The master storyteller

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Mar 27 2011, 06:09am hrs
Only time will tell

Jeffrey Archer

Pan Macmillan

Rs 325

Pp 387

No, I am not telling you what happens to Harry next, says the 70-year-old legendary author the moment one walks in to meet him. Having finished the first draft of his next book, the sequel to his latest offering Only Time Will Tell, Jeffrey Archer refuses to let the cat out of the bag. I know whats happening to Harry, I know whats happening to Maisie, to Emma, to Giles and to Hugo, but I am not telling you. You will have to wait till May next year to find out, says Archer. An ardent cricket enthusiast, Archer feels that the Indian cricket team has little chances of reaching the final since they think that cricket matches are won in fours and sixes. When he is not writing, Archer loves to go to the theatre. He saw Twelfth Night for the 17th time last week before he landed in India.

The master storyteller is impeccably organised and disciplined in life, especially when it comes to writing. Known to hand write each and every word of his works, Archer takes 350 hours to complete the first draft of his books. He then further re-drafts it 12-14 times before getting the final version. I like things neat and tidy. I get told off when Im in the gym as I start putting things straight and lining things up just as my desk. It has everything including six pencils, three pens, an hourglass, a pencil sharpener, a clock and the latest book, says the author whose latest offering Only Time Will Tell, the first in a five-part series, topped the global best-sellers list within a day of its release, according to global survey figures released by Nielsen Bookscan.

Having written 17 fascinating novels in his illustrious career spanning 35 years, Archer doesnt have a winning formula for his success. I am a simple storyteller. I dont know how I do it. I write a sentence and then the next one comes and I dont know where the story is going. The idea on the last page of the book comes on the same day I write it. And after writing it I dont know where I will go next. But thats always the way I write, says Archer.

Part of Archers most ambitious project of his literary career, Only Time Will Tell, is the first novel in the new family saga. The Clifton chronicles spans over 100 years from 1920-2020 and tells the story of Harry Clifton, and the first 20 years of his life. It takes place with his birth in the back streets of Bristol, where he grows up as the son of a docker. Archer calls his latest offering semi-autobiographical in nature and adds that half the people in his books are real. Harry is 50-50 me. Giles is a bit of me and a bit of my closest friend. You write about the people you know about, you write about the people you mix with, old Jacks based on a man who is 90, a man Ive known for the last 50 years. Maisie is my mother. Its foolish not to use people and situations that you know of, says the author.

Having begun his writing career in 1976 with the cult crime thriller fiction, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, Archer calls his foray into writing, driven by money. I was penniless. I had lost my job, was facing bankruptcy and I sat down and wrote Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less. It was the first book. Fourteen publishers turned the book down. Jonathen Cape was the 15th publisher that published it and managed to sell 3,000 copies in a year, he adds. Finally, the breakthrough came with Kane and Abel followed by The Prodigal Daughter, First Among Equals, Prison Diaries, an account of his tenure in prison for perjury, and more than half-a-dozen of short-story collections.

But he does have a word of caution for budding writers. I dont advise anyone to take up writing to make money. Its a waste of time. Not now, but in those days when I began. If you want to write, you must write. But the truth is that only a handful of people make a living out of writing. Of the successful handful, most of them are storytellers, says Archer. But if writing is such a simple process, what makes it so difficult for budding authors to achieve that Well, because you cant teach it. If you are a highly intelligent person, and well educated, well read and well taught, you can be a writer. Nothing can stop you from being a writer. But if you say anyone, heres the sentence, Once upon a time... give me the next sentence. Its got nothing to do with how well educated you are. My wife got a double first at Oxford, she couldnt put in the next sentence to save her life. So, it is the gift and art of storytelling. And thats God given, says the master storyteller. An ardent admirer of RK Narayan, Archer calls him one of the greatest storytellers. Archer is also impressed with the next generation of Indians and feels that they have it in them to take on the world.