In less than two weeks, I will be attending my very first Bloody Scotland event. I have heard so many great things about the event so was super excited when I managed to organise being able to go. So if you are going please do say hello.
For my stop I am delighted to share with you a Q&A with author Abir Mukherjee.
Abir Mukherjee grew up in the West of Scotland. At the age of fifteen, his best friend made him read Gorky Park and he’s been a fan of crime fiction ever since. The child of immigrants from India, A Rising Man, his debut novel, was inspired by a desire to learn more about this crucial period in Anglo-Indian history that seems to have been almost forgotten. It won the Harvill Secker/Daily Telegraph crime writing competition and became the first in a series starring Captain Sam Wyndham and ‘Surrender-not’ Banerjee. Abir lives in London with his wife and two sons.
Hi Abir and many thanks for joining me on my blog today. Was writing a novel something you have always aspired to do?
Hi Sarah. It’s a pleasure to be on your blog. I’d always wanted to write a novel but for many years I just didn’t have the determination or the confidence to see it through. Several times I’d start a novel and five thousand words in, I’d either find myself caught up in work or family matters or make the mistake of reading what I’d written and fear that it was no good. Then at the age of thirty nine, I saw an interview with Lee Child where he said he’d started writing at forty and I decided I had to give it a real go and I began writing the first ten thousand words of what would become my debut novel, A Rising Man. I might have given up again had it not been for spotting a crime fiction writing competition in a national newspaper which was looking for new writers. I submitted the first few chapters and a few months later was lucky enough to win. The rest is history.
How supportive were your friends and family of your decision to become a writer?
On the whole my friends and family have been overwhelmingly supportive. My parents were slightly concerned that I might be taking a leap in the dark but they were generally okay with it. My wife has been my true strength. In many ways it’s been toughest on her. We have a young family and she’s had to take up the slack while I’ve been working on the novels at nights and weekends in the library when I should be spending more time with her and the kids.
Is there any authors in particular that have inspired you and if so why?
There are a number of authors whose works I look out for and will buy as soon as they hit the shelves. Top of this list has to be Ian Rankin – I’m a huge Rebus fan, but I love the stand-alone novels too.
In terms of inspiration, I’ve always been fascinated by the predicament of a good man upholding a corrupt or evil system. To that end, I adore the works of Philip Kerr, Martin Cruz Smith and Robert Harris, all three of whom write novels shot through with wit and an intelligence. I also love the hard-boiled gumshoes of American crime fiction, and like so many others, I’m a great fan of Raymond Chandler.
Then there are the authors who’ve helped me develop from a budding novice to a fully fledged author. I could reel off a long list here, but I need to make special mention of Val McDermid, who’s been a real source of inspiration to me and, I’m proud to say has become a good friend.
Finally, and in a special category, there’s William McIlvanney, whose Scottish detective, Laidlaw, is a fantastic creation. I think McIlvanney was a true genius.
Obviously you will be attending Bloody Scotland this year, how important do you think it is for authors as well as readers to attend events like these?
One of the things you’ll notice from the Bloody Scotland programme is the sheer range of authors attending, from some of the biggest names in the industry to new and exciting debuts. This tells you just how important such events are to us. It’s a chance, not only to bring your work to the attention of new readers, but to connect with fans and other writers who’ve become friends over the years. Writing can be a solitary business but the wider crime fiction community, both writers and readers, form a sort of extended family, and I always find it energising to be around so many like-minded people.
Can you tell us a bit more about what a normal writing day for you is like?
To be honest, it’s not easy finding the time. I still work full time and have a wife and two young children, which means writing has to take a back seat to work pressures and family time. Luckily, my wife is very understanding and helps me to make the time. Generally I end up writing at weekends or late at night, snatching an hour or two here and there, and weekends in the library, though I tend to be thinking of plots and stories almost all of the time.
What would your dream office/writing space be like?
Wow, that’s a brilliant question. I suppose it would be a quiet place in a warm climate. Maybe a room lined with books but opening out onto a view of a tropical beach. There’s a risk, though, that I’d spend most of my time staring out of the window rather than writing.
What made you decide to write in the crime genre?
I read widely, but crime fiction has always been a bit special to me. It’s the genre that I tend to enjoy most, I think possibly because it can be so diverse, ranging from cosy crime through to the gritty, hard-boiled stuff. Within that spectrum lies the crime novel as social commentary, a sub-genre which Scottish writers such as William McIlvanney, Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and Denise Mina among others have been at the forefront of. So when it came to writing my novels dealing with the social and political consequences of the Raj, both on the Indians and the British, the crime novel seemed the natural choice.
For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of reading your books, can you tell us a bit more about Sam Wyndham, the protagonist from your series?
Life’s not exactly done Sam many favours. He’s an ex-Scotland Yard detective and veteran of the First World War who has been scarred by his experiences and finds himself in Calcutta looking for a fresh start.
Like anyone else, Sam’s a product of his experiences. He’s always been an outsider, but what he saw during the Great War – the carnage, the futility and the ineptitude of those in authority – has left him cynical. He likes to think he sees the world for what it is, rather than blindly swallowing other people’s preconceptions and prejudices, and in this sense, he is a man of the modern age, and a man with a conscience. But I don’t think he’s as ‘modern’ as he likes to think he is. In truth, his unwillingness to accept what he’s told is as much down to his general stubbornness and distrust of authority as it is to any sense of open-mindedness, and despite his protestations to the contrary, I think there are certain racial taboos he’s not willing to break.
He has a rather dark, gallows sense of humour which colours his outlook on life, and I think that’s a reaction to what he’s been through. He’s come to see the world as a rather cruel, arbitrary place where any search for meaning or justice is absurd and ultimately futile. If he has a philosophy, it would be similar to Kierkegaard, not that Sam would ever have read any of the man’s work.
Finally, I think Sam’s come to India to find something. He doesn’t know what it is, and I don’t know if he’ll ever find it, but it’ll be an interesting to see where it goes and I’m looking forward to the journey.
Where do you get inspiration from for the crimes you feature in your novels?
My inspiration normally comes from the research that I do. Sometimes the whole idea for the plot comes out of the research. I knew I wanted to set my second novel, A Necessary Evil, in one of the Indian princely states, so I began reading as much as I could about them. As part of my research, I came across the story of the Begums of Bhopal, Muslim queens who ruled the kingdom of Bhopal for most of the period between 1819 and 1926, despite staunch opposition from powerful neighbours and male claimants. The British East India Company also opposed female rule in Bhopal until the Begums quoted Queen Victoria as their model and inspiration.
As I researched the period, I found that these women, and others like them in other kingdoms, seem to have been very influential and somewhat forgotten by history. Often, while the maharajahs became debauched, it was the maharanis and princesses who became the true keepers of the traditions of the kingdoms. I found this fascinating and wanted to make it a part of my story.
Finally, what are you currently working on at the moment and what else can readers look forward to from you in the future?
I am currently writing the fourth book in the Sam Wyndham series. This one is partly set in Eastern India in 1922 but is slightly different from the others in that part of it is set outside India, covering some of Sam’s early life as a policeman in London in 1905. The reason for this is that one of the major issues of discussion currently in the UK, as in Germany, is immigration. Indeed it can be argued that the main factor behind the vote for Brexit was a concern over uncontrolled immigration. However, the truth is that Britain has a very good history of welcoming immigrants and, just as importantly, of offering them the opportunity to progress in life and to integrate into wider British society. It struck me that the debates that we are currently having over Muslim immigration to the UK are almost identical to the debate that raged at the beginning of the twentieth century over Jewish immigration from East Europe. Those immigrants settled in the same streets in East London and carried out the same jobs as Bangladeshi immigrants do today, and the same newspapers raised many of the same concerns – that these people didn’t speak the language and worshipped a different god – and yet, within fifty years, the Jewish community became completely integrated into British society whilst maintaining their own cultural identity. The same is happening with the Hindu and Sikh communities in the UK. It may take longer with the muslim communities, but this is more a matter of their working class origins than any other factor. I would be happy to bet that in fifty years, they will be as integrated as the Jewish community is today. I wanted to set part of the book in the Jewish East End of London to show readers that, if our history is anything to go by, we should be optimistic about the future of race relations.
You can find out more about the author and his books over on Amazon.
Bloody Scotland established itself as the leading Scottish International Crime Writing Festival in 2012 with acclaimed writers Lin Anderson and Alex Gray at the helm, then joined by Craig Robertson and Gordon Brown. Based in Stirling, Bloody Scotland has brought hundreds of crime writers new and established to the stage with always enthusiastic attendees who make the festival every bit as much as the writers do.
Priding ourselves as the literary festival where you can let down your hair and enjoy a drink at the bar with your favourite crime writer, we strive to put on entertaining as well as informative events during a weekend in September, covering a range of criminal subjects from fictional forensics, psychological thrillers, tartan noir, cosy crime and many more. With an international focus at the heart of Bloody Scotland, we are always looking to bring in crime writing talent from outside of Scotland whom you may not have heard about. You might, however, knows us for our annual Scotland vs England football cup which always draws a crowd and inevitably ends in tears for someone…
The Bloody Scotland Team 2018: Lin Anderson, Gordon Brown, Craig Robertson, Jenny Brown, Muriel Binnie, Catriona Reynolds, Bob McDevitt, Laura Jones, Abir Mukherjee, Fiona Brownlee & Tim Donald