When History Brings Time to a Standstill…

As a writer, I spend an inordinate (some might say unhealthy) amount of time engaged in ‘research’: skimming through books, the Internet, old documents, social media archives, and ‘living’ memories. Every now and again, whilst engaged in this process, a particular fact or image strikes me with unexpected force, causing me to step back and take a moment. 

I stumbled across the below photograph while researching the India of the late 40s and early 50s for Midnight at Malabar House, the first in my new historical crime series. I found myself stopping, and gazing at this young woman, struck by a profound sense of mystery, in the wake of which followed a set of questions. 

Who is she? What is she thinking? What is it about her that has made me pause?

The answer to the last of these questions is, for me, at least, the sense of incongruity broadcast by the photograph. Here is an Indian woman, dressed in traditional north-Indian garb, but holding a very European instrument: a tennis racquet. Like cricket, tennis is not a game native to the subcontinent; it was another colonial sporting pursuit brought over by the British to make them feel a little more at home in a very alien environment. (Unlike cricket, tennis remains a largely marginal sport on the subcontinent, despite the occasional Indian star making a splash in professional tennis circles.) 

At the time, only the middle to upper-middle classes would have had the means to indulge in the game. The racquet, in essence, tells me something about the socioeconomic circles within which this woman moved, and that, in turn allows me to hazard a guess at her upbringing, her schooling, her lifestyle. In other words, the assumptions I make (which I admit, might be wrong) allow me to bring this woman to life, if only as a semi-fictional character drawn on the canvas of my imagination. 

There is something else about her that drew my eye – an almost palpable sense of insolence. 

The India of the late 40s was a country coming to terms with the end of the Raj and the advent of Indian Independence in 1947. On the one hand, India had every right to a sense of accomplishment, having ousted the British, and thrown off the colonial yoke. On the other hand, this was an incredibly fractious time: social, economic, religious, and political turmoil wracked the country. The Partition riots had seen two million dead and a lingering animosity between Muslims on the one side, and Hindus and Sikhs on the other. Prime Minister Nehru, following Gandhi’s assassination, had taken the reins and was wrestling with the country’s economic future.

Many Indians were struggling to adapt to the new reality, and to reimagine their own identity now that the British were no longer around to trammel their sense of self-expression. 

That, I suppose, it what I see most in this woman. 

An Indian unafraid of the future. 

In a very real sense, the persona that I projected onto her became the catalyst for me to think about the role of women in the India of this period, a paternalistic and often misogynistic society. Unearthing the exploits of women who went against the prevailing order, those female pioneers who refused to tow the line, led me to examine the fortunes of one Shanti Parwani, India’s first female Inspector of police. 

And that, in turn, led me to conjure up Persis Wadia, the protagonist of my Malabar House series. 

Trawling through history is a highly rewarding endeavour, yet the sheer wealth of material can sometimes make it feel like battling through whitewater rapids, constantly assailed by the churn of information. But, every once in a while, a single fact or image will arrest time, history will stare you in the face, and challenge you to fill in the blanks. 

From such moments is inspiration born.

If you’d like to keep up to date with what I’m up to next, I send out an email newsletter every three months which contains updates on book releases, articles, competitions, giveaways, and lots of other interesting stuff. If interested, registering takes a few seconds here 

My latest novel is Midnight at Malabar House. Available from bookshops big and small and online, including here.

Cultural appropriation: why people need to get a grip

Earlier this week, the Internet went into meltdown because pop icon Adele had her hair braided into Bantu knots, a traditional African hairstyle. Accusing her of ‘cultural appropriation’, hordes of the rabid Outraged took to Twitter to vent their spleen, while others leapt to her defence.

Who was right? What the hell is ‘cultural appropriation’ anyway? And why should we care?

Cultural appropriation has become such a politically charged term, and so subjective in its interpretation, that even debating the validity of its meaning risks drawing down the ire of the mob. Nevertheless, I find myself unable to stand on the sidelines – I want to address this issue – and I fully accept that this is my own take on the matter. I have a personal stake in the outcome. In the publishing world, a debate currently rages that speaks to the very heart of what it means to be an author, a debate that seeks to set boundaries on our imaginations within the context of cultural identity.

When we talk about cultural appropriation, what we really mean is cultural misappropriation: the adoption of elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity in a way that is deemed to cause offence. It particularly becomes an issue when the culture engaging in the alleged misappropriation has historically disadvantaged the culture from which it is appropriating. The trouble is that the lines are not only blurred but continually being redrawn as to what might be perceived as offensive.

Some examples.

The Washington Redskins football team has, after years of petitioning, finally agreed to change its name and logo – that of a Native American in feathered headdress. The logo was deemed racist by many in the Native American population, understandably so, given their fraught history with white colonisers.

Blackface is another relatively clear-cut example of cultural misappropriation.

In general, dressing up as ethnic stereotypes, especially in an attempt to ridicule or parody, is a no-no.

Recently, several actors have been criticised for taking on roles outside of their culture. I’m certain Scarlett Johansson intended no offence when portraying an iconic Japanese character in Ghost in the Shell, yet offence was taken. In this instance, historical context is important, given that her casting followed a long line of such perceived slights by Hollywood. In the 1930s, white Swedish-American actor Warner Oland played a Chinese detective named Charlie Chan in no less than sixteen films. In the fifties, John Wayne was given a truly awful makeover to play Genghis Khan. To our modern eyes these images are clearly insensitive, but the truth is that they were disquieting even then, symptomatic of both a cultural and power inequality in Hollywood – and the world at large.

Having said all this, I remain firmly behind the idea that authors – and creative artists, in general – should be allowed to express themselves beyond the bounds of the culture into which they were born. To not have that right would mean that could never pen a novel populated by white protagonists. I could never set a story in exotic climes, or at least those cultural settings deemed outside of my subcontinental heritage.

But who is drawing the lines here? Who is in charge of what is and isn’t permissible – culturally speaking – for a particular individual or situation? Can sporting a particular hairstyle really cause such terrible offence? Has the worldwide adoption of hip-hop music been detrimental or helpful to the black inner city communities within which it originated? When non-black artists perform such music are they insulting or celebrating black culture?

Everything is about context.

There is, some argue, a fine line between cultural misappropriation and cultural appreciation. After all, in an increasingly interconnected, globalised world, cultures are continually mixing – it’s inevitable that we will see a sharing of cultural ideas, traditions, fashions, symbols, and even language. For me (and many others), this is a good thing, a way for cultures to understand and empathise with each other, and to normalise what at first might seem different or strange. Did you think you were insulting generations of subcontinental cooks the last time you made a curry at home? Of course not!


Debate on the issue has itself become all but impossible, so eager are some to draw battlelines. Cancel culture has stilled the protests of many who might bring a sense of perspective.

I confess, I am fed up with the knee-jerk, hysterical, faux-outrage that continually swamps the Internet. Whilst there are clearly cases of cultural misappropriation that should be called out, other instances are beyond trivial – or deliberately misinterpreted.

Personally, I think that the matter comes down to common sense. We will not all agree on every situation, but by taking a deep breath before reacting, we might better serve the cause of global fraternity.

As far as authors are concerned, I will continue to defend our right to explore any realm of the imagination that we should so choose. If we do our research, if we set out to highlight rather than to denigrate, to depict a particular culture with truth and empathy – warts and all – then we will have fulfilled the tenets of our creed, and should not feel remotely guilty in so doing.

In 2019 Booker-prize winning author Bernardine Evaristo dismissed the concept of cultural appropriation, suggesting that it is ridiculous to demand of writers that they not “write beyond your own culture.”

I could not agree with her more.

The second in a series of three articles on this topic is called Cultural Appropriation: when authors crash and burn and the third is called Cultural Appropriation: when authors get it right.

If you’d like to keep up to date with what I’m up to next, I send out an email newsletter every three months which contains updates on book releases, articles, competitions, giveaways, and lots of other interesting stuff.If interested, registering takes a few seconds here

My latest novel is Midnight at Malabar House. Available from bookshops big and small and online, including here.

Competition and Midnight at Malabar House launch

At approximately 5.17pm on 30th January 1948, one of the most famous men in history stepped out into the gardens of Birla House in New Delhi to lead a prayer service. As he approached a public congregation a young man stepped out from the crowd, greeted him warmly, then shot him three times in the chest with a Beretta. Onlookers said that Gandhi’s last words were ‘Hey, Ram’… meaning ‘Oh, God.’


Gandhi’s death, in many ways, fashioned the India that was to follow, and, thus, the India that we see today. For more than two decades, he had led the Congress Party in its struggle to oust the British from the subcontinent. Through his blazing idealism, and personal example, he had inspired millions of his countrymen into peaceful protest.

Following his death, his friend and comrade, Jawaharlal Nehru, became the first Prime Minister of India. Taking advantage of the sympathy generated by Gandhi’s murder, he swept aside all opposition and set about fashioning post-Independence India.

It is in this turbulent, troubled India that my novel, Midnight at Malabar House, is set.

The book opens on Dec 31st, 1949, Bombay.

In a basement office, a phone rings. It’s picked up by Persis Wadia, India’s first female police detective. She’s based at Malabar House, a small police station in the affluent southern half of the city, where officers in bad odour are routinely banished. Persis has just spent two gruelling years training for her role – only to find that in the rigidly paternalistic and misogynistic India of the time she faces an uphill task in making any headway in her chosen career.

But the midnight call changes everything.

The caller reports the murder of prominent English diplomat Sir James Herriot… and, just like that, the country’s most sensational case falls into her lap.

As 1950 dawns and India prepares to become the world’s largest republic, Persis, accompanied by Scotland Yard criminalist Archie Blackfinch, finds herself pursuing an investigation that becomes more political by the second. Navigating a society in turmoil, Persis, smart, stubborn and untested in the crucible of male hostility that surrounds her, must find a way to solve the murder – whatever the cost.


Midnight at Malabar House is set just two years after Indian Independence, the horrors of Partition, and Gandhi’s assassination. India is still trying to work out what sort of democracy it is going to be. Social, political, and religious turmoil is rife in the country. Nehru’s economic reforms are pitting the old nawabs, maharajas, and feudal classes against the masses. Yet Bombay remains in its own bubble, incredibly cosmopolitan, a city of jazz and self-indulgence, with thousands of foreigners still living and working in the city.

Much of the India that we see today is grounded in events that occurred during that period, a period not often explored in fiction. Midnight at Malabar House attempts to shed light on that India.

Of course, at the book’s heart lies a complex mystery. Why was Sir James Herriot murdered? What do the various clues that Persis finds in his home mean? Her attempts to solve the murder soon lead her into conflict, not just with the establishment, and the prevailing social order, but with those who would seek to brush under the carpet the horrors of India’s fractious birth.

Not a woman to be easily deterred, Persis forges her own path into the darkness.

And as for Gandhi – why and who killed him?

Gandhi’s murderer was a Hindu nationalist named Nathuram Godse. He committed the murder because he felt that Gandhi had done too much to appease the Muslims in the newly-created country of Pakistan. It was neither the first nor the last religiously-motivated killing on the subcontinent.


If you choose to order the book, I would greatly appreciate it. Copies are available from bookshops big and small, and online, incl. here: https://amzn.to/2Q0AXNK

And to show my appreciation, if you tweet (or Facebook) me a picture of yourself with the book – or a picture of the book in your home (if you prefer not to be in the picture) – I shall pick the most creative ‘winner’ and send them a signed copy (with a personal message) of BAD DAY AT THE VULTURE CLUB – my last novel from the Baby Ganesh Agency series. You can find me on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/VaseemKhanUK and Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/VaseemKhanOfficial/

Deadline: August 31st 2020

Twitter: https://twitter.com/VaseemKhanUK

Join my newsletter: https://vaseemkhan.com/book-club/


Eating the dead: the Parsees of India

Bad Day at the Vulture Club is the fifth novel in my Baby Ganesh Agency series. In this one, Inspector Chopra investigates the murder of a wealthy Parsee. Parsees are a small but influential community in India. Originally from Persia they are unique on the subcontinent because they do not cremate or bury their dead. Instead they leave them out in stone structures called Towers of Silence in a wooded area in the middle of Mumbai for vultures to eat. This process is called excarnation. I found this community incredibly fascinating when living in India, and thought it would make a great backdrop to a murder mystery.

The book is out now and you can buy a copy at your local bookseller (which would REALLY help them during the current post-lockdown economic situation) or by clicking here.

So who exactly are the Parsees and why do they hold vultures sacred?


Parsees believe in a deity called Ahura Mazda – the wise lord. Fire is a physical representation of that deity. The principal prophet of Ahura Mazda was a man named Zoroaster – or Zarathustra – who lived around 600 BCE. He spoke about the concept of judgement after death, and of heaven and hell, greatly influencing some of the later Abrahamic religions. When Muslims conquered Persia in 640 CE and began slowly persecuting the Parsees – destroying their fire temples, initiating the jizya tax on non-Muslims, and, worst of all, mistreating dogs, an animal revered by Parsees, it proved to be the final straw. The Parsees fled Iran and headed towards India where they eventually settled, first in Gujarat and then in Bombay.

The community has been central to Bombay/Mumbai’s history and development for centuries. In fact, with luminaries ranging from industrialist Jamsetji Tata to Freddie Mercury, the Parsee community has helped shape the course of both India and the wider world.

Today, Parsee heritage and influence can be found in every nook and cranny of Mumbai – from the various Parsee businesses that have steered the growth of the city – including the Tata group, responsible for iconic buildings such as the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel – to the city’s historic Parsee cafés. Parsee figures from the city ranging from Sir Sorabji Pochkhanawala, one of the founders of the Central Bank of India, and Pherozeshah Mehta, one of the founding members of the Indian National Congress, to Cowasjee Davar who set up the country’s first cotton mill, leave behind a rich legacy.

Parsees consider fire and earth holy and thus do not bury or cremate their dead; this distinguishes them from Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Christians in the country. Parsees allow vultures to perform this rite. Vultures, abhorred my many, are incredibly valuable members of the ecosystem, and not just for Parsees. They perform a vital service in cleaning up carcasses – think of all the roadkill that is cleaned up each year seemingly by magic! They are amazing creatures, with an astonishing sense of smell. They have been much maligned in fiction, routinely equated to lawyers and newsmen … which, frankly, is an insult to vultures. (After all, I’ve never heard of a vulture printing false stories or bending the truth in court.)

Alas, Indian vultures have been on the Critically Endangered List since 2002. The population was decimated by manmade chemicals such as Diclofenac. Diclofenac was given to working animals to reduce joint pain – basically to arthritic cows and horses in order to keep them slaving for longer. The drug is believed to be swallowed by vultures with the flesh of dead cattle. 99.7% disappeared in less than 10 years, making it the fastest collapse in any avian population ever recorded.

towers of silence

As the vultures have declined the Parsees have had to adapt in surprising ways. How? That’s exactly what Inspector Chopra finds out as he investigates the murder of Cyrus Zorabian, a grandee from the Parsee community, a man who appears to have harboured dark secrets…


We are Spartacus: the publishing industry and race

As one of only a handful of non-white authors on the British crime fiction map, I thought it might be worthwhile spending a moment reflecting on the worldwide rebalancing touched off by the George Floyd killing in America. Fear not. There’s no need to put on your tin hats and dive for the trenches. My purpose isn’t to haul anyone over the coals. But there’s little doubt that some of what I say might make for uncomfortable reading. More importantly, I will ask you to reflect, at a personal level, on what we mean by systemic inequality, particularly as it applies to the publishing industry.

Screenshot 2020-06-30 16.14.40

First, some background. My parents are from the subcontinent. They came to the UK in the early seventies, lured by the immigrant dream. The streets of London may not have been paved with gold, but they were paved with opportunity. My father, who was not literate, spent his life in honest labour, in an industrial bakery, while my mother raised children, demonstrating the much-lauded immigrant work ethic by slaving away at her sewing machine every hour she wasn’t feeding us or stopping us from poking each other’s eyes out with eraser-tipped pencils. She instilled in us the need, above all else, to study, to educate ourselves, to progress.

So far, so good.

But what if I were to tell you that my parents were, in a broad sense, xenophobes, too? Not overtly. They didn’t oppress anyone; or traffic slaves across the oceans; or pillage defenceless communities for profit. But their attitude towards black people – cultivated by the insular world they had grown up in – was, at best, indifferent, or, at worst, mistrustful.

Here’s a simple, unpalatable truth. Racism, in its most basic form, is a feature of most societies. It shouldn’t be. But it is. A simple example illustrates my point.

The outpouring of angst and handwringing currently gripping the world has seen celebrities across the globe express their views on racism (rightly so), only for some to discover that a seat on this particular bandwagon can be an uncomfortable one. In India, numerous Bollywood stars were called out for the disparity between their #blacklivesmatter tweets and the fact that they had fronted campaigns for skin-lightening creams. Across the subcontinent, lighter skin has traditionally been valued (usually alluded to in matrimonial ads by the rainbow-bending adjective “wheatish”), so much so that white foreigners, especially Brits, are treated with overt deference, while black people are routinely afforded a lesser welcome. An odd perversity, given that it was the whites that pillaged the subcontinent for three centuries while, with those of Afro-Caribbean descent, one might assume Indians would evince a colonial-era solidarity.

Let me be clear: this idea of a sort of universal xenophobic instinct does not in any way excuse or mitigate the horrors of the slave trade, or the enormous, long-term damage done to black people because of that terrible practice. Nor does it justify the entrenched, systemic prejudice that continues to colour western societies, prejudice that culminates in overt racism of the kind that permits white American policemen to routinely kill black men with little fear of reprisal, and prejudice of the less obvious kind that serves to keep black people ‘in their place’. My point was merely to demonstrate that, in the wider, global race equality agenda now under discussion, we all have a part to play.

Part of the issue is that many well-meaning efforts to redress the balance are hampered by a profound lack of insight into how unconscious bias can affect the lives of people of colour, in a million different, small, but, ultimately, debilitating ways. The problem is further hampered by an education system that often fails to properly tackle the ‘race issue’.

Yet, the problem must be addressed. Because the world has become a smaller place. The goldfish bowl has shrunk and we are now all swimming in the same seas. It behoves us to make the effort, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is also the most effective means of progressing humanity towards a more equitable, more meritocratic, global society. If the Covid-19 pandemic has proven anything, it is how interdependent we are.

Coming, now, to the publishing industry. Cards on the table. Since my first book was published six years ago, I have received tremendous support from my agent, publisher, critics, bloggers, readers, event organisers, and crime writers. My experience is not typical. A simple look at the statistics tells us what we already know. Any way you slice it and dice it – diversity of publishing staff, published writers of colour, books featuring characters of colour – the industry is dominated by white thought and enterprise. Some of this can be ascribed to the fact that, in terms of population, BAME communities, by definition, are a minority. You wouldn’t expect there to be a 50:50 split along these dimensions. That isn’t the issue. The problem is the entrenched attitudes that make it so damned difficult for writers of colour to break into the industry and then to enjoy the same rewards and freedom of expression that is accorded to their white counterparts.

The world’s most successful crime writer, James Patterson, became famous with a series about a streetwise black detective, Alex Cross. James Patterson is not black. Nothing wrong with that scenario, in my opinion. Authors should not be constrained by artificial constructions of propriety. But, if the industry is being honest with itself, it will acknowledge that a writer of colour attempting to do something similar – trying, as it were, to write outside of their cultural straightjacket – is rarely accorded the same privilege. Questions of ‘authenticity’, ‘voice’ and ‘cultural appropriation’ suddenly come racing to the fore, like Cinderella’s ugly sisters questioning our right to go to the ball. Asian writers, for instance, are often expected to pen literary tomes about colonialism or exposes of the immigrant experience. Again, nothing wrong with that, and, indeed, brilliant writing is regularly published exploring those themes. But there are so many other stories that we would like to tell. White writers can be published writing about matters far outside their experience – wizards, serial killers, aliens. But for non-white writers, the same consideration is much harder to find. A lot of this is not the result of overt racism, but rather the mindset that accepts as perceived wisdom the idea that profitability comes almost entirely from white authors writing white stories, or writers of colour writing stories suited to their ethnic background. This thought is so prevalent in the industry that it may as well be an eleventh commandment.

A terrific article by Laura B. McGrath, associate director of the Stanford University Literary Lab, in a Jan 2019 issue of the Los Angeles Review of Books, entitled “Comping White” identifies the true nature of the problem. Paraphrasing her research, it goes like this: publishers buy new books by comparing them to books that have been successful. Is this the new Harry Potter? Is this the next Gone Girl? Given that the majority of books are white, the process becomes a closed loop, a vicious cycle. The industry buys and promotes white books because they sell. White books sell because they’re the only books the industry buys and promotes. Do you see the problem?

Making the gatekeepers more diverse, McGrath argues, will have only a marginal impact. It’s the system that’s at fault. The same applies to practically any walk of life that you might care to name – hence the reason so few people of colour in boardrooms, or lecturing at top universities, or opening Michelin-starred restaurants. White people have done all those things successfully before, so why take a chance on the unproven?

Until we change this structural, often unconscious, bias, all the current furore around race will do little to improve the prospects of the average BAME person.

Can readers help? Of course! By voting with their feet. By buying books written by authors of colour, readers signal to publishers that they won’t be put off by a ‘funny-sounding’ name on the cover, or a protagonist who doesn’t share their own cultural background. The only bar should be quality.

In an ideal world, a good story, well told, should stand on its own merits.

What else can we do? In my opinion, people shape people. If we want better, more thoughtful attitudes in the industry, we must all stand up and be counted. Solidarity is the name of the game. A solidarity of thought that acknowledges that a genuine change of perspective is needed. From agent to reader, all along the chain. What we need, in other words, is for all of us to stand up and say: ‘We are Spartacus.’

Vaseem Khan, author, Midnight at Malabar House and Baby Ganesh series

London, June 2020

The oldest bookshop in the world – or why Indie bookshops need your help. Now.


According to the Guinness Book of Records the world’s oldest bookstore is in Portugal. The Livraria Bertrand opened its doors in 1732 in Lisbon, and has never been shut. In the UK, our oldest bookstore is Hatchard’s (now a branch of Waterstones), inhabiting, by and large, the same prestigious Piccadilly location since 1797, and the holder of no less than three Royal Warrants. Such longevity is a rarity, and cannot be claimed of many such endeavours, particularly those operating as independents.


Bookselling in the world of the independent is no easy task. Margins are wafer thin, hours are often long, sales are rarely predictable. Why do the owners of such shops put themselves through it? The answer, as I have discovered over the years chatting to these intrepid entrepreneurs, is simple: it makes them happy. To be surrounded by books, to have the opportunity to talk books with customers, to get to know those customers and develop a personal relationship with them… these are the intangible benefits of running a bookshop that cannot be quantified in purely monetary terms. For many, a chance twist of fate gave them the opportunity to follow a dream. For others, it was a linear progression from book nerd to bookstore summer job to book emporium colossus.

During my twenties, I lived for a decade in Mumbai, India. Here I discovered one of the country’s oldest bookshops. The Strand bookshop, established the year after Indian independence, witnessed the nation move through 70 years of change. Mr Shanbag, the shop’s eccentric owner, became a cult figure and the store was frequented by celebrities – including India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru – not that Shanbag treated him any differently! Sadly, after Shanbag’s death, the shop declined and was forced to close. I admit that I felt quite emotional when I heard the news.

In tribute to him, and the many other bookshop owners struggling against difficult headwinds, I decided to feature a small independent bookshop in my latest novel, Midnight at Malabar House, set in 1950 in Bombay. The Wadia Book Emporium is based on the real Strand bookshop. Here is how I describe the shop in my book, pretty much the way I feel when I enter most bookstores: “It was the smell that always took her. The unmistakable musk of books, old and new. Arrayed on sagging shelves, piled on trestle tables, built up into drifts eight feet high, to form a haphazard maze that only hardened bibliophiles dared to tread.”

Indie bookshops make up an incredibly valuable part of the bookselling ecosystem. Such 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. Economic theory tells us that the book industry, as a whole, benefits from the variety and reach provided by this network of small-scale sellers, expanding the total market of readers.

Today, because of the lockdown, many bookshops are facing the most dire challenge to their livelihood. Government aid schemes can only go so far. Ultimately, for any bookshop to survive, it must sell books. That means the ball is now in our court. As readers, we must make the choice to buy from bookstores.

What better time to do that than Independent Bookshop Week?


How to survive a zombie apocalypse

Taking my daily walk around my local area, I cannot help but notice how the world outside suddenly resembles the London of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later: deserted streets, immobile vehicles, and almost no ambient noise. It’s not quite a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but it certainly puts me in mind of one.


I love dystopian movies. Especially ones with a healthy dose of zombie action. Fifty years ago, the modern zombie movie was born when George Romero released a low-budget movie called Night of the Living Dead. Combining hordes of the undead lurching across the suburbs of Pittsburgh with a healthy dose of social commentary, the movie terrified and intrigued in equal measure.

During the current lockdown streaming of zombie fare has gone through the roof. We can’t get enough of recent movies such as Zombieland and World War Z which all but convince us that a viral plague will turn us all into drooling cannibals.

And so, I present here my seven golden rules for surviving such an eventuality…

#1 – Don’t stand next to the Token Non-White Guy

We all know the scenario. It’s been done in countless movies before so why should zombie films be any different? As soon as any character of black/south-Asian/Indian/Latino descent is given more than a few lines, you know that dude is history. Might as well hang a sign around his neck: dead man walking. Even Will Smith who played the lead in I am Legend ended up having to blow himself up to keep the zombies from chomping on his skull. So, if you bump into Token Non-White Guy – stay well clear.

#2 – Kill your best friend

First rule of post-apocalypse survival – don’t trust anyone. Least of all your friends and family. They ALWAYS turn. The best thing to do, the only thing to do, is to flamethrower them right away. If you don’t have a flamethrower to hand, a mallet to the brain will do. Don’t be sentimental. I guarantee you will save everyone a lot of angst in the long run.

#3 – Don’t turn your back on the family pet

Zombie animals are the sneaky villains of post-apocalypse scenarios. Just when you think you’ve dealt with the lurching hordes of former humans, you discover little Benji has turned into a slavering Cerberus intent on tearing you limb from limb. This is one case when there is no such thing as man’s best friend.

#4 – Don’t go near shopping malls

For some reason zombies are inordinately attracted to shopping malls. Judging from the generally tattered state of their clothing, perhaps this is understandable – there must be plenty of post-apocalypse bargains to be had in the zombie clothing department. One of the best examples of the mall zombie is Dawn of the Dead.

#5 – Don’t bother with the toilet paper

Particularly relevant, given recent shenanigans. It’s a simple proposition… In every zombie movie we see panicked civilians stripping supermarkets for tinned goods, raiding gun stores for weaponry, rampaging through pharmacies for medical supplies. But have you ever seen anyone stocking up on toilet paper? No? Me neither.

#6 – Beware of anyone who suddenly needs to wear more clothing

You know the one. That dude who’s been swanning around in a Bruce Willis wifebeater vest, happily modelling torn jeans and a dodgy stubble, and all of a sudden he decides to wear a Sartre turtleneck and ski gloves. In the middle of a heatwave. You’re not fooling anyone, Bruce. He’s been bitten/scratched/infected. He will turn.

#7 – Don’t go anywhere with Special Forces

In theory, it makes sense to hang out with a squad of experienced killers when faced with a horde of zombies. After all, these people have been trained to shoot, they have the kit, they’re strong, fast, well-drilled, and have no compunctions about blowing away a cute little five-year-old who even twitches funny. Better safe than sorry is their motto… Except, as movies such as Resident Evil have shown us, this gang of pumped-up macho men – and women – are usually jaw fodder for the zombie hordes. Arrogance, a complete refusal to believe in the situation, and sheer weight of opposing numbers tend to make their contribution relatively short-lived. Stay well clear.

There you have it. My tips for post-apocalypse zombie survival… Now, until we all turn into drooling brain cannibals, we can prepare by watching lots of good quality zombie entertainment. My recommendation: Train to Busan. A rather brilliant South Korean zombie film that takes place in the claustrophobic setting of a speeding train.

You can hear myself and Abir Mukherjee discussing post-apocalyptic fiction on the latest episode of our podcast here: www.redhotchilliwriters.com

In the meantime, I wish you all the best. Stay safe!

Vaseem, London

Do writers need a ‘special place’ to write?

One of the alleged benefits of writing is that you can do it anywhere. Literally anywhere. But the reality is that professional authors (or those who aspire to be) quickly learn that some places are better than others for knuckling down and completing the next chapter in your magnum opus.

No one venue works for everyone.

I have author friends who like to work in noisy coffee shops surrounded by grungy-hoodied students and hipster-bearded failed musicians. They find the hustle and bustle stimulating and are somehow able to tune everything out. Others require absolute silence – the slightest sound gets under their skin like a dripping tap at night and they quickly find themselves descending into the sort of authorial madness last seen in Stephen King’s The Shining.

I’m somewhere in between. I prefer to work in silence but often find the presence of others stimulating. I have a comfy office at home but occasionally feel compelled to abandon it and walk down to the local library with my laptop to spend a few hours in the company of fellow book lovers (as well as feral teenagers, the occasional drug user, hobo, and crazy-eyed evangelist).


I work in central London and you can often see me on the Tube reading through edit notes, usually with my face stuck in someone’s armpit – it’s one way to (mentally) escape the bullpen-like crush, I suppose. In the summer, I like to take my laptop to the cricket pitch and work on the sidelines when I’m not actually playing. There’s something wonderful about sitting on the grass and thinking through plot ideas with bees buzzing among the wildflowers and the crack of willow on leather resounding across the outfield.

Every writer needs to get into the ‘zone’ – that sweet spot when the entire processing power of your mind is engaged in the story. The right environment is critical to enabling that. What constitutes the right environment varies dramatically from writer to writer, though sometimes it is a matter of necessity rather than choice.

John le Carré wrote his debut, Call for the Dead, on train rides to work from Buckinghamshire to London. Agatha Christie and Maya Angelou both enjoyed writing in hotel rooms – there’s just something about being locked away in a room with clean sheets and an en-suite bathroom with room service just a phone call away. Christie was also famous for writing whilst soaking in a large Victorian bathtub; Benjamin Franklin went one further and wrote in the nude, a habit I would personally discourage. James Joyce wrote in bed, lying on his stomach – otherwise known to the rest of us as ‘sleeping’. JK Rowling famously wrote the first Harry Potter book in The Elephant House, a café in Edinburgh. The café is now a pilgrimage site for fans from around the world.

Virginia Woolf had it right when she said that every writer needs a “room of one’s own” to be productive. But there are times when inspiration can be better found in a less secluded spot. Frankly, it’s whatever works!

If you’d like to know what I’m up to next, I send out an email newsletter every three months which contains updates on book releases, competitions and lots of other interesting stuff. If interested, registering takes a few seconds here: https://vaseemkhan.com/book-club/   













Competition! – Midnight at Malabar House – DEADLINE: Midnight, 31st Dec 2019

After five novels and two novellas in the Baby Ganesh Agency series, my next book will be a historical crime novel set in 1950 in India. It’s called Midnight at Malabar House and introduces Inspector Persis Wadia of the Bombay Police, India’s first female police detective.

My reasons for writing this book are simple.

The Baby Ganesh books are set in modern India, featuring Inspector Ashwin Chopra and the baby elephant sent into his care. I lived in India for a decade and these books are my chronicle of a country that has undergone an incredible transformation over the past two decades.

But modern India is also a reflection of her past.

India’s historical legacy permeates everything you see on the streets of a place like Mumbai (once Bombay), from the ubiquitous slums to antiquated cultural attitudes. A large part of that legacy is also tied up with the 300 years of the Raj, and the cataclysmic end to that period in late 1947.

Midnight at Malabar House opens on New Year’s Eve 1949, just two years after Independence, the horrors of Partition, and the assassination of Gandhi. India is still trying to work out what sort of democracy it is going to be. Social, political and religious turmoil is rife in the country. Economic reform is pitting the old nawabs, maharajas and feudal classes against the newly enfranchised masses. Yet Bombay remains in its own bubble, incredibly cosmopolitan, a city of jazz and self-indulgence, with tens of thousands of foreigners still living and working in the city.

As India celebrates the arrival of this momentous new decade, Inspector Persis Wadia stands vigil in the basement of Malabar House, home to the city’s most unwanted unit of police officers. Six months after joining the force she remains India’s first female police detective, mistrusted, sidelined and now consigned to the midnight shift. And so, when the phone rings to report the murder of prominent English diplomat Sir James Herriot, the country’s most sensational case falls into her lap. As 1950 dawns and India prepares to become the world’s largest republic, Persis, accompanied by Scotland Yard criminalist Archie Blackfinch, finds herself investigating a case that becomes more political by the second. Navigating a country and society in turmoil, Persis, smart, stubborn and untested in the crucible of male hostility that surrounds her, must find a way to solve the murder – whatever the cost.

This new series is my way of drawing together the threads of India’s past and using them to shed light on India’s present. It is also a celebration of female pioneers on the subcontinent. Indian society has a reputation for being intensely patriarchal. Even now many women struggle to enjoy the same rights that women in other countries take for granted. Persis, however, is a woman who refuses to be told what her place in the new India should be. She believes in herself and in her right to pursue the career that speaks to her own notions of justice and equality. She is a singular woman, fierce, committed, intelligent, a trailblazer in a sea of antipathy.

I would love for you to join her on this journey.



This is your chance to be immortalised in my new novel and become a part of Persis’ remarkable story. One lucky reader will have their name given to a minor character in the novel. All you have to do is answer the following question: “Who do you think is the greatest female pioneer of all and why? – Answer in max. 50 words.”

You can answer via this form. Deadline to enter is midnight, 31st December 2019. I shall announce a winner in the New Year on my social media (so follow me on Twitter https://twitter.com/VaseemKhanUK or Facebook if you don’t already) and in my next newsletter (which you can join here: https://vaseemkhan.com/book-club/ ).

You can find out more about the novel here and pre-order if you wish.

Although we haven’t finalised a cover for the book yet, here is a little flavour of India in the 1950s… This advert demonstrates how Indian society saw the role of women. Clearly, Persis has her work cut out as the nation’s first policewoman. I want to invite you on that journey with her. She could do with a few more of us in her corner!



Bloody Scotland: Murder most Fun.

Bloody Scotland. The very name conjures up Macbethian visions of dark deeds and foul murder. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s plenty of murder here but it is confined to the pages of the hundreds of crime novels discussed, dissected and debated over the course of three wonderful days in Stirling.  This was my first visit to speak at the festival and I was struck by the collegiate and fun atmosphere, something the organisers have worked hard at instilling, ever since the first edition of the festival in 2012. 

Arriving late on the Friday – following a delayed flight which meant that I missed the torchlit parade down from historic old Stirling castle (where the McIllvanney Prize was announced) – I walked straight into a great first session – seeing David Baldacci speak. The American author was humorous, humble and incredibly honest. Particularly fun was his anecdote about Absolute Power, the novel that made him famous all those years ago. When Clint Eastwood bought the movie rights, he apparently took one look at the book, and decided that the protagonist that he was due to play would no longer be killed off – in fact, he would become the hero and the previous lead – a young lawyer – would simply vanish from the story. Now that’s star power! 

Following this I attended the live podcast session hosted by Steve Cavanaugh and Luca Veste, of Two Crime Writers and a Microphone fame, which also featured TV’s Richard Osmond, and some truly toe-curling extracts from the bad sex (in writing) awards.

Early on the Saturday my good friend and fellow crime writer Abir Mukherjee took me up to see the Stirling Castle, with beautiful views over the town and nearby Bannockburn. Whilst there he attempted to teach me how to say the famous Robert Burns poem “To a mouse”– Burns has a great history here; he actually once stayed at the Golden Lion hotel where the festival takes place. My attempts at reading the poem in Scots dialect were only marginally successful, but I gave it my best shot. Take a look here, if you don’t believe me:

Later that afternoon, I took part in the annual football match between English crime writers and Scottish ones, playing for the English team, captained by Mark Billingham, with the Scottish team led by Craig Robertson. The match was played in a small field, with grass so long it was like wading through the prairies of South America. With a hot sun on our backs it was tough going for two 25 minute halves, but both sets of players were cheered on by an enthusiastic audience. It was a tight fixture with England eventually triumphing 3-0, but the spirit between the teams was friendly and afterwards both teams retired to the nearby Brewdog where the likes of Ian Rankin turned up to ruminate on the fixture.


I next attended a thought-provoking session on the “India Connection” led by Abir, discussing new voices in crime fiction from Indian backgrounds, including Ajay Chowdhury and Trisha Sacklecha. This opened to a wider debate on diversity in the genre.

My own panel took place in the sumptuous ballroom at the Golden Lion, and dissected what ‘cosy crime’ really means. We agreed that much crime fiction so labelled – including mine – is grittier in tone than the word ‘cosy’ would suggest, and that there is a fine difference between comic writing and using humour to illuminate a particular narrative or theme which may be serious in tone. The panel was chaired by Laura Wilson, and included Catriona McPherson and Lynne Truss.


Nearby, Ian Rankin was being interviewed by Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, another coup for the festival.

The evening finished with another dose of fun – watching crime writers singing at the Coo bar, and Scottish dances at a ‘ceilidh’. And finally a visit to a late night kebab shop that Abir swore blind was nutritious, tasty and cheap. He was right on one count – it was cheap.

All in all, a wonderful event and one I wholeheartedly recommend to all those interested in crime fiction, be ye reader, writer, blogger, or industry pro. Well done to Festival Director Bob McDevitt and the entire organising committee. 

NOTE: Abir and I will be discussing the festival in more depth and also chatting about Robert Burns’ legacy in the next episode of our own podcast, the RED HOT CHILLI WRITERS. Check it out here and subscribe if interested: http://redhotchilliwriters.com

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