10 Questions With… Awais Khan

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

Awais’ latest crime thriller No Honour is set to be an AMAZING book so I was really pleased when he agreed to answer some questions on his writing process and how he got his agent.

Over to you, Awais…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with a book that made you go ‘Wow!’

I loved reading Enid Blyton’s books as a child. I was a huge fan of the Secret Seven series and have read every single installment in the series. I think Harry Potter was what made me go ‘WOW’ as a child. What a book!

2) Did you enjoy English at school? What is your earliest no memory of writing?

I didn’t enjoy English until high school. Earlier, it was all about learning grammar and whatnot which I found very dry. Still, it helped build the foundation of my writing. In high school, I read books like Jane Eyre, North and South, Island of the Blue Dolphins etc and I loved it when the class teacher discussed and dissected the book. 3) For your latest novel No Honour, where did the basis of the idea emerge from?

No Honour took almost three years to write. The injustices being suffered by women in Pakistan have distressed and angered me for a very long time. There was a very high profile case of a celebrity being murdered for honour in Pakistan which got me into researching what exactly went on in rural Pakistan. What I found appalled me. That’s when I decided to write No Honour.

4) What was No Honour’s writing and editing process like?

Well, it took about three years to write. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I was the right person to be writing this story, but my agent, Annette Crossland, took one look at the first few chapters and urged me to finish writing it. I initially worked with Hazel Orme on polishing it, after which it was submitted to publishers. Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books took it on in October 2020 and within weeks sent me the first editorial notes. I worked with her on the book for a couple of months after which West Camel (editor at Orenda Books) took over and helped me polish it some more. Karen promised me when she took on the book that it was a powerful and hard hitting story, but with editing, it would become immense. And it has. She and West Camel are astute, experienced editors and when I read the final version, I almost cried. It really was immense.

5) Once you got your agent, what was the editing process like before pitching to publishers for your first novel? Was this different for No Honour?

I signed up with Annette Crossland in February 2017. I had been working on ‘In the Company of Strangers’ with Hazel Orme for over a year, so when Annette signed me on, there was very little editing that needed to be done. With No Honour, it was a bit different as I worked with my publisher for quite a bit of time to help make the book as perfect as it could be.

6) If you had to choose your favourite character from No Honour that you have written, which would it be and why?

I don’t want to give too much away, but I think Abida is definitely my favorite character in No Honour. When you read the book, you’ll realize why. Her defiance in the face of her small village’s age old customs is admirable as is her courage.

7) Can you name one author that you admire and why you like their style of writing?

I have to say that I am a huge fan of Faiqa Mansab, author of This House of Clay and Water. She is the kind of writer I aspire to be. Her prose is magical and when you read her book, you’ll see how she brings the city of Lahore alive for the reader. Her writing is a feast for the senses.

8) Did you find that you struggled to write during lockdown? How have you found writing during the pandemic?

I haven’t particularly struggled to write during the lockdown. I think having deadlines helps a lot, and I had several, first with my agent and then with my publisher. It really grounded me and helped me focus. Initially, it was a bit hard because I was very used to writing in cafes, but slowly I adapted.

9) What are you currently watching on television? Have your television habits changed throughout lockdown?

I am currently watching Snowpiercer and Mirzapur on television. I am enjoying both of these shows immensely. I have found that the pandemic has given me more time to watch television. I recently finished watching all ten seasons of Friends. Yes, I was a late convert.

10) What is your music taste like? Have you been missing live music in lockdown?

To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of live music. I love Indian music from the 90s and early 2000s. I also love classic Pakistani and Indian songs. YouTube has been my friend during this lockdown!

Thank you for your time today Awais. It has been a pleasure to interview you and to find out about No Honour. I can’t WAIT to read it!!

Bio: Awais Khan is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and Durham University. He is also an alum of Faber Academy. He is the Founding Director of the Writing Institute and has delivered lectures at Durham University, American University of Dubai, Canadian University of Dubai to name a few. He has appeared on BBC World Service, Dubai Eye, Voice of America, City42, Cambridge Radio, Samaa TV, Indus TV, PTV Home and several other radio and TV channels. His work has appeared in The Aleph Review, The Hindu, The Missing Slate etc.

He is the author of In the Company of Strangers (published by Simon & Schuster, The Book Guild and Isis Audio) and No Honour (published by Orenda Books in Summer 2021). He is represented by Annette Crossland.

An Interview With… Madeleine Milburn

Hi everyone, on the blog today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Madeleine Milburn. I was really pleased when she was able to accommodate an interview. Read on for how she got into the industry and what she looks for in submissions.

A huge thank you for doing this Madeleine, it has been a pleasure to interview you!

Over to you, Madeleine…

1) How did you first become involved in the publishing industry? Did you always want to be a literary agent when you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I answered a stamp-sized advert in The Guardian for a Foreign Rights Assistant at AP Watt, which was the oldest literary agency in the UK. Back then, I had no idea what a literary agent did let alone what foreign rights were, but it sounded intriguing and I loved books, so it was the first real job I applied for after university. They offered me the role in my interview, but I was hesitant because of the salary… They said ‘do you know how lucky you are? This is one of the most competitive salaries in the industry!’ It didn’t take me long before I realised the opportunity I’d been given, working with authors such as Philip Pullman, Zadie Smith and the late Helen Dunmore.

2) What attracts you to a submission? Is it the cover letter, the synopsis or the sample writing?

I’ve wanted to represent 99% of my authors from the moment I read their cover letter. They had me captivated with just those few paragraphs, and their voice continued to excite me in the opening chapters of their novel.

3) How exactly is a high concept novel identified? Is it always X meets X?

Fiction that can be boiled down to a concise, compelling pitch that drives the story. It makes it very easy to position as you can use elements from different books to pinpoint the readership.

4) Are there any differences between representing authors of both fiction and non fiction?

I think there is a huge difference. My list is mainly fiction, and I’m solely concerned with an author’s voice. For a lot of non-fiction though, it becomes as much about an author’s profile as their writing.

5) Can you describe the feeling of ‘I really want to represent this author’? How do you feel when you offer representation?

My hairs stand on end, I can feel my heart beating harder, and I have this strange mix of emotions, one of euphoria and one of fear… I have a rare gem in my hands that I want to share with the world, but will the author choose me?

6) What are your views on the fiction market currently across the genres you represent? What would like to see more of, or what do you think hasn’t been done before?

I think people are looking for escapist, uplifting fiction right now including cosy mysteries, love stories, discussion-inducing suspense, anything to take our minds off lockdown. I’d like to see more genre-bending and literary fiction. An epic love story that crosses generations or a really sophisticated thriller.

7) Can you name one fiction author that you like, and why you admire their style of writing?

I recently read Anna Hope’s Expectation which I loved….it captured that feeling of suddenly waking up feeling that life is very different to how you once knew it. It captures that extraordinary transition you go through in your late thirties, and I found it strangely comforting to know that I’m not on my own in this!

8) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

I read to relax! Honestly, there is so much reading to do in the evenings as my days are taken up by deal making, liaising with publishers and author care. Cooking is a great escape for me though and I’ve started to learn about wine which has opened up a whole new world…

9) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you going back to old favourites or reading new books?

I wish I had more time to read old favourites such as Middlemarch or The Magus! I have over fifty authors so I’m usually reading their latest drafts or something from the submissions pile. I also keep up with trends so I’m reading the books that sit at the top of The Sunday Times and The New York Timesbestseller lists…

10) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

Oooh, I have to say This Is Us is definitely getting me through the second lockdown… I’d love to find more stories with wider casts, an original concept and a similar uplifting nature. I think we all need them right now! Aside from this, I tend to watch a lot of crime and thrillers. I love a Scandi crime series.

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

Bio: Madeleine founded Madeleine Milburn Ltd in 2012, and it is now a major international literary agency based in the UK. Working with a network of publishers and producers based all over the world, Madeleine represents debut writers, journalists, and established authors. With her tight-knit team, she handles all rights to every book including UK, US, international and Film & TV.

In 2018, Madeleine was named Literary Agent of the Year at the British Book Awards, and was shortlisted again in 2020. She has appeared on The Bookseller’s list of the 150 most influential people in the book trade every year since 2017. 

Madeleine represents authors based in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, and has a strong reputation for talent spotting writers and launching their careers with major publishers internationally. She works across all genres and has a particular passion for smart, accessible literary fiction, that can be discussed by book clubs. She has launched the careers of multiple bestselling authors, some of them the highest-earning in the book trade. Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine has sold millions of copies worldwide, remained on the New York Times bestseller list for over 84 weeks, and won the 2017 Costa Book Awards. Madeleine also discovered Elizabeth Macneal’s international bestseller The Doll Factory, and bestselling brand authors including C.J. Tudor, C.L. Taylor, Fiona Barton and Holly Bourne. In January 2021, three of the agency’s authors spent multiple weeks the New York Times bestseller list simultaneously: The Push by Ashley Audrain, Wintering by Katherine May, and The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley.

Actively looking for:

Character-led, voice-driven literary and book club fiction with a strong discussion point, moral dilemmas, family dramas with thought-provoking themes, quirky characters, original concepts, thrillers and suspense. Some of my favourite authors outside the agency include: Sally Rooney, Elizabeth Strout, Donna Tartt, Tana French, Hanya Yanagihara, Alex Michaelides, Margaret Atwood, David Nicholls, Anna Hope and Maggie O’Farrell.

Call Me Mummy… A Q&A with Tina Baker

Hi everyone and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Tina Baker, to discuss her debut novel Call Me Mummy.

I LOVED EVERYTHING about this novel – the characters, the plotting, the pacing. It didn’t feel like a debut novel, but it is. I was intrigued by the premise, so had a chat with Tina to discover more about her writing process.

Over to you, Tina…

1) Where did the idea come from and how did you begin to flesh it out?

I’d always wanted to write a novel but had never given myself the time. When my dad died, I finally decided to go for it, and I signed up foran MA in Creative Writing at City University. On the course, one bit of homework was to go somewhere you’d never been before. I went into a branch of Mothercare. As I’d failed to have a child, despite fertility treatment, I’d never set foot in a shop like that. I had a full-on meltdown. Very painful. That was the seed of the idea for Call Me Mummy.

It took two years after that to flesh out the idea into a story of the two women.

2) How did you create your main character Mummy? Did you enjoy writing her? Which other perspective did you most enjoy writing?

Sadly, some of Mummy is my worst impulses and it’s also based on my own mother, now deceased. She was abused by nuns, so the warped Catholicism came from her experience.

3) Call Me Mummy is your debut novel. How did you choose the title? What made you decide to tackle the subject you chose?

I’d always wanted to be a mother but failed. I’ve yearned for someone to call me Mummy, but it never happened. The cats haven’t even tried! Ialways wanted to write from the heart – tackling topics that meant something to me.

4) What was your research process like? Did any of the research surprise you at any point? Did you refer to it during the process of writing?

I didn’t have to do much research as I already had direct experience of feeling desperate for a child and fertility treatment that failed. I also know the locations in the book very well. I taught Zumba on the Andover Estate where Kim lives, and I taught fitness sessions at the Finsbury Park Mosque, where her friend Ayesha worships.

I did re-read press coverage of child abduction cases.

5) What does your writing process look like? Do you plot in detail? If not, why not?

Plotting – as in sitting down and having the structure before you start – feels totally alien to me. Some people have spreadsheets! Post-its on the wall! Colour-coded chapters! I have to lean into a story and feel that things happen organically. Sometimes I do know how I want it to end, but by the time I’ve got there, even that might change.

6) Lastly, do you use Scrivener or MS Word? Which do you prefer and why?

Word. I don’t know what Scrivener is without googling it. I’m not the most technical person. Head of Technology (he appointed himself) is my husband, Geoff.

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Tina. It has been a pleasure to interview you. I wish you all the best with your writing.

Bio: Tina was brought up in a caravan after her mother, a fairground traveller, fell pregnant by a window cleaner. After leaving the bright lights of Coalville, she came to London and worked as a journalist and broadcaster for thirty years. She’s probably best known as a television critic for the BBC and GMTV, but after so many hours watching soaps gave her a widescreen bum, she got off it, lost weight and won Celebrity Fit Club. When not writing she now works as a fitness instructor. She also rescues cats, whether they want to be rescued or not. Call Me Mummy is Tina’s first novel, partly inspired by her own unsuccessful attempts to have a child. Despite the grief and disappointment of that, she hasn’t stolen one. So far.

An Interview With… Jodie McNee

Hi everyone and this evening on the blog I’m delighted to welcome actress Jodie McNee. This is the first time I have interviewed an actress, and as I am a huge fan of Jodie’s work.

Having watched her as Angela in Criminal Justice as well as true crime dramas Anthony and Little Boy Blue – I was delighted when she agreed to come on the blog and answer some questions about her career highlights, what attracts her to a script and what she has been up to during lockdown.

Over to you, Jodie…

1) How did you first become to be involved in the industry? Was it something you always wanted to do? Did you have any other career plans?

I can’t remember what age it started, feels like I knew very early on that I loved it. I was such a shy child, but I just loved being on stage. I was really lucky because my mum and my teachers at school were so supportive and encouraged me to go into acting. I think I would’ve been a nurse if I hadn’t got into acting.

2) Your career has varied between television, film and theatre. Which of the three would you say is your favourite and why?

I love all three. Theatre is about a connection with the audience, and a sharing of ideas. Tv and film are very much about capturing truthful moments, I love being on a set and watching the other actors, witnessing their process. It’s all fascinating to me.

3) You played Jackie Carter in Little Boy Blue. How did you find the role and the research involved in preparing for the production?

Little Boy Blue was a privilege to be part of. It was a dramatisation of a real event, so it was a very delicate subject for Rhys’s loved ones and for the people of Liverpool, everyone involved felt a personal responsibility to tell the story truthfully and to do our absolute best.

Before we started I read up as much as I could about the case.
The director, producer and writer had been working together on the script for years, so it was intensely researched, all with the blessing of Rhys’s parents Mel and Steve.

4) When you read a script, what do you pay attention to in particular? Does the character leap off the page for you? What makes you think ‘Yes, I want to play this role!’?

I just have to connect to it, for me it’s a feeling rather than conscious thought, a gut feeling.

For example when I played Faustus last year, I read Chris Bush’s script and thought “I’ve got to play this part” because the writing was so wild, and clever I instantly fell in love with it.

It’s not always just the character that excites me, it can be the project as a whole, the subject or the writer or director that draws me in. It’s a collaborative process and that’s what I love most.

5) How did you find your current agent? Would you say the process is the same for a writer seeking representation? For example, a submission reel is the same as a sample of a manuscript?

You usually send your cv and showreel to the agent or if you’re in a show you can invite them along to see it.

6) How have you been coping during lockdown? As an actress, how has lockdown affected you?

I’ve been lucky enough to have some work during lockdown, which I am very grateful for because it’s been extremely difficult for so many in our industry, many freelancers have been overlooked and are struggling.

7) During the pandemic, what have you missed most about the day to day routine of your job?

I miss the collaboration and being part of a company.

8) Are you currently reading any books? Between fiction and non fiction, what is your favourite? Do you have a favourite genre?

I’m reading Women Who Run with Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I’m interested in lots of different genres.

9) During lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite programme that you watch religiously?

I watched Schitts Creek three times over because I’m obsessed with Moira Rose. I also watch a LOT of Four In A Bed and I’m currently watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race religiously.

10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury (Queen) or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Freddie Mercury! He’s an icon and an incredible talent.

Thank you for visiting the blog Jodie. Thank you very much for taking the time out for me and for being so accommodating. It has been a pleasure to interview you! 🙂

CV:

TELEVISION:
Britannia – 3 seasons (Willa)
Anthony (Nurse Susan Parr)
Agatha And The Death Of X (PC O’Hannauer) Vera (Natalie Bell)
Little Boy Blue (WPC Carter)
Ripper Street (Myrtle Waters)
Criminal Justice 2 (Angela)
Poirot (Annie)
The Liverpool Nativity (Mary)
Shane (Nurse)

THEATRE:
Unprecedented: Fear Fatigue (Beatrice) Faustus:That Damned Woman (Faustus) Venice Preserved (Belvidera)
Anatomy Of A Suicide (Jo/Laura/Lola) The Night Watch (Kay)
The Oak Tree (Actress)
Our Country’s Good (Liz Morden)
Game (Carly)
Three Winters (Alisa)
Hamlet (Rosencrantz./Second Grave Digger) Hobsons Choice (Maggie Hobson) Twelfth Night (Viola)
The Empty Quarter (Holly)
A Life Of Galileo (Virginia)
Orpheus Descending (Carol CutrereWritten On The Heart (Mary Currer) Measure For Measure (Isabella)
This Happy Breed (Vi)
Seagull (Masha)
When We Are Married (Ruby)
Canary (Melanie/Nurse/Sue the miners wife)
Knives In Hens (Young Woman) When We Are Married (Ruby) A Taste Of Honey (Jo)
Double Portrait
King Lear (Cordelia)
The Frontline (Polish Jodie)
Cymbeline (Imogen)
Jenufa (Jenufa)
Mother Courgae And Her Children (Kattrin) The Changeling (Isabella)
The Burial At Thebes

FILM:
Official Secrets (Duty Solicitor)
Judy (Vivian)
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool (Jessie)

The Physician (Agnes Cole)
Collider – Short (Melinda)
One Happy Moment – Short (Kasha)
A Picture Of Me (Sarah)

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