Award-winning crime novelist Abir Mukherjee has called for a greater representation of Asian stories within the British publishing industry.
With growing competition from Amazon and e-books, he says, traditional publishers are seeing an unprecedented amount of pressure on their business.
“Part of the solution is looking at untapped markets. British Asians, for example, are getting on to be seven per cent of the population… but unless you are giving them the product they want, you’re not going to sell to them.
“They want to read more stories that relate to them and I think that message is finally getting through.”
Mukherjee’s debut novel, A Rising Man, follows a former Scotland Yard detective who has been assigned to a new post in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Taking place at the centre of India’s independence movement in 1919, Captain Sam Wyndham’s first investigation – the murder of a senior official – takes him into the “dark underbelly of the British Raj”.
Mukherjee explained to Eastern Eye how his own background enabled him to explore the tumultuous era from a unique perspective.
He said: “If you’re Indian, there’s only one story to tell – oppression and the struggle for freedom. If you’re British, the whole period is either painted in rose-coloured hues or completely swept under the carpet. As a British Asian, you realise very early on that not everything you’re told in school is the truth, because you come home and hear a different side of the story from your parents. You develop the ability to question things.
“I thought that neither the Indian view nor the British view told the whole story… Being British Asian gave me a perspective that most other authors, be they British or Indian, wouldn’t be able to call upon.”
He explains that Calcutta, being founded by the British and having played a major role in the independence movement, made for a “fascinating backdrop” to the story.
In 2013, Mukherjee submitted a partial draft of A Rising Man to be considered for the inaugural Telegraph Harvill Secker crime writing prize. The story was ultimately selected as the winner, landing the author a book deal with Penguin Random House before he had even finished the manuscript.
In February, his novel was included in the shortlist of the Jhalak book prize, a new award for minority ethnic writers.
He says that the prize, along with similar initiatives like Penguin Random House’s WriteNow, are signs that the publishing industry is “waking up to” the need for change.
“It’s important to raise awareness that there is such talent among ethnic minority populations in the UK – not just for the benefit of honouring them, but for the wider population. One of the benefits of having [the Jhalak book prize] is that booksellers and libraries will start stocking the longlist and shortlist. ”
The winner of the Jhalak prize will be announced at the Bare Lit festival for BAME literature in March.
Mukherjee’s second novel, A Necessary Evil, which continues the story of A Rising Man, will be released in June.
“I’m planning on looking at the period from 1919 up to independence, looking at the issues surrounding the independence movement through the eyes of the same characters, but with a lot of dead bodies along the way.”