Best Kept Secret – Lord of Writing
When I received the mailer, I knew, this time, I would be there. I had missed the event on two previous occasions. Not this time, no. 7 pm, March 11, 2013 was marked in my calendar. And I could hardly wait.
Evening came and so did he, pretty much on time. Else, celebrities love to make a late entrance. Remarkable, considering he was a ‘Lord’. He walked in with an aura and got to business immediately. Lord Jeffrey Archer was in the house!
He started by saying how wonderful it was to be back and how nothing had changed, including the traffic in Bombay. He expressed his pleasure at how England beat India but was equally elated at how we were treating the Australians in matters of cricket. In the same breath, he also added in an impeccable Brit accent, that T-20 was utter rubbish.
He then went on to ask how many of us aspired to be authors. Followed by how many had written a draft/book and then how many had been published. He further explained the intricacies of publishing. For every one million manuscripts received, one book made it out to the shelves. But, still it does not mean that you don’t get out there and write that book. ‘Do it rather than live to regret it’, was his advice for the moment.
Next, he introduced us to a piece that he had written. It was in response to a Reader’s Digest ‘100 word’ story challenge. A beginning, middle and end that took him 136, 108 and then 98 words respectively, till he came to the conclusion of a perfect century. Our next assignment was to go home and write a 100 word story of our own. The title, he said, was an important aspect to be connected to.
As he then opened the forum to questions, he proved what it takes to be an author par excellence. He answered them all, but not necessarily with words that we wanted to hear. To a question asked about his backstory and the aforesaid laws, he retorted by saying he’d like to be the Traffic minister in India. And God alone knew, he added, that we needed him. Right from who influenced him to write, to his wife being the cornerstone in his life for the past 46 years, his political fiasco to the Harry Potter tidal wave, he breezed through it all. He treated us like kids and we lapped up everything he had to offer. He made a mention that the Kindle revolution was the next big thing. Having said that, he was very much conventional and preferred a hard paperback book to read. He mentioned he handwrote all his books and his typist was the only one who read his books before them getting published.
Talking about the Clifton Chronicles, he announced that there would be 7 books instead of the 5 as committed earlier. This to make up for the 20 years that he could not account for in the 3 books already. None of us were complaining. As he proceeded to give us an insight into the Clifton timeline, he casually remarked that no one would have probably read the new book already. Yours truly was only too excited to raise her hand with two others. If he was surprised, he didn’t show it. These series are loosely based on his life and he’d like Tom Cruise to play him if ever a film was made. He added how India was a hotspot when it came to his books. However, we were not the first in line to lap his ‘Not a Penny more, Not a Penny Less.’ A book that he penned at the worst phase of his life. Apparently, we recognized him only post Kane and Abel. And that would definitely be true for me. It was the first Jeffrey Archer book that I ever read.
When asked which Indian author he’d read and did he think was noteworthy, he carefully chose his words. And I quote, “With all due respect to the sacred cows, I think R. K. Narayan it is.” The thundering applause drowned in the ta na na na background score in my head. I couldn’t agree more. Another enthusiastic fan asked why did cricket not feature in any of his novels. That is when he spilled the beans, that even though he aspired to captain the English cricket team, he really could not write about cricket. Reason being, the millions of American readers who’d have absolutely bloody no clue what the game is all about. His words, not mine (grinning ear to ear). He made a mention of the Oscar nominated Lagaan too. He brought in his trusted aide who had simply loved the movie and had no clue which side was going to win. Between smirks, Jeffrey Archer made a noteworthy point. The movie was carried on the fact that the umpires were completely honest.
He chided, he joked, he reprimanded and he made an impression. With a desire to return and a promise to sign every book, if we behaved, he brought the session to a close. In those 40 minutes, he probably gave a far deeper insight into the world of words than we ever had. And for all that it was worth, I was awed to meet the master wordsmith.