Interview with WriteNow Ambassador Abir Mukherjee – A Rising Author

Interview with rising British Asian author on diversity in writing, how he got published and his latest book

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To celebrate the launch of Penguin Random House’s WriteNow, we sat down with one of literature’s most promising new authors, Abir Mukherjee. As a British Asian author himself, Abir is a staunch supporter of the WriteNow scheme which encourages submissions from Brit Asians and minorities in a bid to bring more diversity to the UK’s publishing industry.

 

  1. Coming from a finance background, how did you get into writing?

Mine’s quite an unusual story. I always wanted to write, but coming from an Asian background, it’s often difficult to convince your parents that’s the thing you should be doing. I worked in corporate finance for about 20 years then decided I wanted something different so I started writing a crime novel. I got about 10,000 words in when I saw a competition being run by Harvill Secker, looking for new crime writers. They just wanted the first 5000 words and a two page synopsis for the rest of the book.

I thought ‘I’ve already done 10,000 words’ so I just tidied up the first 5000 and sent it away with two pages on the rest of the book. I didn’t hear anything for three months then out the blue I got an email telling me I’d won. They’d had about 430 entries and they’d chosen mine. But I didn’t really have a book at that point. I had around 30,000 words and they weren’t particularly good words, but with the help of Penguin Random House, over the next two years I worked very closely with one of their editors and their team and we turned that into a book which came out four months ago.

  1. You mentioned coming from an Asian background being an obstacle, what do you think the reason is for the lack of diversity in today’s literary industry?

I think there’s two main reasons for it. One is cultural, being second generation or third generation British Asians, our parents came from certain walks of life that didn’t look upon a career of writing as something that was first and foremost even possible. The community I’m from, Hindu Bengali, we’re very much into writing and appreciative of literary endeavors but even in my community, it was nothing that was thought of as a career in the UK. Firstly because there was no history of it. Secondly, it was all about establishing yourself first and that’s still the case today. There’s not enough role models and not enough people know how to get into writing and publishing.

The other side of the problem is the industry itself. It’s a very white middle class industry. Most of those working at the publishing house, most of the agents, are white middle class. When they look at what’s interesting and what they think there’s a market for, they’re coming at it from a very narrow dimension. They’re looking at it in terms of what they’re comfortable with and what they like. Something that might be outside of that narrow field, they may not feel there’s a market for.

There’s also the way they recruit people. The industry has been structured for too long where it’s white middle class people coming in via unpaid internships then going up the career ladder. It’s the same sort of people generation after generation who are choosing what gets published. WriteNow is hopefully part of the change on both of those things.Abir-mukherje-article-snippet-766x306

  1. That’s my next question. What is WriteNow and how does it tackle the problem?

I was really excited when Penguin Random House approached me because this is something that’s quite dear to my heart. Penguin Random House, the largest publisher in the UK, understands that there’s a problem and that they’re not publishing works that reflect British society. They’re not telling the stories of Asian people, black people, gay people and these stories needs to be told and there’s a market for these people. What they’re aiming to do is find unpublished writers from underrepresented backgrounds, so ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, writers with disability and help them into publishing spheres. So finding the right talent and helping them get published.

  1. What are you hoping the outcome will be?

I’d like to see a lot more stories from different backgrounds being told. I want to see more British Asian writers and more ethnic minority writers, I want to see more writers coming at things from different perspectives. I want to see writers with disabilities, I want to hear stories and see those stories published from all these different voices. The vast majority of what’s published today is very similar and people are crying out to hear new voices. They want new stories and hopefully that’s what will come out of this process.

  1. What are you tips for those looking to enter?

That’s a good question. My process was quite similar. I entered a competition just like this, I handed in a piece of writing that was assessed and was lucky enough to be given a publishing contract. I’d say tell the story you want to tell, tell the story you feel compelled to tell, the story that’s burning inside you. Don’t try and write something for the audience that you think you want to talk to or you think the audience is out there for. Write the story you want to tell because that will be the most genuine.

  1. Lastly, tell me a bit about your own book, A Rising Man.images

My book is about a British detective who goes to India after WW1. He teams up with an Indian Sargent and the first case they’re thrown into is the murder of a high ranking British civil servant in Calcutta. They find out all isn’t quite what it seems. It’s the first of a series that looks at that period of history between 1920 and Indian independence. I think that’s a period that we as the UK tend to brush under the carpet or look at through rose tinted specs.I think a good way of looking at that period is through the medium of a crime novel, a policeman solving crimes in that period and seeing all that background and seeing the real India.

 

For more information on WriteNow, check out this article or visit their website.

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