Today I’m pleased to welcome Imran Mahmood to the blog. Imran’s debut novel, You Don’t Know Me is published by Michael Joseph on 4 May 2017.
Imran kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about You Don’t Know Me.
The book opens with a young black defendant on trial for murder. He tells the reader, who is in the position of a juror in the book, how he has sacked his barrister because he (the QC) wanted to leave some important things out of his speech. So now he stands before the reader/jury having to do his own closing speech. The book is his speech and in it he takes the reader through 8 pieces of evidence that the prosecution say are against him. As he does so he walks you through his life (telling his story in his own language and style) so that he can try to explain away the evidence and persuade you to find him not guilty!
2. What inspired the book?
I have written a lot of closing speeches in my career and I often wondered what it would be like if a defendant did his own speech. Would the things that he found it important to explain be very different from the things a lawyer might find important? Would a defendant’s case or story resonate more strongly with a jury if he did his own speech? Ultimately I wanted to write a book where the defendant told his own story in his own way – so much more interesting I think than listening to a lawyer ‘translate’ that story in quite a legalistic way! I also wanted to highlight the problem of gangs in society and the pull that they have on the most vulnerable. And I wanted to write about justice and to explore whether morality and justice were interchangeable or immiscible. And about where personal responsibility lies and how much personal circumstances can excuse or define guilt.
3. As a barrister you are obviously used to both planning and thinking on your feet. Which method do you use when writing – do you plan or see where the story takes you?
This is a great question. The answer is that I have a basic overarching structure of the book in my head but not the detail. I then spend a lot of time thinking about the detail before I put pen to paper (finger to keypad?). This can be on the train or bus or even when I’m trying to get off to sleep. The key thing for me is to have thought about the scenes and the dialogue in advance. That said, quite a lot of the characters and story develop in their own way and I do experience the sensation that people speak about, when they talk about a book ‘writing itself’.
4. Having gone through the process is there anything about creating a novel that surprised you?
I was most surprised about the wider process. I was a complete novice to the world and every day something new and unexpected happened. One day I go and do a photo shoot for my author pics and the next I’m in a recording studio listening to the audio book being made. The amount of work that goes into the business of bringing a book out is staggering, from the press and media interviews to the publicity and marketing. To me it’s an amazing surprise – but a surprise nonetheless and every day seems to bring something new. For example I just found out that my book is being published in Poland and the Czech Republic. How amazing is that!
5. I have a background in Criminal Law and I often find myself shouting at books that a solicitor would interrupt an interview there and no phones aren’t allowed in prison. Do you think that some bending of the truth is allowed in fiction or are you more for the remaining closer to the facts?
There are some things that I find so annoying that they make me want to scream at the book/TV program/film! On the other hand there are things that I can completely understand are necessary for dramatic tension and plot even if not 100% realistic. For me as long as the details are right (that Crown Court Judges aren’t called ‘your Worship’ and wigs and gowns aren’t worn in the Magistrates Court) then I’m more than happy to look the other way if say a 6 week case is over in a day and a half. So, bend the truth all you like in the framing of the story, just get the details close enough for authenticity, I say. And I say all of that fully aware that my book has a closing speech that lasts 10 days!
6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I have just had the great fortune to become (an old) father! So I spend as much time as I can with my family. For relaxation I read, watch TV, travel, – all the usual things and occasionally paint (very amateurishly). But my out and out favourite thing to do is to make things out of wood! I have just finished making a tiny shoebox and coat stand for my daughter. Never had so much fun!
7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
The Qu’ran – which is probably cheating!
But – if it was just one book for the rest of my life it would have to be a book that kept on giving and one in which I saw something new each time I read it. The Qu’ran has everything and each time I open it something incredible happens.
I know this will seem odd to some people – but I’m not a big re-reader. There are always so many new books waiting to be read that I usually don’t get the time to re-read. If I had to pick a novel though I would say To Kill a Mockingbird. A beautiful, poignant, lyrical, moral, bitter sweet work. Perfection.
8. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
I wish I’d been asked ‘Do you want to play the next James Bond?’
The answer is, ‘Hell yes! I would need a new tux. A facelift. And an Aston Martin.
OR ‘Who would play the movie version of your main character if this were made into a film?’
John Boyega is a strong favourite! He’s cool, charismatic, good-looking and funny. An amazing talent right now. And he’s from Peckham too!
About the book:
An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech.
He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out. Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth.
There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions… but at the end of the speeches, only one matters:
Did he do it?
Read more on the Penguin website.
About the author:
Imran Mahmood is a Criminal defence barrister with over twenty years’ experience in the Crown Court and Court of Appeal. He specialises in Legal Aid cases involving crimes such as murder and other serious violence as well as fraud and sexual offences. He was born in Liverpool and now lives in London with his wife and daughter.