Monday, May 30, 2011

Rencontre with Jeffrey Archer on Love, Writing, Life, Literature



Excerpts of my Interview/ Recontre for L'Official Magazine 
With Jeffrey Archer
An informal chat at Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Bombay

Nisha: Tell us about the new book, And thereby hangs a tale. What do you want to say to the readers through this story
?



Jeffrey :I have been inspired by my travels over the past few years, to write 15 short stories set around the world that I hope will intrigue and amuse my readers – from Germany, there is A Good Eye, the tale of a priceless oil painting that has remained in the same family for over 200 years, to Italy and No Room at the Inn, and and to the finale, a love story about two interesting people I met while in India, Caste-Off, set in Delhi.

Nisha interjects : I think Jeffrey readers will love your rendition of a story that is real but edited with such style and staccato quickness where he cuts to the present, and in India they will enjoy reading the story of someone they know and see often in the media, without knowing the reality of her life!

Jeffrey adds: This is my favourite story because it’s genuinely original and unique. I am unlikely to come across a love story which is so moving or touching in my lifetime, and I naturally hope it will be made into a Bollywood film.


L'Official: Tell us a little about how the both of you met, how did the collaboration happen?

Jeffrey: I met Nisha at a dinner party held by a friend of mine from Oxford days, I asked her about herself. The following day, I invited Nisha to lunch to hear her story and found it quite incredible.


Nisha;…………….. no Jeffrey actually we met for lunch ‘cos you wanted to do some shopping for Mary, and we had lunch at Thai Pavillion and it was then that you started asking questions.


Y’know I didn’t even think you might make this into a story, I just thought you were naturally curious, and it was the first time I found myself actually speaking to someone a little openly, I am normally so cagey about personal topics. 


But here I was speaking to a near stranger with no baggage about who and what I am and no fear about being vulnerable infront of him so I just spoke openly on this rare occasion.

I mean we’d met the last night at India Jones at a dinner hosted in his honor , where mostly authors and writers had been invited- Anil Dharker, Tasneem Mehta, Shobha De and I don't remember any of the others, but he was most engaged with our conversation, I felt singled out and special and somewhat embarrassed by the attention in the face of other more established, famous writers, I felt nearly apologetic.
It was a magical evening, and he describes it very well in his story, exactly as it happened, but in his inimitable style, he took that magical dinner and created an extraordinary poignant story.
L'official: About this Indian short story; What struck you about it? What was the inspiration behind it?

Jeffrey: This is my favourite story I’m afraid I can’t answer this question because you have to read the story to find out the experience I went through, and I am not willing to reveal it here. after they had told me their story, I went away and wrote it.


Nisha: It is a rare compliment as I am the only person in India whose story he wrote after having traveled here often, but recently someone asked me if I was flattered to be the inspiration and I said that would not be the case as I do realize my life is extraordinary- unpredictable, with great rapids and great highs.
I just decided a long time ago to take life by the horns and live the speed breakers. 


It is inconvenient to be ambitious, but I’m enjoying it and without sounding immodest, I’d say that I think when I look back at my life I feel like did I really manage all this? 


I feel like yes I think it might be an inspiration to a lot of women out there who give up and feel like life gave them a raw deal.


The thing is we come here and plan so much and then ‘life happens’ and then you either give up and sit down and say its ‘fate’ or you pick up and drive in fifth gear and make life into a heady hurdle race and say you’ll make the summit. 


Jeffrey saw that in exactly forty five minutes through dinner and it takes a great story teller to realize all this in so short a time, whereas here in India a lot of people just discount so much with tags and labels like ‘page three’ and ‘socialite’ and in that forget to see the meat of the matter!!

Jeffrey: It’s always difficult for an author to know, when he looks at the final manuscript some months later, how much is true and how much is the result of the author’s imagination. What is important, is that the basic facts are accurate, as without Nisha there is no story.


L'Official :What are the challenges in conceiving and writing a short story?

For me, the main difference in writing a short story instead of a novel, is that you must have an ending before you write the first word, which is not the case with a full length novel.
Nisha: he has put the entire story into some pages so effectively, I am sure it was a challenge that was effortlessly achieved by Jeffrey whose short stories are brilliant. Its funny that it is he who has written my story, I’ve been a great admirer since I was ten when I first read Kane and Abel in 1985. Since then I bought each and every book he wrote but Kane and Abel was always my favorite followed by Prodigal Daughter which was an inspiration.

L'Official: What are your views on the literature in India and emerging Indian authors?

Jeffrey: When I was in India on a book tour in 2008, the Indian Times correspondent told me not to bother with all the sacred cows of Indian literature, but to read R K Narayan. He is a genius. I only discovered him that year, but now have probably read everything he has ever written. He is known over here only by the minority, but his simple, atmospheric tales of everyday Indian life and its people, are sheer magic, particularly Malgudi Days.


Nisha : the last five or six years have brought about a large number of talented writers, while not all of it is literature, some of them are excellent story tellers like Chetan Bhagat, Suketu Metha. Its an emerging trend with a lot of promise. Indian authors are doing brilliantly internationally, infact Amitava Ghosh , Upamanyu Chatterji , Vikram Chandra, Vikram Seth and and a number of young and new authors who frequently speckle the Booker short lists and although now remote from India , I must mention Salman Rushdie & Pico Iyer as personal favorites. Sir VS Naipal too comes to mind.

Jeffrey: When people ask me to recommend a writer, I say look at their short stories, and then you can decide whether you like the author enough to read their novels.


Nisha: Also there’s a plethora of talent & brilliant work in hindi, oriya, malayalam, tamil & the host of other languages of india, awaiting empathetic translations to reveal to the world the literary wealth so far hidden. Literature is in our blood but what we are seeing is an emergence of English literature with a critical mass of people who buy and read English literature, why do you think Jeffrey is coming here so often!!!!!


L'Official :What is it about the Indian literary sensibility that appeals to a global reader?

Jeffrey : Indians love a tale with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Nisha: in the earlier stage of English authors of Indian origin , due to a bookish yet strong command of English with some of the earlier authors like Arundhati Roy there was a tendency to use words that were too descriptive or big words that were superfluous to story telling. Recently many authors show greater comfort with the idiomatic and casual use of English which while it may not be great literature is great story telling! One notices that when we are original we are appreciated by a cross section of audiences. But very often one sees Indian authors writing with a slant toward being appreciated by international audiences and that I feel hinders a spontaneous expression and may not be great literature.

L'Official: Are readers from the west, and readers from this part of the world more accepting to crossing cultural boundaries for literature?

Jeffrey: I certainly believe that most people are more international nowadays, and more open to reading literature from a foreign country. With the growing popularity of electronic books and the sheer number of books you can download and carry with you on your travels, crossing those cultural boundaries is getting even easier.

Nisha : In a globalized world people realize their interconnectedness and are curious about other cultures and countries, I believe Indians have especially been very outward looking and with English as our adopted language, the upper class and middle class have been voracious readers, as far as India is concerned it is a bit of a flavor of the month situation, because of its growing economy and participative and noisy democracy. There is an interest in many things Indian including the authors.

Jeffrey: The Indian people in particular are very open to taking in other peoples’ cultures.

L'Official :In a time of iBooks, podcasts and an abundance resources on the internet, is the art of paperback reading endangered?

Jeffrey: I hope not! But as long as people continue to read, that’s fine by me.

Nisha: Perhaps , I do enjoy reading books on my I pad but I have to say that the smell and feel of a new book has always thrilled me since I was a little girl, that is something that e book readers cannot replicate yet. My favorite is the limited edition illustrated ‘Cat o Nine Tales’


Excerpts of Nisha JamVwal & Jeffrey Archer's Recontre for L'Official Magazine - an informal chat at Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Bombay



Nisha JamVwal nishajamvwal@gmail.com

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