How Amer Anwar pulled the wool over publishing’s eyes

The crime writer tells Heather Martin how he dreamed up a publisher and an editorial assistant to get his first novel published

Friday 19 November 2021 21:30
<p>Anwar put Southall on the crime fiction map</p>

Anwar put Southall on the crime fiction map

His first book won a major prize before it was even written. His second was longlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Gold Dagger, one of the most prestigious awards in genre fiction. Life was easy, and success was handed to Amer Anwar on a plate. Only it wasn’t. The accolades were a tribute to his talent, but that was only part of the story. Because his books wouldn’t even exist were it not for his skill in the art of illusion.

When in 2008 Anwar submitted the first chapter of Brothers in Blood (then called Western Fringes) to the CWA for the Debut Dagger, he did so with the express purpose of failing. It was a rite of passage. “I needed to experience rejection,” he told me when we spoke recently over Zoom. He’d done his homework. He knew that a big part of being a writer was being knocked back. Might as well get it over with sharpish.

Instead, the judges picked Anwar as a winner. The next day he was contacted by four literary agents, all clamouring for the book. The only trouble was, he hadn’t written it yet. The agents were polite; they all asked to see it when it was done. But one, Jane Gregory, agent to queen of crime Val McDermid and clearly cannier than the rest, signed him regardless. Gregory asked how long it would take him to finish the book. He had no idea, but told her six months, to which she said nothing, but was possibly thinking that at that rate of production they could be on to a serious earner. It was five years before he sent her anything further to read. That was how long it took for him to reach a point where he felt that “the writing wasn’t completely pants”.

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