Friday, January 24, 2020

Sliding Doors

What made you decide to write crime & mystery fiction? And if you hadn’t been an author, what would you have been doing?

By Abir

I came to writing relatively late. Indeed, I guess it was a bit of a mid-life crisis. I was a thirty-nine-year-old accountant, hurtling towards forty and I had the hope that maybe there might be more to life than accounting.

I’d always wanted to write books but never had the confidence. It’s true that on several occasions over the years I’d actually come up with a few ideas, sometimes even put pen to paper, but then, after about five thousand words or so, I’d make the mistake of reading what I’d written, think it was rubbish, lose all confidence and shove it in a drawer. 

Then I saw an interview with Lee Child where he talked about how, at the age of forty, he started writing, and I thought why don’t I give it a shot? And anyway, as mid-life crises went, it seemed a safer outlet than buying a motorbike.

I’d never read any of Lee Child’s books till then, but I went out that day and bought a copy of his first book, Killing Floor, and devoured it within forty-eight hours. I was amazed at how simply written and well plotted it was. I’d recently had an idea for a story centered on a British detective who travels to India after the First World War, and reading Killing Floor gave me the motivation to put pen to paper.

Nevertheless, I’d have probably given up after about ten thousand words if it weren’t for a piece of good fortune. I’d been doing some research online and came across details of a writing competition in a national newspaper, looking for new and unpublished crime writers. The entry requirements were simple: the first five thousand words of a novel, together with a two-page synopsis of the rest of the book. There was only one stipulation – that the entry contained some international element. I tidied up the first chapter, wrote the synopsis and sent them away. 

Having never submitted anything before, I didn’t expect to win, so it was a complete surprise when, a few months later, I was contacted by the organizer of the competition and told that my book was going to be published. The problem was at that point I didn’t have a book, just half a first draft of fifty thousand words that didn’t always fit together. Thankfully my editor and the whole team at the publishers took me under their wing and helped me turn those fifty thousand words into a fully-fledged novel. The rest, as they say, is history – or historical fiction at least.

If I hadn’t had that lucky break, I suppose the chances are I’d still be an accountant, which is a bit upsetting because I don’t think I was ever really cut out for it. I’d probably be a lot richer, but I’d be miserable too.

If I could have my choice of careers, though, I’d probably want to be an astronomer or a particle physicist. I’m fascinated by space and time and quantum theory (I watch podcast lectures on these subjects in my spare time – yes, I really am that sad), but the problem is I’m pretty crap at maths and both astronomy and particle physics is more about algebra than planets and cool lasers. (Yes, I know maths is pretty fundamental to accountancy too, but I never said I was a particularly good accountant.

Maybe it’s just as well I became a writer.


Paul D. Marks said...

Great story, Abir, about not having the rest of your book finished and scrambling to get it done. And congratulations again on your Edgar nomination!

Susan C Shea said...

Love everything about your becoming a writer and an Edgar Award finalist so quickly.