I’m very excited to have Amer Anwar on my blog today. Amer’s debut novel, Western Fringes was published earlier this month. It’s a fast-action, explosive thriller and I absolutely loved it. But more of my review later. After reading the book, I had a few questions for Mr Amer…
- Did you visit all the pubs mentioned in Western Fringes? If so, which was your favourite?
Yes, I did. I visited all the main ones that feature. It was “research”, obviously, so I’d take a friend along and we’d have a couple of drinks while I’d make some notes and diagrams, got a feel for the place and then we’d just spend the rest of the evening there ‘soaking up the atmosphere’. Hard work, I know but somebody’s got to do it.
I’m not sure about picking a favourite. They all have good points. The Scotsman and the Black Horse both do really good Indian food at very reasonable prices. The Hare & Hounds is in a lovely spot near Osterley Park and has a nice garden and outdoor space, great for summer, while the London Apprentice is a historic pub right on the river Thames in a part of Isleworth that has a very village-like feel to it.
I think anyone who’s interested should visit them all and make up their own minds.
- Slightly scared about asking this – how do you know how to write all those fight scenes?
Ha! Well, I have a very cinematic imagination, I visualise everything clearly when I’m reading or writing, and I also used to box a little. When I’d shadowbox, I’d always imagine an opponent in front of me and what punches they’d be throwing and how I’d counter. Same on the punchbags. So, when it came to writing the fight scenes in the book, it was an extension of all that same technique.
I basically acted out each fight scene in my lounge – if anyone had seen me prancing around throwing punches and elbows, they’d probably have been pretty worried about me. I always made sure there was no one else around when I was doing it.
I’d picture the setup, what the attackers would do, how Zaq would react and choreographed it all, to make it flow and seem as realistic as possible. I’d work out where each of the characters would be, how they’d attack and how Zaq would defend and counter. I’d jot down notes as I went along – whether coming in with a left elbow would be more natural after a straight right, that kind of thing. It also helped me figure out when there would be openings for the attackers to land blows on Zaq. I wanted the violence to feel real.
There are quite a few fights in the book, but each of the scenes are actually very quick, they don’t take up a lot of pages, the action is kept short and sharp, except in just a couple of places.
- Are you excited about the rise of Asian Crime Writers in Britain? I am!
Yes, absolutely! One of the main reasons I wrote Western Fringes is because I love crime and thrillers but there was no one writing anything like that with Asian characters or settings. I spent a lot of time in Southall in my teens and there were loads of real characters around and all kinds of stories about stuff going on. I thought it’d be a great setting for a thriller, with characters like the ones I was hearing about and I really wanted someone to write one. But no one did. So, when I finally started writing myself, I knew I was going to write a thriller and I knew it was going to be set there.
Seems I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. There are now several Asian crime writers on the scene, each with their own particular spin on things and it’s great. Hopefully it’ll encourage others to try as well. It’s wonderful to see something of yourself and your experiences reflected in popular culture, it makes you feel an integral part of it, not just an onlooker and it also gives others some insight into the British Asian experience.
It should also make for some new and exciting books to look forward to, which is only a good thing.
- What’s for you next? More of Zaq?
I’m working on a second book at the moment, one which doesn’t feature Zaq or Jags. It has a new character, also a British Asian and it’s still very much a crime thriller in the vein of ‘Western Fringes’.
I’d originally thought to write a Southall trilogy with Zaq and Jags and had some vague ideas for the next two books – but now I’m thinking of combining those ideas into a single book, which might be my next project after I finish the one I’m currently on. It also depends on how well Western Fringes does and if anyone wants more of Zaq and Jags.
- Slightly cliched question but who are your Crime writing influences?
It’s not a cliched question – it’s one I’m always interested in whenever I read an interview or a Q&A with an author. As both a reader and a writer, I like to know about the books and writers that have influenced other people.
As for my own crime writing influences, there are three particular names that leap out; Elmore Leonard, Joe R. Lansdale and Richard Stark.
I think it was Elmore Leonard that really drew me into reading crime, before that I was mainly reading horror, WWII and fantasy. The first Leonard novel I read was ‘Killshot’, about a professional hit man and a small time crook, who start working together on a scam and, through a case of mistaken identity, end up in conflict with a builder. It was a real revelation. The writing was tight; the characters weren’t super smart sleuths or damaged detectives, they were criminals and ordinary people; the dialogue was fantastic, smart, cool and funny; and the plot was excellent. I’d never read anything like it before and it turned me into a lifelong fan. I bought and read all of his crime novels after that and even some of his westerns too.
It was a friend of mine who introduced me to Joe R. Lansdale’s work. He lent me an American edition of ‘Mucho Mojo’ because at that time Lansdale’s work wasn’t published in the UK. What a revelation. ‘Mucho Mojo’ is the second book in what’s become the Hap and Leonard series and I love all of them. They’re set in a relatively poor part of East Texas and follow the (mis)adventures of friends Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. What really stands out about the books are the first person narration from Hap’s POV and the friendship between the two main characters. Their constant bickering, name calling and mickey-taking is just so spot on and funny and true. Quite a few people have commented on how much they like the relationship between Zaq and Jags in ‘Western Fringes’ – well, you don’t have to look too far to see where I got my inspiration to write them the way I did. That’s not to say these are lightweight cozy mysteries, they’re not. They’re actually pretty dark, with murders and bursts of visceral violence, and they also touch upon racism, poverty, love and life. And Lansdale has written many other excellent novels too, ‘Cold in July’ being another particular favourite crime novel.
Another very major influence is Richard Stark and his Parker novels, a series about a professional robber. The first book, ‘The Hunter’ was filmed twice, first as ‘Point Blank’ and then as ‘Payback’. I actually got into the books after watching ‘Payback’. I loved the amoral hardness of the character and his single-minded determination to go up against anyone who’d crossed him. The original run of the series was from 1962 – 1974 and was unfortunately out of print here in the UK. However, following a 23 year break, Stark revisited the character and started writing some new books in the series, which were available and so got those and whizzed through them. A lot of things had changed in 23 years but the writing and the character hadn’t – they were both still fantastic. I read all the newer books but still wanted more. When, eventually, the University of Chicago Press reissued the whole of the original series, I snapped them up and read them all, right from the very beginning. I also bought anything else I could find by Richard Stark and also those he wrote under his own name, Donald E. Westlake (Richard Stark was just one of a number of pseudonyms Westlake used). The writing is lean and stripped-back, much like the character of Parker himself. There is violence and killing and Parker does some pretty nasty things at times but even so, the brilliant thing Stark does is, he still has you rooting for him. A truly great series.
One final thing I want to mention is the book that really made me want to be a writer. I’d never thought of writing a book before then, but when I finished reading it, I was totally blown away, the sheer scope and imagination of it – and even more importantly, how it made me feel. I remember thinking, wow, if I could make people feel emotions the way this book’s made me feel, that would be the best thing in the world. That was when I first knew I wanted to write.
Thing is, none of my teachers at school or college ever told me it was something I could do, or something worth pursuing – even though they knew I could write. I was getting pulled up for copying essays because my tutors didn’t believe I could write as well as I did. Even so, no one suggested that I might want to look at writing as a career, so I never thought it was something I could do. I still had the ambition though, deep down, and knew I’d give it a try someday, I just didn’t know when. Turned out to be 20 years until I started writing and another 12 to actually get published. Through all that time, I never forgot that particular book and how it made me feel and the desire to write it ignited in me.
And what was that book? ‘Magician’ by Raymond E. Feist. A fantasy novel, but oh, so much more than just that. It’s an epic tale of friendship, growing up, family, love, war and everything else. And it has dragons. And magic.
And it made me want to write – which was probably the best magic of all.
Thank you so much for answering my questions, Amer, and good luck with the book!
A SIKH GIRL ON THE RUN. A MUSLIM EX-CON. A WHOLE HEAP OF TROUBLE.
Released from prison, Zaq Khan is lucky to land a dead-end job at a builders’ yard.
All he wants to do is keep his head down and put the past behind him.
But when he has to search for his boss’s runaway daughter it quickly becomes apparent he’s not simply dealing with family arguments and arranged marriages, as he finds himself caught up in a deadly web of deception, murder and revenge.
Finding the girl will be one thing. Keeping her, and himself, alive long enough to deal with the people who want them both dead, is going to be another.
You know, there are times when you get so excited by a book that you want to jump up and down. For me, Western Fringes is that book. However, I am a bit biased. No, I don’t personally know the author [although we have now met since I first wrote this review in the spring]. And I’m not Asian either. But I did grow up in West London, so this book was like going down memory lane. I could picture the streets and landmarks mentioned. This made the book totally alive for me.
When I first started reading it, I thought two things. Firstly, I could see why Western Fringes won the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger Award. The opening puts us straight into the action with a great introduction to Zaq and the plot. Secondly, I did wonder though if the premise of the book – finding Rita – could actually last for a whole novel. Well, it did, and with great aplomb. Because finding a missing girl is a lot harder than you think, and in the process, Zaq finds a lot more than he’d bargained for.
The pace of this book never lets up and I’m slightly apprehensive about ever meeting Amer Anwar. His knowledge of fight scenes is a little worrying! [We’ve now met and he’s lovely. Don’t let than mean moody picture put you off.] There is a particular scene that made me wince (I am a wimp though) but it was in keeping with the storyline and revealed more about some of the characters and the lengths that they will go to, to get what they want.
This is a terrific thriller and an outstanding debut for Amer Anwar. I really hope he has a few more Southall stories up his sleeve.
You can buy Western Fringes here.
About the author
Amer Anwar grew up in West London. He has worked as a warehouse assistant, a comic book lettering artist, a driver for emergency doctors and as a chalet rep in the French Alps, before finally landing a job as a creative artworker/graphic designer and working in the home entertainment industry. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London and is a winner of the prestigious Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award. Western Fringes is his first novel.