in London for over 20 years and regularly appears in jury trials across the country dealing in serious and complex criminal cases.
He now lives in South East London with his wife and is currently plotting a second novel. You can follow Imran on Twitter here
Firstly huge congratulations on the incredible success of your debut novel You Don’t Know Me which as you know I read and LOVED. Can you please tell my readers more about the book and what the inspiration behind it is?
This is crime novel that puts the reader in the jury box. The defendant is a young guy on trial for murder. He sacks his QC just before closing speeches because he wants the jury to know the ‘whole truth’ as he sees it and the QC thinks it’s too dangerous. The defendant then does the closing speech himself and in it he tells his story directly to the reader and explains why despite the evidence he is not guilty of murder and how the evidence can all be explained away if only the jury could step into his shoes a while.
Can you tell us your journey from the original idea of the book to actually being published and any advice for aspiring authors out there?
I was very lucky in many ways. I sent 50 pages of the MS out to a few agents and all of them got back to me really swiftly. I very quickly picked the brilliant Camilla Wray from Darley Anderson as my lit agent. She really understood what I was trying to do with the book and she is just an amazing agent (and editor actually). So the first bit of advice would be to get a good agent that understands your vision and who can really champion your book. The next stage involves putting, with the agent’s help, the MS into shape for submission to the publishers. Once the publishers accept it, they usually do their own edits, a structural edit followed by a copy edit and finally there’s a proof edit!. So the whole journey from laptop to hardback took something like 5 years. The best advice I can give if I am qualified to give any advice, is to say finish the first draft and then if you believe in your book put everything you can behind it – (not money!). And be patient
The book has received some incredible reviews from Lee Childs, Tim Weaver, several newspapers and was chosen by The BBC Radio 2 Book Club. How are you dealing with the success and incredible support you’ve received since the book has been published?
I have been so lucky. My agent is fantastic. My publishers are incredible (Michael Joseph at Penguin Random House). However ,the book is truthfully a collaboration so I am really grateful and thrilled at every bit of success but ultimately I don’t count it as my success but rather a shared success between myself and everyone behind the scenes involved in bring the book into the world. You would not believe how many people are directly involved in producing a book, from the agents, to the editors, the publicists, the marketing people, sales people, and that’s not even mentioning the bloggers who do such a lot of hard work that often goes unrecognised.
The portrayal of gang life in the book is both absorbing and heartbreaking. What research did you do to convey such realistic social circumstances that led to the characters’ choices and how true to life it is… and whether there really are these beautiful eloquent people getting sucked into gangs for life?
My research was really conducted over the course of my professional career over 25 years odd. I have met hundreds if not thousands of young men and women caught up in the criminal justice system. Some guilty, some innocent but all of them with individual stories and rich and varied lives. And yes there are a few of those beautifully eloquent people. I have met lyricists, rappers and even unlikely poets in my time and they all taught me that intelligence is measured by more than education and character by more than one’s upbringing. And the problem of gangs is a reality in London and in many other cities. I see all the time how the gang preys on the weak and most vulnerable and how they spring up in the vacuum of social and educational deprivation. I see also the pull they have on the young and impressionable. And occasionally I am lucky enough to see those few who power their way through and break out of the gravitational pull of the gang and eventually float free.
Was there a particular message you wanted to share in the book?
The books deals with a lot of big themes from racism, to access to justice and from the nature of truth to the nature of narrative. But the stand out message I wanted to share was about the dividing line between morality and legality and to ask the question whether in some circumstance, morality and moral innocence outweighs legal guilt and what those circumstances might be. I want to ask about moral responsibility and whether it is a constant or whether it shifts according to a person’s experience
In the book you never discuss the defendant’s name, but when Hollywood come knocking (which I am sure they will) and want to turn this into a film – who would you like to play the young man?
That’s such a cool question. Who knows. I usually answer this by saying that the young black guy HAS to be played by Tom Cruise!
But seriously I would say maybe John Boyega? Or maybe Drake – I gather he wants to try his hand at acting! Also not to forget the brilliant Adam Deacon who has narrated the audio so perfectly. Or Doc Brown. Or Idrs. Idris would be great – if a little old. But he could carry it off!
You are currently writing “BOOK TWO” can you tell us anything about it yet?
I can tell you the themes are similar. It is a voice driven novel based on fact and deals with some similar themes. And involves a pretty gruesome set of murders. I mean really horrible.
Do you read much yourself and if so, what books have you read in the last 12 months that you loved?
Oh so many! I LOVED Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. This is a novel of perfection in my view. Writers who read her wish they could write like her. Me included.
I loved Tim Weaver’s new one I AM MISSING – he’s a real class act
I’ve been reading a lot debut authors too Ali Land, Gillian McAlistair, Nicolas Obregon and currently reading CJ Tudor’s Chalk Man – there’s so much great new talent out there.
In real life you are a Criminal Defence Barrister with over 20 years experience in the Crown Court and Court of Appeal and you have been involved in some pretty disturbing cases – how do you switch off and what do you do to relax?
Weirdly I relax by teaching advocacy to new recruits. I also love to paint. Most of all I love to make things for my sub 2 year old (toy boxes, little tables and chairs that kind of thing). My ideal way to relax though is to be on holiday somewhere hot with my wife and daughter. Near a pool!
Finally, would you mind doing a quick fire round of questions so my readers can get to know the real you.
A. Do you snore while sleeping?
No. Unless you ask my wife. Then, sometimes. Actually I once snored so loudly I woke myself up
B. What is your favourite month of the year?
It was July. Then it was November. Now it’s September
C. What is your dream car?
I have to be allowed a few! The ’58 Aston Martin DB4, Ferrari Dino, Something V8 like a ’68 Pontiac GTO. And then a run around – lets say a
D. Do you prefer cats or dogs?
If they’re not mine Dogs
E. You can have one superpower – and only one. What is it, and why did you pick it?
My superpower would be – Time Travel. I would go into the future to see what the iPhone 36s looks like.
You Don’t Know Me by Imran Mahmood is available to buy now. Here is my review.