British author Jeffrey Archer will launch the fifth book of his Clifton Chronicles series in India in February next year, ahead of its global launch on the 27th of the month. A day before the launch in India, he will give the first copy of the book, Mightier than the Sword, to Sachin Tendulkar and his wife Anjali. "Because she is a devoted fan", Archer told this newspaper in Muscat, on the sidelines of the .Open Minds thought leadership forum, which he was addressing.
The seven-book series, which he describes as the "biggest challenge" that he took on at the age of 70, spans the time period between 1920 and 2020 and has autobiographical elements in it. "There is a lot of Harry in me," he says about the protagonist. At 74, he has finished publishing the first four books. He intends to publish the rest of the three in the next three years, by the time he is 77.
When asked about his strong association with India, Archer, who calls himself a "storyteller, and not a writer", says that many years ago, when he was in New York, he was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal: "The journalist said that do you realise that you are bigger in India than in America? I said that can't be true because the (US) sales figures are much higher than in India. He said, no, no, it is not the sales figures, it is how many people are reading the book. In America, 2.3 people read every book. In India, it is 10 and sometimes when you go to the villages (that is, beyond the big cities), it is sometimes 50. 50 million people had read Kane and Abel." This could be a conservative figure, Archer was later told.
He says that it was then that he realised that the "amount of people reading in India was not (about) how many people (were) buying books in India. Because they were reading in families, in villages, in communities. And that was when I first went over (to India), about 20 years ago and I have been going ever since."
When asked why he was launching the book in India ahead of other places, he jokes, "You have no choice, because Indians steal your books. They get pirated editions. I was offered a pirated edition of my own book at Bombay airport."
He goes on to elaborate that since pirated editions tend to flood the Indian market, "people like Landmark (bookstore) have to get the book out as quickly as possible, so that people do not buy it at half the price. The printing is not as good, the quality is not as good, but it's a worry and authors have complained to the United Nations about it, but nothing has happened."
Which brings the conversation to the topic of bookstores and the printed word in an age of, what he describes as "Kindles and other machines". "Half my books are read on Kindle. My sales have been soaring because of it," he says. But then he talks about the downside of the phenomenon, "It is going to be very tough for bookshops, for publishers and printers in the future. I personally like to have a book to hold. Even if I read a book on Kindle and like the book, I go and buy it and put it on my bookshelf, but I don't think many people are doing that."
Jeffrey Archer, now a life peer, was formerly an MP with the Conservative party. Headed by David Cameron, the Conservatives are at present running behind the Labour in opinion polls, putting a question mark on the possibility of Cameron returning as British Prime Minister next year. Ask him about the Conservative prospects in next year's general elections, and he admits, "It is difficult to say. Opinion polls show it will be very close indeed." He says that the emergence of UKIP, the UK Independence Party, has made a big difference. The Eurosceptic UKIP, which is more conservative and right-wing than the Conservatives, did well in the 2013 local elections by eating into a chunk of Tory voters. One of Cameron's MPs, Douglas Carswell has defected to the UKIP and is likely to become the British "Tea Party's" first MP in a byelection. There is talk in a section of the British press that Cameron's biggest contribution to Conservative politics has been the rise of UKIP. But Archer rubbishes the claim as "silly".
"David Cameron is proving to be a good Prime Minister and the economy is stronger than it has been in many years," he says. "But that may not be enough," he adds.
As for Boris Johnson, who has announced that he will fight next year's parliamentary elections, Archer feels that the London Mayor does not have any chance of getting the Conservative leadership "if the Prime Minister wins the election". "No, he (Cameron) is not under threat from Boris Johnson", he asserts.
Ask him about his onstage declaration a day earlier that he wanted to be Prime Minister when he was a child, the man who almost became London Mayor before controversy surrounded him, dismisses it as a joke.
Jeffrey Archer has had a chequered past. He has faced bankruptcy, gone to jail and has seen his name become mud. At the forum, when a lady asks him how he coped with the bad times and tells him that she had certain preconceived notions about him, he replies, "You need a strong family, and good friends. None of my friends would say your image is not what I expected."
He says he is not writing for money. He has enough of that, with 270 million copies of his books sold till date. He is writing because he is "inspired by the enthusiasm around the world" for his books. "That is what enthuses me, drives me." He says that he has the "God-given talent" to tell a story. He also has the ability to work hard, 1,000 hours for every book. The money mostly goes to various charitable efforts.
As for Clifton Chronicles, he does not yet know how the series will end three years from now. "I have no idea of what happens in the final one," he tells this newspaper.