The students of IIM Bangalore had an unusual visitor today, not a management or leadership guru, the kind they are accustomed to, but bestselling author Jeffrey Archer. Launching his latest book, Mightier than the Sword, Archer held the audience, comprising students, faculty and alumni, spellbound with entertaining tales from his life, which were as exciting as his books.

“So you think you have talent? You think you can write? Let me tell you ambitious young people, writing is hard work. It is relentless and rigorous and no draft is ready until it has been rewritten 14 times,” Archer told the students, adding that his first book,Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less, had sold all of 3,000 copies.

As a wrap-up of the talk from the B-school described it: ‘A quick introduction, engagingly and disarmingly cut short after the big man himself gave the emcee a big hug and a brisk “Let’s get on with it, shall we?”, led to 30 delightful minutes of, what else, stories. They ranged from the time a popular TV channel in the United States flew him in a Concorde and drove him to their studio in a stretch limousine for two priceless minutes of air time, where he had to compete with Mickey Mouse and Billy Carter to plug his book, to how a kind and wise word from Johnny Carson catapulted his Kane and Abel to No. 1 on The New York Times Bestseller list.

The stories wound their way from his study in Cambridge to the cricket pitch at Lord’s with many a wisecrack thrown in. One of his anecdotes: “What do I aspire to? Well, captaincy of the English cricket team, to start with. I can’t bowl, I can’t bat, I can’t field, so I do have a chance for a look-in, don’t I?” he said, adding that England would certainly go on to win this edition of the World Cup. “All they need to do is win the next five matches on the trot.”

The man who says he finds inspiration for his short stories, novels and plays from every day instances, from art, from sport, from politics, then told the packed auditorium that he was a “writer by mistake”. Politics, he declared, has always been his first love. “But then, most of us do end up doing what we are second best at, don’t we?” he added, softly.

For all the talk about “second-best”, he said he would settle for nothing less than being the best in the business. And all the management students in the hall got a free lesson on how to drive a hard bargain in business. “I still make that phone call to my publisher, pushing for the next 25,000 copies of my book to be sold,” he said.

Pacing the dais in the manner of a professor teaching an eager class, he dramatized his journey from debt-ridden story teller to feted, autograph signing, globe-trotting bestselling writer. “I am over 70 and I know I have to keep fit to keep telling all the stories that I have in me. Because writing requires discipline, focus and hard work.”

About India, which he visits often, he had many interesting stories. “Do you know that my short story ‘Caste-Off’ was inspired by a young, handsome and very special couple that I met in Bombay? I keep coming back here because of the warmth and love of at least 50 million people here who love story tellers. Am I not lucky?”

Taking every question (and there were a dozen at least) that followed his talk, he advised young writers to “know” their context (“People ask me if I will write a novel set in India. I can’t because I do not know the context well enough”), to “live” their characters, to “breathe” their story and to never ever show the draft to anyone (“spouse, partner, mother”) until they had redone it at least 14 times!

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