For one last time before Aye Write 2017 gets underway I am delighted to welcome Liz Barnsley (from Liz Loves Books) back to Grab This Book. Liz has been chatting with some of the authors who are appearing at this year’s Aye Write festival and today she is joined by Vaseem Khan.
Vaseem is the author of the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series, a crime series based in Mumbai, India and featuring a baby elephant. The first book in the series, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra was a Times bestseller, a Waterstones’ paperback of the year and an Amazon Best Debut.
With my heartfelt thanks to Liz for allowing me to share these chats, I give you Liz and Vaseem:
Tell us a little about your current novel, what readers can expect from it …
In the second Baby Ganesh Agency novel “THE PERPLEXING THEFT OF THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN” (out in paperback in March) Inspector Chopra is on the trail of the world’s most famous diamond, the Kohinoor, first mined in India during the Raj, “appropriated” by the British, and then installed in the Crown Jewels. This blurb says it all really: “For centuries the Koh-i-Noor diamond has set man against man and king against king. Now part of the Crown Jewels, the priceless gem is a prize that many have killed to possess. So when the Crown Jewels go on display in Mumbai, security is everyone’s principal concern. And yet, on the very day Inspector Chopra visits the exhibition, the diamond is stolen from under his nose. The heist was daring and seemingly impossible. The hunt is on for the culprits. But it soon becomes clear that only one man – and his elephant – can possibly crack this case …”
Where did you grow up and what was family life like?
East London. We were five brothers and sisters – yep, your typical Asian 70s/80s family – I was the oldest. Hence, plenty of fist fights (sisters), stabbing in the back (sisters), snitching (again…) – and that was only at the age of five. In truth, I had a happy, hectic childhood – if you’ve seen any Bollywood movies you’ll know the drill: weddings, curry, more weddings, over-the-top parental angst, and more weddings. My favourite memory? Playing cricket in the backyard with my brother. By playing with my brother I mean I batted for hours, smashing the ball everywhere, while he went and fetched it. He can take a lot of credit for the fact that now at 43 I still play cricket all summer. (I don’t know who takes the blame for the fact that after almost 40 years I’m still shite at it.)
Academic or creative at school?
In art class I was asked to paint a portrait of the art teacher. After finishing I sat back, waiting for the plaudits. He took a long look, then gave me detention. He thought I’d been taking the p*ss. I hadn’t. I just had no talent. On the other hand I did get perfect grades at all the ‘regular’ subjects, got great A-levels, and then studied Finance at the London School of Economics. But I still can’t paint a picture of a human being without it looking like a zombie mangled by a bulldozer.
First job you *really* wanted to do?
In 1997, as a bright-eyed 23 year-old I joined a small management consultancy (to avoid becoming an accountant). A few months in the boss asked me if I’d like to go to India for a new project. (Actually what he said was ‘you’re brown, you speak Indian, you’ll work for next to nothing; you’re going.’ ) I still remember my first day vividly. Lepers, beggars, eunuchs, heatstroke … and that was just getting out of the airport. My taxi stopped at a set of lights, a river of chaos on the road, honking rickshaws, hooting trucks, cows, goats, dogs and then, lumbering through this chaos, the utterly surreal sight of an enormous grey Indian elephant. Needless to say this was the greatest job anyone could wish for.
Do you remember the moment you first wanted to write?
I was in a cave and an unearthly voice spoke to me, commanding me to write … OK, that’s not exactly true. I’ve wanted to write since I was nine-ish. I wrote long stories, in long hand, and I’d give them to my English teacher who’d make polite noises, then heave me out the door. For all I knew he threw them all in the bin, poured his afternoon whisky over them, and burned them to ash. But I persisted. And lo and behold a mere 32 years later I was given a four book deal by Hodder. Shows what he knew.
Who are your real life heroes?
Are you saying Scooby Doo isn’t real? … OK, If it’s real life, then one of my heroes has been an Indian cricketer named Sachin Tendulkar. I am a cricket nut and lived in India when Sachin was at his peak. What inspired me about him was that he came from humble beginnings, became the most feted Indian on the planet, yet remained humble – and that throughout a 24 year career. These days you see some D-list celebrity toerag get one half-positive comment on Twitter and suddenly they act as if they’re God’s gift to humankind.
Funniest or most embarrassing situation you’ve found yourself in?
A coconut fell on my head while giving a speech. Yes, laugh, why don’t you? It wasn’t funny at the time, I can tell you. I was giving an impromptu staff motivational talk under a coconut palm in India (as one does) when the coconut decided it had heard enough. Cue hilarious laughter from crowd – it has always amazed me how funny people find it to see someone being smacked on the head. I have had a vendetta against coconuts ever since.
DIY expert or phone a friend?
I am a legendary figure in the world of DIY; at least in my head. I hate paying professionals for work that I can perfectly well botch-up myself. I mean who needs a qualified gas engineer when you can Google-fix the boiler yourself? (NOTE: that was a joke. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. At least not your own home.)
Sun worshipper or night owl?
I am a lifelong insomniac. Sleep is for wimps. If I could eradicate sleep from the human condition I would do so. On the plus side, I do my best work in the dead of night. (I mean the writing, not the string of burglaries, of course.) There’s something about creeping around in the dark thinking about murder and mayhem . . .
A book that had you in tears.
There are books that have me in tears for the wrong reasons. But a book that really tugged on my usually cold, dead heartstrings was Schindler’s Ark. Thomas Keneally writes the book with humour, and beautiful prose, but the sheer fact that real people committed such evil is something that took my breath away.
A book that made you laugh out loud.
A book about cancer. No, this is true. My mother passed from cancer so this is a subject close to my heart and I wouldn’t joke about it. Unlike John Green who wrote The Fault in our Stars about two cancer stricken teenagers falling in love. The book is so fill of wit, and laugh-out-loud jokes on every page, that I couldn’t help but fall in love with this ultimately tragic but always funny story.
One piece of life advice you give everyone
“You are insignificant. You are nothing. You are less than a speck of dirt on the bottom of my shoe” … I mean all this in a nice way, of course. As soon as you accept that you are insignificant you will understand how absurd life is, and you will be a much nicer person, less stressed, and better able to see what it is you really want from your miniscule life span. A recipe for happiness. Don’t all rush to thank me at once.
Vaseem will be at Aye Write on Friday 10th March where he will be joined by Abir Mukerjee for The Jewel in the Crime.
You can purchase tickets here
For more information about the world of the series (plus pictures of baby elephants!) please visit vaseemkhan.com where you can also keep abreast of Vaseem’s latest goings-on, competitions, events, and extracts from upcoming books via The Reading Elephant Book Club.