Tag Archives: debut authors

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.

29 Seconds publication day: interview with TM Logan

Readers were gripped by TM Logan’s debut novel, Lies, keeping it in the Kindle top 10 for months. Now fans can finally read his second novel, 29 Seconds, out today in eBook. To celebrate, we’ve asked TM Logan to look back on how it all started, as well as give us a hint of what’s to come…

As of today, you’ve got two published novels under your belt. Where did each one start its life?

Most of my ideas come from everyday life – a conversation, a story on the news, a thought that turns into a ‘what if?’ question that might form the core of a plot.

With Lies, it was a conversation with my wife as we drove to Brittany for our summer holiday. She related a story about some friends of hers who had been raising money for charity in memory of a colleague who had died. As part of this, they had used the colleague’s Facebook profile to help publicise their efforts. That got me thinking: what if you did something similar but with criminal motives? Perhaps to cover up a crime? To mislead the police? To frame an innocent man?

For 29 Seconds, I had the original kernel of the idea some time ago, but had been searching for the right setting for the story. Then in the summer of 2016, in my previous job (as head of communications for a large university) I fielded an enquiry from The Guardian – a national investigation into the scale of sexual harassment in higher education, almost exclusively senior male academics harassing younger female colleagues or students. That got me thinking. When I read the story that came out of their investigation, I thought it might make a strong setting for a novel – if the victim was so desperate for a solution that she would resort to desperate measures. It’s been very weird to see it coincide with the ongoing international news story about harassment/#MeToo that has become so huge in recent months.

Now for the hard part – once you’ve had your idea, how do you get your novels finished?

I will spend 6-8 weeks planning a story, getting the plot, characters and key moments clear in my head (I’ve always been envious of people who can just sit down and write off the top of their head, seat of the pants style. I need a plan). My desk – in the spare bedroom – faces the wall so there’s nothing to distract me, no window, no view, no outside world. No TV, no radio. Nothing to tempt me away from sitting in that chair and putting my hands on the keyboard. The walls around my desk are generally covered with notes, chapter plans, lists, reminders and scraps of paper with ideas and quotes for the story I’m working on.

When I’ve got to the stage where I’m just procrastinating to put off the real business of writing, I’ll dive into it and write every day, without fail, until the first draft is done. Writing every day helps me to maintain momentum, to keep on top of the plot and stay in touch with my characters. I keep a tally of my daily wordcount, although it’s less about the number and more about making links in the chain and keeping that promise to myself. If I’ve written for 30, or 50, or 100 days straight, I’m less likely to take a day off and break the chain (at least that’s the idea).

Looking back on your own experiences, what advice would you give an author who’s just starting out?

Being a debut author made me realise how important it is to feed constructive criticism into the writing process. Both Lies and 29 Seconds were improved hugely with constructive input from others. It can be tricky, though: when you’re starting out you have to be so single-minded about writing, to keep going without any guarantee that your stories are ever going to see the light of day – you have to believe that they will find an audience eventually. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing. But you can’t let that single-mindedness, that belief, deafen you to hearing constructive criticism. Essentially, you need to be proud of what you create, but humble enough to know that it can always be improved with input from friends, fellow authors, family members, reading groups – anybody who’s willing to be constructive. I’ve been lucky enough to work with my brilliant agent Camilla Wray at Darley Anderson and the excellent team at Bonnier Zaffre in that respect.

And finally, what can we expect to see from you in the future?

I’ve been writing full-time for a few months now and absolutely loving it! I’ve just agreed a new two-book deal with Bonnier Zaffre and I’m currently working on book 3 for them, which will come out in 2019. It’s a standalone thriller set in the south of France, where four best friends are holidaying together with their families. As the week goes on, their friendship starts to unravel amid secrets, betrayal and lies, until it becomes clear that someone in the group is prepared to kill to keep a long-buried truth from coming out…

For the future, I’ve always wanted to create a series and would love to be able to do that alongside my standalone thrillers. Watch this space!

Debut author interview: Phoebe Morgan

She didn’t realise it at the time, but Phoebe Morgan’s journey to becoming a published author started when she was only 6, when her dad made her an impressive doll house. This became the inspiration for her chilling debut, The Doll House, which has already been met with rave reviews by early readers.

In the first instalment of our series of interviews with debut authors, Phoebe Morgan, author of The Doll House, talks about setbacks, support networks, and why an idyllic family home is the perfect setting for a psychological thriller…

 

The Doll House is out today, but first let’s look back to where it all started. Where did the inspiration for the novel come from?

When I was about six or seven, my Dad made me a doll house and I was obsessed with it! It was beautiful, with six rooms, a fully functioning staircase and even a loft. I used to spend ages creating the perfect little family set-up, and so when it came to thinking of ideas for my first book, the doll house sprang to mind. A doll house is like a perfect little microcosm of the ideal home, one in which you’re in charge. As a child, I could create the perfect narrative by playing with my dolls – I had a Mummy doll in the kitchen (horribly sexist) and a Daddy who returned home from work with a briefcase (fairly sure my own father doesn’t have one!)  while the small dolls played by the fire (all a tad unrealistic).

As a writer, I wanted to explore that idea of the idyllic family home not being quite as lovely as it might first seem. I knew I wanted to write a book about the complicated relationship that can exist between sisters too, and the memory gaps that can exist between childhood and adulthood. It fascinates me how we all remember certain scenes differently, and as we become adults we sometimes learn things about our families and our parents that do not quite match up with the idealistic childhood memories we’ve remembered. In the book, this concept of a perfect home begins to slowly disintegrate until the characters’ memories are distorted by the truths that have been uncovered. There have been a lot of lies and the sisters in my book have to deal with the repercussions of that!

As plenty of budding authors know, getting published is rarely a straightforward process. What for you was the most difficult aspect of your journey as a debut author?

Oh, it’s always so hard getting rejections! With The Doll House, we had a couple of near misses, and some straight no’s too, and every time you get an email explaining why it’s not quite right for a list it definitely stings. It can be difficult picking yourself back up and continuing to have hope when things aren’t going your way but honestly, I don’t know a single writer who hasn’t been rejected at some point in their career. When you’re a debut, you’re a total unknown so you do need an editor to take a chance on you and your idea, which can be terrifying. I think near-misses have probably actually been the hardest bit, because that’s when you really get your hopes up and start allowing yourself to imagine getting a deal, and so when that comes to nothing, it can feel pretty tough. But you absolutely never know what is around the corner and you have to be persistent, and remember that you only need one yes, and then it really doesn’t matter any more how many no’s you got along the way!

I also remember having a particularly sticky plot point while writing this book which always stays in my mind. I was working on it in the British Library, which is such a lovely place to write (despite the vastly overpriced snacks!) and I just could not figure out this one thing. I called my mum in tears, and then suddenly had an idea for the solution and ended the call very quickly… I did ring back to apologise though.

We’ve obviously loved working with you, but what’s it been like for you to work with an agent and an editor for the first time?

I’m so lucky to have worked with Camilla Wray here at Darley Anderson and with Charlotte Mursell at HQ, both of whom brought new ideas to the book and helped me make it what it is today. When you write, you get so close to your manuscript that you do start to lose sight of it a little, and having those extra pairs of eyes reading everything over makes all the difference. Camilla is a very hands-on editorial agent so we worked a lot on the book before it went on submission, straightening out plot problems, revising sections of the narrative and even cutting out a whole strand at one point! At the time, rewriting can feel brutal and difficult, but the novel is so much better for it. You have to constantly be aware of the reader, how they’ll feel at each juncture, and how the book will sit in the market. I worked very hard on getting my opening just right along with my chapter endings, with the aim of keeping the reader on their toes and giving them that incentive to keep turning the pages. Agents and editors know the market inside out and having that crucial insight is invaluable.

Finally – it’s publication day! How have you been feeling in the run up to the big day?

The run up to publication has been a strange time! I work in publishing too as a Commissioning Editor at Avon, so I do have an insight into how some of this works and what to expect, which is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse! I think it means I can’t kid myself, and am realistic in my expectations, but at the same time it makes it easier to torture myself with nerves when I look at the amount of amazing books that I will be competing against! Mostly, I’ve been really overwhelmed with how kind people have been – telling me they’ve pre-ordered the book, leaving positive reviews on GoodReads, getting in touch on social media – but then the closer we get to publication, the harder I’m finding it to sleep too as it does feel as though it’s becoming very real now, when for so long it was a bit of a pipe dream. It’s also been quite a whirlwind fitting in writing publicity bits and pieces in the run up, and making sure I’m on top of extra stuff such as social media.

Having a book go out into the world is without doubt a very nerve-wracking process, but I’ve found that talking to other writers really helps as they know what you’re going through and can offer words of wisdom in that respect. I think it’s also important to remember – and this is something I’m trying to do – that your book is one part of your life, an important one, but that it’s not your whole life, and so things always need to be kept in perspective. If I keep thinking that way, I’m hoping any negative reviews and set-backs won’t feel quite as bad…!