Bradford Literature Festival – a testament to two unique entrepreneurs

 

My first visit to the Bradford Literary Festival (located, for those of you not intimate with British geography, in the picturesque English region of Yorkshire) has stayed with me long after the dazzling colours, sights, and sounds of the event have receded. The festival, a ten-day extravaganza that brings in tens of thousands of people – of all feathers and from all walks of life – with a shared love of the arts, has become one of Britain’s largest such gatherings. The hundreds of events, including some 300 speakers, presenters, authors, artists, actors, poets, dancers, and singers, have something for everyone. I myself – in between participating in my own panel session – managed to attend a terrific range of talks, including traditional ‘author’ fireside chats, but also an illuminating academic disquisition on the ongoing Israel-Palestine situation looking at possible solutions.

The brainchildren (is that a word?) behind this unique carnival of the arts are Syima Aslam and Irna Qureshi (pictured with me below). The pair are described on the festival’s website as “self-confessed book worm Syima Aslam and filmophile Irna Qureshi”. Speaking with them at one of the regular evening gatherings – where Irma insisted that I try yet another of the fabulous deserts on offer at My Lahore, the restaurant reserved for presenters during the event – I was gently dazzled by the charm and grace of these two ladies. Having organised events myself I know full well the degree of effort, dedication, and bloodymindedness it takes to pull off even the simplest such occasion. To organise a tour de force such as the BLF takes a particular clarity of vision, and, I suspect, a willingness to sacrifice one’s desire for a peaceful life!

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The event has plenty for purists – talks by some of the biggest names in literature and the arts – but at the same time isn’t shy of taking on ‘tough’ topics, of tackling thorny political matters, and wearing its avant-garde credentials on its sleeve. Multiculturalism is at once lauded and dissected. Feminism is given a seat at the table. Modern forms of the written and spoken word are not consigned to the margins, but placed right up front to encourage ‘a wider conversation’. Syima and Irma are saying to us all: here is what contemporary really means. Don’t be afraid to get your feet wet.

My personal highlights? Firstly, I was delighted to speak as part of a four-person panel on “The Secrets of Crime Writing’ with fellow authors AA Dhand, Abir Mukherjee, and Alex Caan. The audience was boisterous, and engaged, and hopefully left a little bit more inspired than when they came in. Secondly, meeting Booker-prize winning novelist Ben Okri (complete with signature black beret) over dinner. I adore literary fiction and Okri’s The Famished Road is an old favourite. I even managed to convince Ben to help me get into the Authors Eleven – a cricket team of ribald repute for the scribes amongst us. And, lastly, visiting the city of Bradford, a place that I had never previously been to. Experiencing this resurgent city, with its richly diverse community, and its commitment to pioneering its own brand of cultural unity, was one of the more memorable experiences in my recent literary calendar.

Long may the festival continue, and long may our two entrepreneurs continue to reign over it.

Independent Bookshop Week – why buying local can make you happy

Over the past three years since the launch of my first book, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra (book 1 in the Times bestselling Baby Ganesh detective agency series, about a Mumbai policeman investigating a murder, whilst grappling with the surreal dilemma of an inherited baby elephant) I have visited and spoken at numerous independent bookshops around the country. What has struck me has been the wonderful stories that have brought the owners and staff of these shops to their calling.

For many it was serendipity, a chance twist of fate that gave them the opportunity to follow a dream. For others it was a linear progression from book lover to bookstore summer job to book emporium colossus. Of course, the glue that binds all of these rebels-with-a-cause together – and binds them to the authors whose works fill their shops – is the love of literature.

Book selling in the world of the independent is no easy task.

Margins are wafer thin, hours are often long, sales are rarely predictable. And yet, as I talked to these intrepid entrepreneurs – about my books, literature, their dogs, the price of fish, and the arcane art of book selling – I realised that there was something else that they all had in common … they were happy! They were happy because they awoke each morning to the knowledge that they would spend another day in the company of books. They were happy because they had the opportunity to make others happy – their customers.

I am certainly not against online sellers or large bookstore chains (most authors understand that they are just as vital to the modern book ecosystem; and I, along with innumerable authors, have certainly benefited from their support) but there is something special about browsing through a local bookshop, a place where, like that old bar from Cheers, “everybody knows your name”. In such a magical setting, anything can happen. Coming across, by sheer serendipity, a book you hadn’t even considered buying. Meeting a fellow admirer of a particular author, and engaging in a passionate conversation about their latest offering. A quiet nook where you might sit and read, disturbed only by the sound of the little bell above the door jangling as another stalwart wanders in, shakes off the rain, and greets the owner with hearty bonhomie.

Admittedly, this vision of the local bookshop might seem a little rose-tinted, but I assure you it is not too far from the truth. Recently, I took cupcakes along to my local store, which has been around forever. I was born less than a mile from the shop, have grown up with it. The store has been a constant in a place that has changed beyond recognition in the past forty odd years.

And there are many other practical reasons why we need indie bookshops to not only survive, but thrive. Without indies many books would simply not be published. Indie bookshops drive sales in niche titles, hand-selling to customers they have spent years building relationships with. Without indies many new writers would struggle to find a voice; and mid-list authors would find themselves doomed to extinction, perhaps feted one day by a moist-eyed and faintly accusing David Attenborough. In a time of declining literacy, indies offer a friendly local environment that can serve to bring along reluctant readers of all ages. Economic theory tells us that the book industry as a whole benefits from the variety and reach provided by this network of sellers, expanding the total market of readers.

One incident stays with me. At a particular shop, I was astounded to see a panicked customer charging in, in dire need of a birthday gift for his other half. ‘Leave it to me’, the store owner said authoritatively. ‘I know her tastes.’ Needless to say a recommendation was swiftly forthcoming invoking a sigh of relief from our customer. It is this bond between indie bookseller and reader that leads to me believe that whatever the doom-mongers may predict, the little bookshop around the corner will be around for a good while yet.

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Jewel Heists – the Crown Jewels of Crime Fiction

In my latest novel The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown, book 2 in the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series, Inspector Ashwin Chopra (Retd) is on the trail of the legendary Koh-i-noor diamond, aided by his sidekick, one-year-old baby elephant Ganesha.

Alongside the paperback publication of the novel I wrote a piece for the Shots Crime and Thriller E-Zine looking at how jewel heists have featured in fiction over the years. You can read the article by clicking here

In the meantime the books are conspicuously visible in Waterstones and WHSmiths across the land …

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Literary festivals – my trip to the Emirates Lit Fest in Dubai

 

Literary festivals are an important part of every author’s life. Since being published two years ago, I have spoken at many such festivals, and, all in all, have enjoyed them immensely. I love the interaction with readers, and, because I am comfortable speaking publicly, I also feel the audience gets something out of my colourful descriptions of life in India and the back story behind my books. Recently I attended the Emirates Literary Festival in Dubai. Click here to read a piece I wrote for their blog describing a very special event.

Competition to find Newham’s next writing star

Bestselling authors Vaseem Khan, Barbara Nadel, and Abir Mukherjee are looking for Newham’s next writing star. Newham resident Vaseem Khan waited 23 years for his first book to be published. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra – a charming crime novel set in India and featuring a baby elephant – went on to become a 2015 Times bestseller, and launched Vaseem to the front ranks of British crime fiction. Working with Newham’s Manor Park Library he is inviting budding authors, young and old, to enter a writing competition. “Publishing has long suffered from being a closed shop,” says Vaseem, who is published by Hodder, one of the world’s biggest publishers. ‘But things are changing fast. There is increased room for diverse new voices. People living in communities such as Newham bring colour and stories from all over the world – there is a new appetite in the publishing industry for this sort of work.”

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Barbara Nadel, author of 28 novels and the bestselling Cetin Ikmen series set in Turkey, will be judging entries and presenting the winners at Manor Park Library on the 25th of April at 6pm (put the date in your diary!). She says “My own career shows that anyone from any kind of background can get published and build a strong, loyal readership”. Her latest book The House of Four marks the nineteenth in the Ikmen series.

Abir Mukherjee, whose first book A Rising Man was named The Sunday Times Crime Book of the Month, has been helping Vaseem run a creative writing course at Manor Park library. His journey to publishing is particularly apt. He won the Telegraph Harvill Secker Crime Writing Competition 2014. “I’d always wanted to write a book but never had the confidence,’ says Abir. “Then one morning I saw an interview with Lee Child where he talked about how, at the age of forty, he started writing, and I thought why not? I didn’t expect to win, so it was a complete surprise when I was told that my book was going to be published.”

All three authors explore foreign cultures in their work, but at the same time are rooted to the region in which they grew up. Now they want to encourage other local residents to take the next step. Happy writing!

How to enter

The competition is open to all residents of Newham, London

There are two categories of entry: Adult fiction and Young adult/Children’s fiction

Prizes: £50 to the winner of each category plus a book bundle

Entries can be short stories or the first chapter(s) in a novel

Maximum word limit: 3000 words

Format of entry will be: Computer typed PDF document, double spaced, stating the title of your work, your name, and contact details including email address on the first page.

All entries should be emailed to: CN.Manorpark@newham.gov.uk

Deadline for entries is: 31st March 2017

A hello to my German readers … in German!

An Alle Leser von “Ein Elefant für Inspector Chopra…”

Erst einmal möchte ich mich entschuldigen, da ich leider kein Deutsch spreche und ich habe deshalb meinen Freund gebeten, die folgenden Worte für mich zu übersetzen: german-cover

Ich bin sehr erfreut, dass Ullstein Buchverlage mein Buch auf Deutsch veröffentlicht hat. Mein Buch wurde bisher in vielen Sprachen übersetzt und ich frage mich immer, wie unterschiedlich das Buch in den verschiedenen Ländern ankommt.

Ich hoffe sehr, dass euch das Lesen genau so viel Spass bereitet hat wie mir das Schreiben. Mein Ziel war es den Leser auf eine Reise ins Herz des modernen Indiens zu führen, um ihnen einen Einblick zu gewähren – wie Indien aussieht, wonach es sich anhört, riecht oder sogar schmeckt. Ich habe in Indien zehn wundervolle Jahre verbracht – die besten meines Lebens – und ich kann sagen, dass Indien ein Land der vielen Gegensätze ist. Es gibt das alte Indien mit seinen Tausenden von Jahren Geschichte, angefangen von der alten Indus-Tal-Zivilisation über das Mogul-Reich bis hin zum britischen Raj. Da ist aber auch das moderne und globale Indien mit seinen luxuriösen Einkaufszentren und der glamourösen Bollywood Filmindustrie.

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Indien hat sich schnell entwickelt, trotzdem leidet es jedoch immer noch an alten Problemen, wie z.B. Armut oder Korruption. In meiner Buchserie  habe ich versucht, diese farbenfrohe Kulisse von “altes versus neues Indien” zum Leben zu bringen. Gleichzeitig handelt dieses Buch von einem Mann und seinen Elefanten. Inspektor Chopra erbt einen kleinen Elefanten und muss herausfinden, wie er sich sich in einer belebten, überfüllten Stadt wie Mumbai, die eine Bevölkerung von zwanzig Millionen hat, um den Elefanten kümmern kann. Zur gleichen Zeit muss er einen mysteriösen Fall lösen – den Mord an einen armen Jungen – welchen niemand gelöst haben möchte.

Ich weiss nicht viel über Elefanten in Deutschland, aber ich vermute, dass sie dort genau so populär sind wie überall sonst auf der Welt. Ich habe eine Leidenschaft für diese unglaublichen Lebewesen und so dachte ich, dass es interessant wäre, einen Elefanten in den Fall miteinzubeziehen. In vielerlei Hinsicht besitzen Elefanten alle Qualitäten der besten Detektive. Sie sind sehr intelligent, und haben ein erstaunliches Gedächtnis – das ist sogar wissenschaftlich belegt – Elefanten vergessen wirklich nichts! Sie verfügen auch über sehr viele Emotionen, was für mich wichtig ist, weil ein großer Teil des Humors in meinem Buch aus der Beziehung zwischen Inspektor Chopra, einem sehr ernsten Polizisten und dem Baby-Elefanten kommt, um den er sich kümmern muss. Als ich noch ein Junge war, las ich Emil und die Detektive, eines meiner ersten Krimis und Bücher über Deutschland. Ich frage mich, wie Emil es gefunden hätte, einen kleinen Elefanten zu haben, der ihm dabei hilft sein gestohlenes Geld zurückzuholen!

Ich wünsche Ihnen alles Gute!

Mit freundlichen Grüßen,

Vaseem, London

An Elephant in the Desert

In March 2017 I will travel to Dubai to participate in my first international literary festival. It’s the first time I have been to Dubai, and I am looking forward to it tremendously. However, the agenda is packed, and I am expected to participate on panels, solo talks, reader events, news interviews, blogs, and even a talk at a local school. All of which is exciting and worthwhile, both in terms of promoting my books but also simply as someone who loves connecting with new cultures, new people, especially those who love the written word. This festival – the Emirates Airline Literature Festival – is one of the best funded, and most well-organised such events in the world. I am delighted to be invited, and hope to deliver some terrific talks. Click here to read a blog piece I wrote for the festival – An Elephant in the Desert

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