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An Evening with Jeffrey Archer

Tuesday, 10th November 2009

Sunday evening was spent rather delightfully, listening to Jeffrey Archer speak. He was at Landmark to promote his new book, a re-write of his top seller, Kane and Abel.

The man is a genius when it came to handling the crowd – he had them eating out of his hand within the first few minutes – he spoke about what a great place India is, and Sachin’s brilliant century in the previous day’s game. It was easy to see how he would have swayed his constituents who sent him to the House of commons.

Jeffrey Archer
Jeffrey Archer

Here are bits of what he spoke about, as I remember them. Any omissions / distortions are mine, and I absolutely refuse to stand by anything here under oath!

He began by reading out a really short short story that he said was perhaps the best example of short story writing.

Then he spoke about the new Kane and Abel and how it came about. Having sat down to read the original work 30 years after it was first published, he found himself making corrections here and there. These became bigger and bigger, and he found himself rewriting whole sections. Finally, at the end of about 500 hours of work over a 9-month period, the new version was ready. He’s written over 50,000 new words, and the new work is about 7,000 words shorter – which seems to suggest that about 57,000 words from the old version have been jettisoned.

He recounted this experience with Kane and Abel when it was first published in 1979. He’d been given a rather large advance – $3.2 million – and his publishers had him fly to New York to kick off a promotion tour across the continental United States. He had to make TV appearances and generally promote the book, aiming to break into the top fifteen of the New York Times bestsellers list. He narrated his adventures as an unknown writer on the sets of different talk shows, managing to push the book up to number 17 on the list. Finally, a prominent mention in the Johnny Carson show shot Kane and Abel to number one on the list.

He spoke about how he enjoyed visiting India as he found it a place where books and authors were valued and respected – the rapt attention of the crowd at Landmark was testament to it, though the crowd was a bit trigger-happy when it came to applause. They clapped whenever he paused, and at one point he had to tell us to stop applauding!

He also took the opportunity to talk about his upcoming books – a collection of short stories called And Thereby Hangs a Tale (a title he said was from the Taming of the Shrew, but I see it’s really from As You like It – nit, but worth picking!) to be out in mid 2010 followed by the Clifton Chronicle, a five-part saga about a man who was born in 1920 and lives till 2020, each book covering 20 years of his life.

There were a few interesting questions from the audience, to which he gave really detailed and well thought out answers. When a little boy asked him why he did not write thrillers for kids, he said he wrote what he was comfortable with – sagas and stories covering long periods of time.

He also said that his favourite books were Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo and Erich Maria Remarque’s  All Quiet on the Western Front. From his own works, he identified Cheap at Half the Price and Never Stop on the Motorway, both short stories from Twelve Red Herrings, as his favourites.

At the end of it, he took his place on a throne-like chair in the center of the stage and about three hundred of us lined up to get our copies of Kane and Abel autographed by him. I was curious to see what the new Kane and Abel was like, so I’d picked up a copy earlier. I was also carrying Vidya’s really old copy of the original Kane and Abel. Archer got all excited when he saw it, wondering out aloud if it was a first edition. He opened it and groaned at the small size of the print, and compared it to the new edition, pointing out how much better the typesetting was now. Of course, he signed both copies, and I came away happily!

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