I have always had two favourite genres when it comes to reading – crime and horror.
As with most of my life of late, I came across ‘You Don’t Know Me’ Imran Mahmood’s debut novel via Twitter. I follow book bloggers for recommendations and this was one of them, I gave Imran a quick Google and was fascinated even further when I found out he was a barrister by day.
I couldn’t put this book down, set within the witness box over 11 days the story is that of a young man who has been convicted of murder. He claims he is innocent and after sacking his QC begins to proceed with his own closing statement.
The narrative of the book is his closing statement, in his own words and voice making it very realistic and that you’re listening to a young man from London with his language, tone, and slang trying to prove his innocence in front of the jury and his family.
Set in London, it speaks of the effects of gang culture through the eyes of the defendant, who throughout remains nameless, and how those from impoverished areas can get caught up in such a culture from a young age, for money reputation or sheer boredom.
Our defendant tries to steer clear of that life and yet somehow gets entangled with drugs, shootings and possible murder.
Of course like all good stories he’s doing all he did in the name of love and spills the beans to the jury of what led to his actions and the young mans death in question, including some illegal going on’s in the process of protecting his family and girlfriend, BUT we the reader (and jury) are only here to judge him based on the crime he’s been sent to jail for, does that make him less guilty considering everything else he’d done?
I asked Imran if he could clarify;
Guilty or not guilty?
As some defendant’s say in an interview when interviewed by police – No Comment!
Well, that didn’t exactly clear anything up! I asked Imran a few more questions on how the book came about;
The narrative is unique, where did the inspiration for the book come from?
I spend much of my time writing and delivering closing speeches to juries. When I do that, however, what I am doing is filtering the defendant’s story, his case, through my lens and translating it into language that I feel resonates most closely with the jury I am facing. The problem with that is that whilst I can bring clarity and persuasion (hopefully) to the defendant’s story, something is inevitably lost in translation. I wanted to see what it might be like if a defendant who had the skills to persuade and had some clarity of thought, did his own speech. What would be the challenges he would face? How would he be able to overcome them? How would we as the jury react to him telling us in lingua franca everything we needed to know. Would we dismiss him or would the human being in fact show through more clearly and compel us to hear him out?
A barrister by day, how did you find your experience writing your first novel?
I wrote this novel because I wanted people to share the high drama of a court case and the realities of the system – the high points and the lows! I wanted to give a reader the experience of being on a jury and to help them see how hard it is. How the dilemmas are tangible and difficult to easily resolve. I found the process very difficult at times. Writing is a pretty full-on and sometimes immersive experience. It takes time and more than that it takes space – space to think about characters and to develop stories. When you have a full-time job it is sometimes hard to find that time and space. On the other hand, the wider process has been extremely fulfilling and I have met people and enjoyed experiences like being on the radio that I would never have dreamed of being able to.
The defendant wasn’t named in the book, I’m assuming deliberately, can you explain a little as to the thought behind this?
Over the years I have met many hundreds of people charged with crimes. Many of them innocent, some guilty and some in relation to which no verdicts could be agreed. I wanted the defendant in my novel to represent a kind of criminal justice everyman. He is a composite of so many different people and it seemed to me to do an injustice, in a strange way, to name him, when so many others don’t feel as if they have had a chance to be heard. I also wanted the reader to treat him as a blank canvass. He has a story to tell and I didn’t want the reader to be distracted in any way by whatever preconceptions they might bring to the character’s predicament
As an Asian author did you find any challenges/difficulties in getting your book published?
There are not many Asian crime writers but the ones there are on the whole very talented. Abir Mukerjee has won prizes for his work, Vaseem Khan, who is a kind of forefather figure for me in crime has written numbers of fabulous books. A. A Dhand is a Bradford born and bred hard-boiled crime writer of the new breed along with Alex Caan who both write in a way that I have never seen done as well. They have all done brilliantly well because more than anything else they can write. But they have faced higher hurdles and barriers to entry than perhaps other non-minority authors. The old adage is true. You have to be better than everyone else. And as a minority author, you have a responsibility to discharge because it’s your job to begin the job of helping to create a cultural landscape that reflects the (major) minority lives that are currently under-represented in literature. Was it hard for me? As it happens it wasn’t. Whether that was because I was lucky or because I had a good story to tell remains to be seen!
The MS for the next offering is with my agent and getting ready for submissions to publishers. Keep your fingers crossed.
You Don’t Know Me is available for purchase online or in store.
One I would definitely recommend!
Happy reading xo