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Vaseem Khan: Books that changed my life

Vaseem Khan: Books that changed my life

Vaseem Khan is a multi award-winning crime novelist who has written the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency novels and Malabar House series. This year he’ll be chairing the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie 

I grew up in the UK, but my heritage is from the subcontinent and at the age of 23, I went to India to work.  

I was puttering around a small bookshop in Mumbai on a rainy day and I came across this book called Midnight's Children. I’d never heard of it.  

When I read it, I was instantly taken by the narrative about India’s independence struggle. You would think, as someone with that heritage, I would know but I didn't, I had no clue.  

"When I read it, I was instantly taken by the narrative about India’s independence struggle. As someone with that heritage, I had no clue"

It gave me a solid grounding in the history that I would eventually go on to write about in the Malabar House crime novels, which are set in 1950s India, just after independence and partition. 

It also taught me that writers can get away from the kind of style that we're told about in school, that straightforward English narrative. Rushdie was writing with his own style of magical realism, which I didn't know anything about. You see some of some of those elements coming into my later writing. 

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie book cover

Buy Midnight's Children on Amazon

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie 

I was about 18 when I came across this book, and it became the start of my love affair with crime fiction.  

It was fascinating to me, the way that Agatha Christie introduces red herrings and alternate suspects. And then the plot twists that come at the end of the book and pull the rug out from under you. For me, this book is a kind of well that I keep going back to for the purposes of craft, of seeing, where does she seed in these red herrings and how does she pull off misdirection in particular.  

"It was fascinating to me, the way that Agatha Christie introduces red herrings, alternate suspects and then the plot twists at the end"

A couple of years ago, I was invited to speak at the International Agatha Christie festival in Torquay, which is Agatha’s hometown. I also got the chance to then visit Agatha’s home, and actually stand next to the typewriter on which she had typed many of her novels, most probably Death on the Nile as well. That was quite a wonderful moment. 

 Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie book cover

Buy Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie on Amazon

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith 

By the time I was writing The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, I was about 40. I’d already written six or seven novels across various genres, and I didn't think I was going to get published. I'd almost given up on the dream. 

Once I'd written it, I wasn't quite sure whether the tone was correct for a crime novel, because as well as being about a murder, it also includes a lot of dark aspects of India, which are often left out of Western fiction. But I wanted to do this with some charm and wit. And that's when I came across this book. It served as a sort of beacon to help me edit my own book, which is a bit darker and grittier in tone than The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, but it gave me a marker that this kind of story was potentially publishable. 

"It served as a sort of beacon to help me edit my own book, because it showed that this kind of story was potentially publishable"

And then, of course, that book was picked up in a four-book deal, and it basically gave me a career. A few years later, I was at an event where Alexander McCall Smith was speaking and he invited me backstage. He just wanted to say some nice things about the book, and for me, that was an important moment, to have an acknowledgement from someone who had been so instrumental to me, even though he didn't know it. 

The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival takes place between 20-23rd July. Weekend Break packages for are available to purchase now, and tickets will be on sale from 2nd May. Visit harrogateinternationalfestival.com for more information

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