An evening with Archer

This one is going to be big. More for myself to read and re-read and relive those amazing moments.

It all started with an sms. Being a Landmark Fellowship member, I got an sms saying that Jeffrey Archer would be in Landmark Chennai on so-n-so date. I was disappointed about the fact that it was something I was going to miss and with a great effort put it out of my head. All that until an advertisement appeared in the Pune times saying he was going to be in Landmark today. (17th May, Sunday). It was decided. We had to go.

I was all excited to meet this author whose nearly entire collection I have read. It all began with ‘Shall We Tell the President’ and then I read my favourite books of all time ‘The Prodigal Daughter’ and ‘Kane and Abel’. This man was a genius. I enjoyed his short stories the most, ‘A Twist in the Tale’ being my favourite collection. As I sat impatiently drinking lemon juice in The Coffee House, I kept thinking what an evening it would be! It was remarkable indeed.

We got chairs in the fourth row from the dias (only that it became 6th later since they made additional two rows last minute so unfairly- its India man, such things are bound to happen) and we picked up our copies. He was here to promote his new book ‘Paths of Glory’ which I had already finished reading a month back. They didnt allow us to bring our old copies inside so we had to buy new ones. Sonali hadn’t read his books so it was an easy choice for her. For me though, it was very difficult. The point being, I had read all his books except the Prison Diary series and I racked my brains to remember if there was any book missing from my collection. I found the answer. ‘Not a Penny Less, Not a Penny more’ was in the form of a battered old copy of my dad’s which had the last two pages missing. It was also the first book Archer wrote. It would be perfect to get this signed and so I bought it. The rest of the hour as Landmark slowly filled up, I engrossed myself in reading ‘Oxymoronica’, an interesting book full of paradoxical quotes and sayings. It was enjoyable to listen to people’s views, mingle with a crowd of well-read, decent people and watch as the excitement in the crowd grew. I was also super excited to see him.

The proceedings began very promptly. He was there in Landmark at 7:05pm, with a permissable delay of just five minutes. Clad in white khakis and a blue sweater (?), he ambled up the walkway and everyone stood up. Lord Jeffrey Archer was here in person. He spoke immaculately. His British accent in place, he narrated with extreme poise and confidence his hilarious experiences about his books and publishers which made the crowd holler. He narrated that he was turned down by 14 publishers before his first book ‘Not a Penny Less, Not a Penny More’ got published. He went on to add his funny experiences in promoting Kane and Abel in the USA ( the ones where he had to share slots with Mickey Mouse whose policy was ‘If its the last question, never stop talking’ or the Radio Chat show where his introduction was replaced by Edmund Hillary’s and he wasn’t given a chance to speak!). He did tell his story about the part-biographical latest novel ‘ Paths of Glory’ with the main lead, George Mallory being a real person. ( I didnt know that). He also remembered how he kept nagging his publishers to publish just  25,000 more copies of his book ‘Not a penny less, not a penny more’ every month when the publishers would tell him they werent going to publish any more. Today, that book has sold more than 23 million copies worldwide.He added that R.K Narayan was one of his favourites, Malgudi days being his best book and he considers him to be one of the best authors ever. It was heartening to hear him appreciate Indian fiction and he was all praise for the educated youth of India and also the Indian women. 😀 He also added that he wont write a book based on India since he believed that it was wrong to dwelve into someone else’s world. To prove his point he said ” Perhaps R.K Narayan could never write anything like Kane and Abel just as I can’t write Malgudi days”. Absolutely right he indeed was. In addition, he also showed us the subtle differences between a story-teller and a writer ,emphasizing that he is a story-teller and a story-teller is one who prompts the reader to keep turning the pages like Charles Dickens who is the grand-daddy of story telling. Writers are those whose works are heavily laced with literature and the Nobel prize winners are precisely those people. He proved that people tend to prefer love story-tellers than novelists.

He added that he has re-written ‘Kane and Abel’ and the revised version will be released October 3rd this year followed by another collection of short stories and followed by a family saga. He answered many questions from the audience and gave a few key tips to budding novelists and authors. Some questions were funny like the one where one person asked ‘ Aren’t your plots predictable, I mean you always kill the bad guy’, to which he cooly replied ‘If it worked for Shakespere, it’ll work for me’ which sent the audience into pearls of laughter.

Post this, the signing of books sessions started. He promised that he would be there till the last copy was signed. I got mine signed rather quickly being in the front of the crowd. Landmark was distributing hot spinach puffs and jam tarts with mango juice to everyone present. I ate the snacks waiting for Sonali to emerge from the crowd near the dias. After she did, we bolted to The Place, the most amazing sizzler joint just down the road to eat our dinner. We ate with gusto, hungry after all the waiting and excitedly discussed our amazing evening. It was an evening none of us were going to forget.

I met my favourite fiction author. I am on cloud nine. It couldn’t get any better.