Category Archives: Blog

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EXTRACT: From my short story, Men Like Khalil

‘There’s lots of Muslims tweeting now,’ said Javed, leafing again through the columns on his touchscreen. ‘They’re saying this is all wrong. But there are tweets from the EDL too. They’re gathering in Woolwich, tonight.’

Khalil walked to the window and looked out to the empty car park. His Mercedes would soon fade in the dusk. He was here, perhaps where he was always meant to be. This still night, with the first glimpses of summer balm, had the taste of something familiar. An incident which makes an entire nation stop and drop its mouth; the subtle positioning of each player feeling the breeze, a government mishandling the whole thing. Whether it was a matter of hours or days, this mosque could not go unnoticed and would need to be protected for however long it took.

Men Like Khalil is available FREE as an ebook with all retailers apart from Amazon. Please contact me via this website if you have difficulty. 

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NEWS: Short story set on day of Woolwich murder out next week for FREE

My latest piece of work, a short story called Men Like Khalil, is to be released next week.

Set on the day of the shocking murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich two years ago, Men Like Khalil is about community and fear, about anxieties on British streets when they become a theatre for the world’s troubles.

menlikekhalilFINAL

My main character, Khalil, is a taxi-driver by trade but operates as his mosque’s makeshift security guard. He’s called into action as news of the incident trickles then explodes into the public domain, with seemingly little left to the imagination.

Many of us feared the worst that day as emotions ran high throughout our communities. I wrote this story in an effort to recreate and make sense of that tension. This story is therefore less about the savage event itself and more about the fallout.

Its self-publication has been a long-time coming; I finished Men Like Khalil a year ago. The delay is down to a number of reasons, including strict rules set by short story competitions.

It will be available to download for FREE as an ebook next week, but NOT on Amazon, meaning you’ll need an alternative to your Kindle device or Kindle app (details below). This is down to technical reasons, plus I have doubts over how much Amazon supports free titles.

I turned to the same people who did a great job during my self-publication of A Missing MC; while Jan Disley pored over the 5,000 word manuscript, Tim Slater has once again done a terrific job with the cover.

I’d also like to pay tribute to the friends, family and colleagues of Lee Rigby, particularly as we approach the second anniversary of his death. While their world was shattered very publicly, they kept themselves away from the aftermath.

I was privileged to stand alongside other members of the public who lined the streets of Bury for Lee’s two-day funeral with military honours. It was an event I am sure all concerned were very proud of.

Here are the best apps to use to download the story next week:

iPhone/ iPad:

-       Apple iBooks

-       Kobo

-       Nook

Android tablet/ phone:

-       Kobo

-       Nook

Windows tablet/ phone:

-       Kobo

-       Nook

In the US:

-       Oyster

-       Scribd

-       Kobo

-       Apple iBooks

In India:

-       Flipkart

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The hardest thing about kindness; my reflections of World Book Night 2015

A recovering alcoholic, a mother and son, a man on his way home after a shift at work. These were some of the people I watched walk away from me, into the distance, staring at a book I’d just handed to them. On a strangely balmy spring evening in Oldham town centre the reaction of those who took a copy of David Almond’s Skellig was the same; they would turn the book front and back, trying to make sense of my odd act of generosity, as they literally headed into the sunset.

I thought I would be proud. Instead, I felt powerless. From seconds before being an ambassador of the novel who spoke about World Book Night, the joy of reading and my own reflections on Skellig I became the guy left behind, standing on the street corner, watching. Hoping. Maybe the hardest thing about kindness is the letting go.

At that moment I became irrelevant, even though I was the World Book Night volunteer. So did David Almond, even though he was the book’s author. All that mattered was that copy of the book and the person holding it. For all I know each recipient could have waited until I was out of view and tossed it into the bin, or left it closed and untouched at the bottom of their bag. But World Book Night’s organisers, authors and volunteers dedicate themselves to hoping they didn’t.

Whatever the outcome, this south Manchester lad also felt some strangely proud of Oldham that evening. This was a town I had a negative impression of when growing up but today it has come to play a great role in my life.

People of all ages and backgrounds could be seen, making use of a new Metrolink, an excellent library, a local swimming pool, a concert hall. All live side by side in a place which over the years has had its fair share of troublemakers wishing they didn’t. Maybe it was the weather but on a quiet, random Thursday night I watched the town flourish in its own understated way.

For more about Skellig, a wonderful, touching book that can move adults and children alike, click here. More information about World Book Night can be found here.

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How a LitFest can be a revolution in waiting

I’m still thinking a lot about Pakistan after recently returning from there. I was fortunate enough to swing by the Lahore Literature Festival on its last day, which to me felt more like a political conference, or at least a political debate, than a celebration of reading and writing.

Not that I felt short changed. I gradually came to realise that in Pakistan, you couldn’t have a festival of words without considering politics. Back here in the UK, writers of fiction can pick and choose whether or not they will make some symbolic reference to Nigel Farage’s sweaty brow. In the land of my ancestors politics is ever-present. Whether in an assertion, argument or slogan, it runs through every sentence.

While the event was buzzing, with an eclectic mix of people wandering around the various halls and food marquees of the excellent Alhamra Arts Centre, we were flanked by heavily armed police. Interest may have been high, but so was security, keeping the carnival from the real people of the city, for whom it would have been hard to know what was happening.

If I grew accustomed to the checkpoints, their huts, cones and rifles must today be a sad ever present in the eye-line of those who tolerate them daily. It was one of many features that saddened me, and made my opinion of the country plummet. But at LLF2015 the state of the nation, and the narrative that went with it, was the topic of ferocious debate, with audiences hooked.

A population that is highly engaged in politics has always been one positive feature of Pakistan. But at LLF I saw an up and coming generation that cares so much it may not seek flight, but may not be willing to put up with this for much longer.

Who knows? This could be a revolution in waiting.

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FROM THE NOTEBOOK: A passage for I Don’t Yet Know What

While I have a vague idea for where this will be used, nothing is certain. This is what happens when I get an idea, sit down and write it into the notebook as an actual passage. It can be improved on, developed, but what you see below is pure and unedited from the day I dreamt it up…  

Oldham, 16 April 2014

His Dad used to take him to the motorway bridge in summer evenings, the lowering sunshine draping them. Why? Why not go somewhere more interesting? Maybe it was a fascination, or maybe it was his Dad’s way of trying to say they weren’t yet where they needed to be. Let’s watch the accomplished, assured sprint of the BMWs in the outside lane, the vans and trucks ending their shifts, the classic Jag drifting at its own pace in the slow lane. All of them had direction, the one thing that often seemed lacking in the background of his upbringing.

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The Accidental Influences of A Missing MC (3)

I started a mini-series of blog posts under the banner ‘Accidental Influences of A Missing MC’ some time ago now. Today, after discussing The Road Home (click here) and Norwegian Wood (click here), I complete the trio. However, in the case of Espedair Street by the late, great Iain Banks, ‘accidental’ is probably pushing it…

Part Three: Espedair Street by Iain Banks

If you think back to the best books you’ve read, you may recall you were moved, inspired, that you took something profound away from the experience. As Espedair Street is one of my all-time favourite novels, its influence on my book is more than understandable.

Technically, it did still happen by accident. I’d already thought of writing a novel about a DJ who had grown disillusioned, and explore ‘the quarter-life crisis’. But when Espedair Street came into my life, just before I started to research and plan A Missing MC, Chris Ready’s story became destined to share something significant with the novel many regard as Banks’ most underrated.

The main character, Daniel Weir is the bass player of a once-famous rock band. Let me be blunt about exactly where he and Chris Ready resemble; both once enjoyed playing music and look back on their heyday fondly; both find the nostalgia adds to their present malaise; both were happy to allow more flamboyant partners in crime take the limelight; and when the story starts, both feel like they’ve been left behind.

It goes on; Banks has written Espedair Street as if the reader knows Daniel Weir’s band, Frozen Gold. Pushing the audience into this fictional world, the prose at times plays out like an autobiography. I’ve tried something similar; while ‘Ready and Strait’ were never famous, they were notorious and had a loyal following among the student community. Ready is proud of this, and his narration includes indulgent passages about his Drum ‘n’ Bass ‘act’ with MC Strait.

When I approached mainstream agents with A Missing MC I was often told it was so original they wouldn’t know where to start. But anyone who ever reads it having enjoyed Espedair Street would be right in thinking it may not be that original at all.

I’ve said previously that I make no apology for what books have or haven’t influenced my debut novel. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone not shaped by the outside. For example, my music collection may be varied, but whenever I sift through it I can hardly see past Pink Floyd. Very few of us are true pioneers.

Nonetheless, I still carry the hope that someone will take something new, something fresh from A Missing MC, whether it’s the characters, the story itself, or maybe just the feel, how I’ve put the words together.

Click here to discover Espedair Street.

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EXTRACT: from A Missing MC

A Missing MC is a story about how friendships change over time and the burden growing up can place on precious ideals. I tried to pick out extracts to illustrate this when preparing the complimentary ad for the novel to appear in the solarbox, the London telephone box recently converted into a mobile phone charging unit (see News below). Here’s one:

As Pez sped past other cars driving on the motorway at a reasonable speed, I started to feel like I did the night I was with Joel and got wasted on all sorts of substances. Pez was caressing the leather steering wheel, and I was wondering how I had arrived here in this playboy car, with this flash corporate twat. Just like with Joel, I could recognise only glimpses of the guy I once knew. The rest belonged to a type that took wealth for granted, someone who expected things to be of the finest ilk, who wanted everyone to know he had it but didn’t want a soul to know how he got it. I suddenly realised I was sitting next to the guy we all once said we would never become. We pledged not to be the suited snakes that lurked around the dance floor looking for a fresher they could show off to. I could recall Mel once getting involved with someone who used to drive his BMW across the M62 from Manchester three times a week just to see her.

With Pez, time had shown. However long it was, it had been too long, and that was my fault as much as his. My recent trip to London had proved I was in my own bubble, intent on my own thing. The so-called voyage, that appeared now to be coming to an end, had taught me that over time people may have disappeared from my radar, but they certainly did not disappear altogether. They carried on existing, and just like me they had their own day to focus on each time they woke up. Before you knew it, you had veered in a certain direction, and there were no guarantees that others had pitched their sails the same in the meantime. As much as I was angry at Pez for not making enough of an effort with the rest of us, I had to accept that to an extent the same could be said of me.

A Missing MC is an ebook available on all major apps for mobiles and tablets including Amazon, Kobo, Nook and Apple iBooks. It is also available on ereaders such as the Kindle and Nook.

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NEWS: A Missing MC to feature in reinvented ‘green’ telephone box

I’m delighted to announce that A Missing MC has been granted a free plug in the London telephone box that has captured the imagination after being reinvented into a solar-powered mobile phone charger.

It’s one of two creative projects benefitting throughout November from a generous pledge the founders of the green phone box, the ‘solarbox’, made when setting out their vision.

The award-winning entrepreneurs are ring-fencing 30% of their advertising space for community partners, including artists and grassroots drama each month.

A Missing MC’s complimentary 20-second slot will feature throughout the month of November, as part of a digital advertising loop on display in the solarbox while passersby can drop in for free to top up their phone batteries.

Needless to say I’m thrilled with this development. I took a punt and approached the founders of solarbox after I heard about their initiative for creative projects. It’s a privilege to be granted an ad for November, a gesture for which I’m immensely grateful.

Once a user of the solarbox has finished topping up their mobile or tablet, they could download A Missing MC within seconds.

Kirsty Kenney, co-founder and director of solabox, said: “It’s fantastic to have Asmar and A Missing MC on board. I’m delighted that solarbox is attracting attention from people outside of London”.

The green telephone box has grabbed international headlines thanks to the novel idea of bringing an iconic but disused feature of London streets into the 21st century.

solarbox is the winner of the Mayor’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur 2014 competition. The first (and only) solarbox was launched on Tottenham Court Road on 1 October 2014.

It was co-founded by Kirsty Kenney and Harold Craston in 2013, then geography students at the London School of Economics. They are currently working hard to bring more solarboxes to the streets of London.

Twitter – @solarboxlondon
Instagram – @publicspacejam

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The Accidental Influences of A Missing MC (2)

Part Two: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

In the previous post I set out to select three books I happened to be reading at the time I started to work on A Missing MC.

In this, the second instalment, I discuss a literary classic. Norwegian Wood remains a global phenomenon but first it gripped an entire nation. It became Japan’s novel, because it said so much about the country’s psyche.

Two decades and a captivated worldwide audience later, it was cool to have Norwegian Wood on your bookshelf, and I helped myself to my flatmate’s copy…

I was already developing the idea of my main character going to see old friends one by one, but this book encouraged me to try and bring out a key characteristic in Chris Ready. Toru, the main character in Norwegian Wood is among other things a great listener who people can confide in, and I thought that would help my often down-in-the-dumps protagonist gain more sympathy with the reader.

As the DJ, Ready is a natural focal point for his group of friends, however uncomfortable he is in the role compared to his more charismatic sidekick MC Strait. So when Ready starts his journey and goes to look in on these friends in the wake of Strait’s kidnapping abroad, these characters seem happy to share their fears, about Strait and their own lives, with Ready. I can put the task of making an awkward Ready adapt well to the role of listener down to Toru.

One of my bigger decisions to make was whether to write in the first or third person. Norwegian Wood seemed to settle the argument; the reflections remained close to the story. This is a novel about one person’s almost spiritual journey, and I suppose my book was too. I concluded the reader would rather hear from the person going through it rather than a narrator.

Click here for my review of Norwegian Wood on Goodreads. While I was there I added my review of The Road Home (click here), which I discussed in my previous post.

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The Accidental Influences of A Missing MC (1)

Part One: The Road Home by Rose Tremain

I’ve discussed the inspiration for A Missing MC elsewhere, but I view my influences as something altogether different.

Take what I happened to be reading when I started to work on the novel, my first attempt at such an endeavour. As it needed my full attention and started to occupy my every thought, what I was reading at the end of a day’s work was always going have a role to play.

I make no apology for these accidental influences. As I’ve hinted in posts below, I was trying to find my style, my method, my voice. For those of you who have read A Missing MC (or are just about to), I couldn’t pretend otherwise.

I’ve picked out three books that I remember most vividly from that time. First up, The Road Home by Rose Tremain.

This triumphant, epic novel tells the story of Lev, who travels to London from Eastern Europe to find work. Fabulously written, The Road Home encouraged me to stick to my guns and keep Chris Ready’s flashbacks to his past heyday within the present narrative. I was considering creating standalone chapters about Ready’s past and why it is so significant when we pick up the story, but The Road Home convinced me this would have killed the tempo.

I was also intrigued by a peripheral character, Lev’s straight-talking friend Rudi. Giving Lev his opinions from back home in Eastern Europe, Rudi’s expressive voice can be vividly heard through the telephone line. His presence is strong, and gave me a good starting point for trying to do something similar for Strait, the beleaguered ‘missing MC’ himself.

Both Rudi and Strait are almost like ghosts; they not in the here and now of the story, but considerably effect it; Lev looks to Rudi just like I wanted Ready to look to Strait. It’s up to you to decide whether I made that work.

The Road Home won the Orange Prize in 2008. I thoroughly recommend it, just look at some of the reviews on Goodreads!

Click here to find out about the inspiration behind A Missing MC.