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Jeffrey Archer on his Indian love story

Last updated on: May 5, 2010 12:03 IST

Image: Jeffrey Archer holds up a copy of his new book, And Thereby Hangs a Tale
Photographs: Matthew Schneeberger Matthew Schneeberger in Mumbai

English author Lord Jeffrey Archer loves India with all of his heart, but knows he'll never write a broad sweeping novel set in the subcontinent.

"To write about India like that, I think you have to be here from day zero. You have to feel it. You have to be born here," he explained on Tuesday night, at the grand opening of the new Landmark bookstore at the Palladium Mall in Lower Parel, Mumbai.

He was also quick to acknowledge, with great humility, that India loves him back. Indeed, his book Kane and Abel remains a best-seller here, 30 years after its release.

But Archer also advised his Indian fans to explore their own rich literature, pointing to the works of Vikram Seth and RK Narayan.

"You can learn how to become a great writer, but you cannot learn to be a great storyteller. Storytellers are born with a special talent. RK Narayan is one of them -- a great, great storyteller," he explained, before comparing the author of Malgudi Days and The English Teacher with Jane Austen.

'If you haven't read RK Narayan, start tonight!'

Image: A crowd gathers to hear Jeffrey Archer speak at the new Landmark bookstore in Mumbai
Photographs: Matthew Schneeberger

If you are one of the poor miserable creatures who haven't read RK Narayan, start tonight!" he jokingly exhorted the crowd, which had come for the release of Archer's latest book, And Thereby Hangs a Tale.

The book, which had its India launch well before its UK and global launches, is a collection of 15 short stories accumulated during Archer's recent travels around the globe. And though he'd once sworn not to write fiction about India, this latest collections offers a story about an Indian romance, 'Caste-Off'.

The story is placed last in the book, and finishes with an extraordinary twist, which he wouldn't reveal. 

Archer did say that, of the 15 stories, it's the one that stays with him the most. "It's based on a true story I came upon during a recent trip to Mumbai, and it's perhaps the most fascinating tale I've ever heard," he said, before reading its opening paragraphs. It opens with a man in a Porsche chasing an unidentified person in a Ferrari through the mean streets of Mumbai.

On writing: 'It's hard, difficult work'

Image: Inside the 42,000 square foot Landmark bookstore at Lower Parel, Mumbai
Photographs: Matthew Schneeberger

Held up by Mumbai's infamous traffic -- "It took me over an hour to travel just 11 kilometres," he griped -- Archer was late for his own book launch. But still he spoke fondly of the country, and couldn't help expressing his admiration for it.

The new Landmark book store -- at 42,000 square feet, it's reportedly India's largest -- pointed to the country's imminent rise, he said. "Indians love their books, they love a good story. I see young Indians embracing books, too. Really loving them and cherishing them. And that's a very positive sign, I think."

He also opined on what it meant that he'd been called for the store opening.

"An Englishman is called to India to help open an Indian bookstore? And for me to be here for the launch of my book before it launches in my own country? India is truly becoming more global and international."

After reading from his book, Archer dutifully answered questions from the audience for 30 minutes. He even suggested a reading list for those interested in literature, which included Alexandre Dumas, author of The Count of Monte Cristo, and RK Narayan.

He also gave advice to aspiring writers: "It's hard, difficult work," and "You have to be a great reader first!"

Archer's next work: A five-novel series

Image: Jeffrey Archer signs copies of his books
Photographs: Matthew Schneeberger

The 70-year-old Archer shows no signs of slowing down, either. Yesterday, he announced his next work: The Clifton Chronicles, a five-novel series about an Englishman from Bristol.

"There are five books, which together tell the story of one man, Harry Clifton. He's born in 1920, and the book covers 100 years of his life, till 2020. So the first book is from 1920-1940, then second from 1940-1960, and so on."

Archer revealed that he has just finished the eighth draft of the first book in the series, and expects to move on to the second shortly. He added that the series should be completed by 2015.