Debut author interview with Imran Mahmood

Imran Mahmood’s debut You Don’t Know Me was met with critical acclaim on its hardback publication last year. The “genre-bending crime novel” (Ruth Ware) has since been chosen for the BBC Radio 2 Book Club, was named one of The Telegraph’s crime books of the year, and was a 2018 World Book Night title.

As You Don’t Know Me is out today in paperback, we’ve asked Imran to share with us some of his experiences as a debut author…

What made you first want to become a writer?

I always loved hearing stories, watching them, reading and telling them. In my day job as a criminal barrister I am in the business of telling stories. These are true stories, but it has always been important to tell them in a way that is as engaging as possible. It was short step from that kind of storytelling to this kind. Ultimately, I wanted to tell people about the things that fell into my experiential ground because I have found them interesting and I hoped other people would too. I am always interested to hear about experiences which are different from mine, whatever they are. I think that by far the most important aspect of writing is the process of exchanging ideas and stories rather than selling them.

You Don’t Know Me is a unique courtroom drama where the Defendant himself tells the story of his life growing up in London’s gangland. Where did you get your inspiration from, and how were you able to research this? 

I was writing a closing speech in a criminal case and suddenly wondered what it would be like if the defendant had to do his own speech. I’ve spent 25 years listening to people and representing people involved in or accused of being involved in gang-related crimes, so it was something I already knew a lot about. My work gives me such a breadth of experience in terms of the people I meet. I can learn about the lives of people in a different world from mine, and I see from a position of privilege how their lives can go wrong or become redeemed.

What has been the best thing about being an author?

Speaking to people. I love meeting new people and hearing from readers whether they liked my book or not. That is the best bit. And I have been really lucky. I have met some amazing and talented people – not just readers, but other authors, editors, agents, publicists, editors, SIMON MAYO!! and Mishal Husain (to drop two of my very favourite names!).

It’s brought lots of new experiences too. I went on live radio (Radio 4, Radio 2, Radio 5 Live), I was interviewed by national newspapers, I went onto the set of a TV show and watched it being made, I met the incredible Adam Deacon as he recorded my audio book. All amazing experiences that I could never have dreamed of achieving in any other way.

 And what’s been the hardest bit?

There is nothing hard about it really, if you enjoy writing. But while writing a complete novel is without a doubt rewarding and fulfilling and all of that, ultimately the thing is a slog. It is hard work and needs commitment and application. The first 30,000 words are the easiest. Most people can do that. The hardest thing is being able to carry on and finish.

So how do you get things done?

I lie awake at night (my only quiet time) and write a chapter in my head (kind of). Then the next day I write it down! I write on the train, in chambers, in court when I am waiting. I don’t have the luxury of a routine so I have to take my chances when I get them.

Finally, what would be your one piece of advice for a new author?

This is advice that I find it difficult to follow myself: it’s to write something every day. And to think. Pen to paper is the easy bit, the real work is done before the pen is even lifted.

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