An Interview With… Imran Mahmood

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Imran Mahmood.

Imran’s first novel You Don’t Know Me was released in 2017 and was adapted for BBC by Tom Edge.

I was delighted when Imran agreed to discuss his road to publication for the book and the TV adaptation. He also offers some advice for unpublished authors.

Over to you, Imran…

1) How did you get into writing? What was your road into the industry?

My day job is as a barrister. Closing/opening speeches are a way of telling a story. These have a way of staying in consciousness in the mind of the jury.

2) What comes first in your writing? Is it plot, character or theme you want to explore?

The most important thing for me is the story, but I’m looking at exploring the theme of justice. This is important in You Don’t Know Me. The theme of the second book I Know What I Saw looks at memory. It is a question of exploring how to develop the story using the theme. The character in You Don’t Know Me, originally didn’t have a name, but he was referenced as Hero in the script. You don’t want the viewer to think that the person going through the trial is one defendant; this is every defendant going through this criminal justice system if they come from disadvantage.

3) How did you navigate the agenting/publishing process?

I was lucky. Most literary agents will say send in 50 pages, in physical paper. I picked five agents from the internet, and they all got back to me, saying that they would like the full manuscript. I met a couple of them, and I went with the one who was enthusiastic from the start. One agent I met suggested I change it and I was too lazy. With my current agent, we kept the skeleton of the book the same.

The editing process – agent suggested adding 20,000 words, which I did. The publishers then bought it and said they wanted to do a structural edit – how is best to structure the novel. Stylistically what the narrative voice is as well. What bits should go where and that the pace fits in well. A line edit and copy edit, and proof edit follow that. There are probably six big edits to do before it is in the bookshops.

4) You Don’t Know Me is a brilliant book – where did the idea come from?

I was writing a closing speech in a murder, see question one. I was wondering whether the defendant needed me – am I taking away more than I am adding. I thought it was more important for the human element to come through. What is the point of a speech? The point of it is to persuade a jury about your case and your client. Your personal experience counts for a lot, too. This can carry more weight if you are speaking in a kind of detached way.

5) What was your reaction to it being made into a television series? Did you have any input in the production process?

The screenwriter was called Tom Edge, the joint best screenwriter in Britain today. He can write the voice of a teenager as convincingly as anyone. He’s very collaborative, the courtroom scenes – he would have a go at it, and then I would alter it to make it appear more authentic. The director Sam Masud would speak to the actors and say ‘we wouldn’t say that we would say this’ – the shooting script would go through rigorous edits; up to fifty, possibly more. An adaptation isn’t a book and vice versa. You get different things from different experiences. You can’t binge read but you can binge watch. The experience is different, and your thinking time is different. with TV, you are relying solely on visual cues. You can paint a scene in a TV show, by showing what the room is like. You can’t do that in a book; you must constantly elaborate. There is also no internal dialogue in TV, but you can have that in a book. For characters thinking, it is also very different. The TV and the book are completely different, and I very much enjoyed it.

6) What’s next in terms of writing for you? Do you have any advice for authors wanting to break into the industry?

Book three, All I Said Was True is out in July. I’ve just delivered the first draft of book four to my agent. Advice wise, if I had to, even though I don’t feel qualified – write some of it every day, if you can. The failure point tends to be, 20,000 words comes out like a shot, 30,000-40,000 words is still good. You lose hope after 50,000 words. It’s like taking a journey; get the first draft done. Don’t go over the first 50 pages until you have left them. This is what the agent will read, so make a good impression.

There are so many writers and so many submissions. How are they going to choose which ones they read in full? There must be something in the first few pages, so an agent can say ‘This is special, where’s the rest?’ You must earn the next turn of the page. Some people never, ever half finish books, that is worse for a reader, for them not to carry on reading, or get to the finish and think I hated it.

Thank you for your time today Imran, it has been a pleasure to interview you.

Imran’s third novel All I Said Was True is OUT NOW!!

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