And he’s back. Jeffrey Archer’s visits to the city have practically become an annual tradition now. For the third time in three and a half years, the British best-selling author returned in Chennai to meet his adoring fans, and, of course, to promote his latest offering.
“I’ll be travelling to five cities in six days, and I did 11 interviews just today,” said Archer, as he took the stage at Odyssey at Express Avenue Mall. “It’s non-stop work from plane to plane, but it’s worth it – I’ve just been told the book’s gone to number one on the bestseller list. This is why I love coming to India again and again.”
You really can’t blame the guy. Not only is this the country where he has the single largest readership, it’s also probably the only place on earth where the author with a somewhat murky past gets a standing ovation when he strides onstage like an aging, bespectacled rockstar. The crowd at Odyssey was somewhat smaller than that of the previous years’ events held at Landmark – there were actually empty seats at the start – but it did grow by the end, so Archer could say with some satisfaction before the book signing, “Look how many people there are!”
The book in question this year is ‘Only Time Will Tell’, the first of the five-part series, ‘The Clifton Chronicles’ that spans a hundred years from 1920 to 2020, and traces the life of Harry Clifton and the mystery surrounding his father’s death.
“This first book follows Harry’s life from his birth in the docklands of Bristol in 1920 up until 1940, when he has to decide whether he’d go to Oxford or to the war,” said Archer. “It’s only been out three days, but I’m sure some of you would have already read it; people in India are so fast, it’s frightening.”
The evening was full of such asides – how quick people are in India, how many aspiring writers there are (“only in India will all the hands go up when you ask that question”), and how many young writers have already written a novel (a 14 year old girl in this case, which Archer called ‘typical’). Once he was up on stage, he was fond, benign old Uncle Archer, completely in charge and holding forth on writing tips, mock-scolding the audience, and generally having them eating out of his hand.
However, what did come across as truly genuine was his gratitude for the reception he gets here, and he patiently responded to all the questions he was asked, whether it was about his writing routine (he’s up by 5.30 a.m. and writes for eight hours a day with breaks every two hours) or his exercise routine (he has a personal trainer from New Zealand – “I can drop and do 25 press ups right now.”) He revealed that Columbia Pictures has sent him the script for the movie adaptation of his previous novel, ‘Paths of Glory’, but that he was afraid to read it (“I’m dreading not liking the script and feeling it could have been so much better”), and that he wouldn’t be writing a book on vampires any time soon, “though I’m told they’re in”.
The event ended the way his launches always do – with a throng of autograph seekers surrounding him. “I was mobbed back in Mumbai,” he said, trying to organise the crowd better here; but you got the feeling he probably wouldn’t mind being mobbed – at least a little – again.