250 million copies
06 collections of short stories
03 volumes of his prison diaries
The author who has been a Number One bestseller in fiction fifteen times, for short stories four times, and also best selling in non-fiction.
He really needs no introduction after that, does he?
I was eleven years old when I first came across a Jeffrey Archer book, and the title immediately grabbed my attention.
Kane and Abel.
‘It’s about the Bible story.’ I told myself, and since the tale in Genesis was one of my favorites, I picked up the book and began reading.
I was very young, the book was pretty thick (over 650 pages in paperback I think), and it wasn’t for children. But I plodded through it.
The story turned out to be not about the biblical siblings and their rivalry, but about two individuals born in opposite circumstances and on different sides of the world in 1906. They had absolutely nothing in common except their birth date.
It made no sense, except that William Kane who was born into a Boston Brahmin family was so polished that everything about him leapt out of the pages of the book. And, Abel who was born into a poor family in Poland, was real and earthy.
For a large part of the story, the two characters weren’t even aware of each other, but their lives would somehow link, or maybe it wouldn’t happen. Archer carried on with their individual journeys without giving that part any attention. So it held my attention, and I was hooked just like the author knew I was going to be.
He’s a crafty one, that Archer.
I read the book again years later (and many times after) and was once again caught up in the tale. William still fascinated me, there was nothing about him that didn’t remain intriguing. And Abel still had me rooting for him as he fought against everything to succeed. They were young, ambitious, determined and ruthless. They were charming, sweet and even tender. Still, they were nothing like each. But, they were both very endearing, and had remarkable life stories.
The characterization was incredible, but never obvious, yet it was dramatic enough to be gripping. – It was masterful writing and it struck a chord in me which no other author has managed to do with as much intensity as Archer did. Not yet anyway.
My love for writing may have begun when I was really little, but till I discovered Archer’s work, I hadn’t discovered that writing needed depth, as well as one of the most important facets of storytelling. Characterization.
I went on to read whatever I could find of the author. I began to buy his books, borrow them, exchange them and what not. And, I kept reading, knowing every character I’d get to read about would be something worthwhile, or would have that something in them that would hold me riveted. And, I always found it.
The icing on the cake of course would be the length of the journey of each character. A lot of authors give readers a glimpse into one or two time frames of the protagonist’s and antagonist’s lives. Jeffrey Archer mostly gives you their entire lifetime. And he’ll weave it in portions, back and forth through past and present, ups and downs, tragedy and joy, with a few glimpses into what could be and what is never going to be. And, he does it with a skill which never fails to give me goosebumps.
I could fan girl about this all day long, believe me.
Jeffrey Archer is not the only author I love, but he is one of my greatest influences in writing. So much so, that I subconsciously give him a small gracious (and sometimes not so gracious) nod in a lot of my stories. And, I realized this not long ago after I’d written out the opening scene of a story and someone who read it mentioned how it reminded them of ‘Oliver Twist.’
So, I went back immediately and re-read it, and I stopped at this part:
“Through the crowds which thronged the market late that morning on Whitechapel Road, two pairs of booted feet kept a brisk pace on and off the slippery pavement, darting between heavily clothed bodies of varying shapes and sizes. They went past shop fronts and awing covered stalls squashed beside the other, sprawling out onto the street, packed and overflowing with a hundred different wares for sale. Barrows with crates of fruit, vegetables and flowers in every colour alongside rows of clothing, baskets and buckets of fresh catch, mussels, shrimp and squid…”
‘Barrows!’ I thought, ‘More like As the Crow Flies by Archer, because it’s set on Whitechapel Road and why have I written that market?’ – Then I laughed because just the name of that place makes me instantly imagine Charlie Trumper sitting in that same market behind his barrow, selling apples. – My story has nothing to do with selling apples by the way. And neither are the characters anything like Charlie.
When I began to write the scene I didn’t know it would be on Whitechapel Road. It was only supposed to be set somewhere in London’s East End while the protagonist was out and about trying to find something.
Clearly, Jeffrey Archer’s voice has never left my head. It gave me two solid chapters in that story and it made me hammer at those two chapters and the characters in it till there was nothing more I could do with them. So, if even one detail stays in the reader’s mind for a while after, I’ll consider it an accomplishment.
Archer’s voice is that strong. It’s distinct and also wonderfully encouraging.
I hope it never goes away.
*This post was inspired by a reader who in a comment asked which fictional characters have inspired me. – Well, you just got one in the form of William Kane.