very different life. Fortunately, I had the gift of a storyteller. It is a god given gift. In that sense I have been very lucky,” he says.