INTERVIEW: Jeffrey Archer

 Jeffrey Archer
Jeffrey Archer

By Sahana Ghosh

 No alien to controversies, British author Jeffrey Archer says he’s not a provocative writer and “feels very safe” in India when it comes to censorship issues.

“I don’t try to provoke. I am a simple storyteller. I feel safe in India, very safe,” he said. In contrast, he said, he had to go through a lot of trouble in South Africa years ago because of his views. “I went on television and defended (former South African President) Nelson Mandela and criticised the apartheid system and they threw me out. But I felt very strongly about it,” Archer said in an interview here.

The best-selling author of over 35 books was in India to launch his book “Mightier Than The Sword”, the fifth in the seven-part Clifton Chronicle series brought out by Pan Macmillan. The next book in the saga will have eight chapters set in Mumbai.

“I think there is a genuine affection here. I have met Indian cricketers Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid and I never sensed that they don’t like the English. They are friendly straightway and warm. One doesn’t get that if someone doesn’t like your country,” said the former politician.

Published in 97 countries, in more than 37 languages, the 74-year-old conceded that British novelist and screenwriter Ian McEwan and British-Indian author Salman Rushdie are superior writers.

“I see differences in the sense that I see Ian McEwan as a far better writer. I think Salman Rushdie is also a far better writer, but it was the London Times and your Times (Times of India) that said (I was) probably the greatest storyteller in the world.
But perhaps he does not like it when people compare him to Alexandre Dumas, one of the most widely-read 19th century French writers.

“You feel (good) when you see that from the Times of London and from the Indian times. And then The Washington Post came out after my ‘Prisoner of Birth’ and said the English had found Dumas.

“So you do sit back and think about it,” Archer mused.

On his 11th visit to India, Archer interacted with audiences, particularly wannabe writers, in Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Kolkata, hosted by the Crossword bookstores.

During his whirlwind tour, the author met Indian entertainment entrepreneur Ronnie Screwvala to seek advice on a possible Indian partner for the television series on ‘The Clifton Chronicles’.

Archer said it was Screwvala’s nudge that pushed him to say Bollywood filmmakers had “stolen” his works and adapted them into films. He says ‘Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less’ was made into ‘Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl’ and ‘Kane and Abel’ into ‘Khudgarz’.

Once he had said it, he repeated it several times during his interactions in India: ‘You have stolen my books’. But he was surprised by the reaction his comment attracted. “I thought Indians would be cross with that. The surprise is Indians say ‘you are quite right, we all know that’,” said the author light-heartedly.

Despite irritation with plagiarism, Archer is keen to have his books adapted for films, provided it is with his consent and the right person comes along.

“If anyone approached me I would go to Ronnie and ask for his opinion immediately. If he says that’s a serious director I will accept it straightaway,” asserts Archer.