Diary of a Debut Author by Vaseem Khan
So . . . I am standing in a first-floor lounge at BBC studios in Manchester. It is 13th August 2015, 8.40am and in fifteen minutes I am due to walk onto the set of BBC Breakfast to talk about my debut novel The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, a murder mystery set in the city of Mumbai and featuring a baby elephant. As I anxiously rehearse my lines I am distracted by the surreal sight of an animated Beeb producer choreographing the entrance of the guest who goes on before me – the next big reveal in the run-up to the new season of Strictly Come Dancing.
How, I ask myself, did I end up here? The answer is twenty-four years, half-a-dozen unpublished novels, countless rejection slips, and a simple, unwavering desire to realize a childhood ambition. During those twenty-four years since I wrote my first novel I have travelled extensively and had a full-time career in the ‘real’ world. Born and raised in London, I studied finance at LSE, then spent 10 incredible years in India as a management consultant to a group building environmentally friendly hotels. Returning to the UK in 2006 I decided to put all of those wonderful memories of India into a book.
The elephant – little Ganesha, Inspector Chopra’s sidekick – was always destined to feature in the novel. My passion for these incredible animals was ignited on my first day in Mumbai when I saw an enormous grey Indian elephant lumbering down the road whilst I was parked in traffic – not a sight you normally see in the East End of London where I grew up! I completed the novel in 2013 and sent out the first three chapters to a handful of agents, expecting little. Past experience had taught me not to get my hopes up. A month passed and then . . . Elation, as an agent asks to read the whole novel! … Followed swiftly by the crushing disappointment of being turned down, in spite of high praise. And then back on the rollercoaster of emotion as another agent requests the manuscript. And this time the unthinkable happens – agent offers to take me on! Agent advises a number of revisions. Once polished to his satisfaction he sends it out to publishers . . . and we wait. And wait . . . and finally, when I think, once more, that all hope is lost, the phone call in February 2014 that changes everything. Congratulations, says my agent, Euan Thorneycroft, we have a four book offer from Hodder.
You’ve done it. I was in the office at the time (since 2006 I have worked as the Business Development Director for University College London’s Department of Security and Crime Science, where I am surrounded by world leading scientists working on ways of preventing crime and detecting criminals) – and I remember yelling very loudly. And so began another rollercoaster ride. Over the next year and a half I went through the process of revising and polishing the novel with my editor, Ruth Tross, helping the cover artist come up with a brilliant design, and adding my two pennies worth into preparing the marketing campaign. The book was launched on August 13th 2015 – and somehow my brilliant publicist managed to get me onto BBC Breakfast. When I sat down on the famous red sofa we had a few seconds before we went live. I remember asking Charlie Stayt and Sally Nugent, the two presenters, to ‘take it easy on me.’I needn’t have worried. ‘Just look at us and pretend we’re having a chat. It’ll fly by.’It was the perfect way to launch the novel and the two months since have been full of radio interviews, glowing press reviews, books signings, and talks. I have been overwhelmed by the way readers and reviewers have taken the novel to their hearts. The whole experience has been everything I had ever dreamed of. I suppose that coming as it has at this later time in life does have some advantages. Certainly, I am a much better public speaker now than in my twenties! What I had never previously realized was just how much effort goes into launching a book. I’ve had to set up a website, social media platforms, and write numerous blogs and interviews for various sites and publications. Yes, it is hard work, but how many people get to live their dream? I am now looking forward to the launch of the second book in the series The Perplexing
Theft of the Jewel in the Crown. Meanwhile I am busy writing the third. Next week I have a meeting with a TV production company who have expressed the possibility of turning the series into a drama. Where, I ask myself, will this all end? Not for a good long while I hope.