Abir Mukherjee

Livin' the Dream

Write what you know. How has your life shaped your writing? And how has your writing shaped your life? 

I’ve wanted to write since I was a teenager. Throughout those years and into my twenties, I wrote stories and started on several novels, none of which were any good and all of which stuttered to a halt after about ten thousand words. There were many reasons for the abortive nature of those attempts: fear; laziness; the fact that there were too many other things competing for my time and attention back then; but a lot of it was down to the fact that I had nothing much to say – nothing original anyway. Those early attempt were generally pastiches, poor copies of the styles of other, proper writers, generally the style of the writer I’d read most recently; or they were the stuff that we all imagine is great and original when we think of it, but then, as we get older, we realise that a million other people have thought of it before.

I didn’t start writing seriously till I was forty, and I think part of that was because it took that long to figure out who I was and what I had to say. I’ve been extremely fortunate. My first novel was published in 2016 and, thanks to good sales, by 2020 I was able to become a full-time writer. I think that’s down to the fact that my books, at least when they were published, were dealing with a time and place – India during the colonial period – not often covered in western crime fiction, and certainly not from a position showing both sides. They were original because I was writing about a time and a place my family had lived through and because, growing up in Britain as the child of Indian immigrants, the legacy of that period shaped my everyday existence. It gave me an insight into the minds of both the British and the Indians – something I’m extremely grateful for, because when you can understand more than one point of view, you learn the skill of empathy, and you learn that when it comes to people, there is no such thing as black and white – only shades of grey.

My writing is informed by, and flows from, my life experiences, and I think this applies to all writers.

Now, how has writing shaped my life?

Writing, I’m lucky to say, has changed my life, profoundly, and for the better. I often say that I write because it’s cheaper than therapy, and there’s a truth to this. I write as a way of dealing with issues that anger me; issues that I want to shout about, and in that sense, there’s something cathartic about the process of writing and getting one’s angst out on the page. I find there’s a mental health benefit to writing.

But writing has also changed my life in other ways. I’ve made no secret of the fact that the older I got, the less I enjoyed my previous career in finance. In my twenties I’d enjoyed the international travel and all the perks that went with the job, but as I got older and had a family, the long hours and the travel just meant more time away from the family and for what? It seemed as though all I was doing was making rich people richer.

My life changed when I got my first publishing deal. For a while it meant I was working harder – doing the paid job by day and writing at night and at weekends. It was a difficult time, juggling the needs of work and family and writing. It was ok for me, I was doing what I loved; it was tougher on my wife, who had to take up all the slack. Fortunately that period didn’t last for ever, and gradually I was able to write more and ‘work’ less. Nowadays I’m a full time writer, which brings with it a new set of challenges – such as where the next pay check is coming from and when, but still, every day feels like a blessing.

Writing has broadened my horizons too. It’s taken me to places I’d never otherwise have gone, be it Ukraine or Iceland, and allowed me to spend more time in places that I love, like the USA.

My life and my writing are inextricably linked. Without the formative experiences of my life, I don’t know if I’d have anything interesting or original to say; and because of writing, my life has changed immeasurably for the better, and while I’m not a millionaire bestseller, I am living my dream. Who could ask for more than that?

7 September 2022