Chennai: The British author was in Chennai for the Landmark Jeffrey Archer Tour ’09 to promote his 15th book, Paths of Glory. A novelist, playwright, former athlete and charity auctioneer, Lord Jeffrey Archer has served five years in the House of Commons, 14 years in the House of Lords and two in Her Majesty’s prisons.
Lord Archer chatted with Mint about his new book that fictionlizes the story of George Mallory, the British mountaineer who climbed Mt Everest; his next, And Thereby Hangs a Tale (a collection of 12 short stories); and about his books being made into movies—both English and Hindi. Edited excerpts:
New vistas: The author says he’s meeting movie producers in Mumbai. He is in talks with three major firms, two producers and two directors. Ganesh Muthu / Mint
This is the first time you have written a book based on a true story. What prompted you?
There have been seven books written about George Mallory, all non-fiction. My friend Chris Brasher, who is also my mentor, said he thought Mallory was more interesting than Scott; more interesting than Shackleton. And that it was an amazing story because he was in love with this beautiful woman and he was in love with this mountain.
So, I read the non-fiction work and, particularly, the work of Audrey Salkeld who wrote a wonderful book on Mallory. Here was a guy who has never seen the mountain, wants to be the first person to climb the Everest. He leaves his beautiful wife for six months, then he goes back to her, and then leaves her… I love the story.
What struck you most about him?
Well, I think to want to be the first person to be on top of Mt Everest is the dream of many people. To do it in a three-piece suit with a rolled down gun is a bit special.
Your next is a collection of short stories. Would some of them be based on real-life stories too?
About half are real. I had told one last night (referring to the book launch), about a beautiful girl. I love a story where the woman beats the man. It was a good story given to me by someone else.
How do you go about getting these stories? Do you consciously make an effort to meet interesting people or does it happen by chance?
Well, if I was having lunch with you today, I would say, “Don’t waste my time! Tell me a story!” Nine times out of 10, if not 49 times out of 50 is a complete waste of time. You never know who’s going to tell you the next great story.
R.K. Narayan could write about (pointing to everyone present in the room) all of us. He is remarkable. He is the God.
Can we expect anything about India or Indian people?
I got one Indian story last time and I have got a very wonderful love story this time. I got it in Bombay, quite by accident. And I am going to go and meet both the man and his wife. We are arranging to meet them so that I can interview them and get both sides of the story. And that will be the last story in my next book and it will be the longest. You want an amusing one to start with and you want one to make you cry at the end. That is my rule.
How do you research a book?
In the case of Paths of Glory, of course, there were seven recognized books about Mallory. I spoke to a lot to Audrey Salkeld, who is considered to be the leading authority on Everest and Mallory. I also met the family. It took seven years of research and the last year was very intense. I wrote False Impressions and A Prisoner of Birth in between.
There’s a lot of buzz about your books being made into movies.
Or, not being made into movies. Isn’t that what you mean? Which movies have I had? Tell me a movie you’ve seen by Jeffrey Archer. I have got into Tamil before I got into movies! (His books Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less and A Twist in the Tale were translated into Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam recently).
Are you in talks with producers?
Yeah, three major companies, two producers and two directors. I am meeting some producers tomorrow in Bombay for Indian movies.
I’m curious; how do writers choose the names of their characters?
No one has even asked this question. At the end of a film, many names scroll up in the credits. I stop the screen. If it says “Paul Johnson”, “David Haskins”, I go “Paul Haskins”, “David Johnson”. I write them all down. Then when I got a long list, I start crossing the names until I have got the name. I use the name “Hamilton” too much.
Your books talk a lot about ambitious people.
Yes, that pleases you, isn’t it? I write about people coming from nothing to the top. Millions of people buy it.
Does that stem from your life?
Yes, of course. We all write about ourselves. If you write a book, you’ll find you are in it. I see a lot of myself in George Mallory and I see a lot of George Mallory in me. That last few pages is me climbing to the top, not him.
When are you writing your autobiography?
Never. I don’t want to write about myself.