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The Unimagined Path to Publication – Part Two

 

 

Don’t read this, unless you’ve read Part One:

  

http://dovegreyreader.typepad.com/dovegreyreader_scribbles/2008/12/unimagined-.html

 

 

There is some overlap in the chronology between Part Two and Part One.

 

 

1973

 

·  I’m a member of the five-person team for the Metropolitan Police Panda competition, and our junior school has made it to the semi-finals at New Scotland Yard (we are the champions of ‘T’ division and the area defined as ‘South West London’).  PC Rice comes to the school every Tuesday morning to give us tuition for this challenging quiz about the history of the police, crime fighting and road safety.

 

PC Rice explains: ‘You only stop at a zebra crossing if the pedestrian is on or at the crossing.  A police cadet failed his driving test recently, for stopping at a zebra crossing when the pedestrian wasn’t yet at the crossing.’  We understand, PC Rice.

 

 

 

2007

 

·  February:  Sitting in a pre-launch meeting with my publishing team at Aurum Press and my agent, we all agree that it’s a great idea to send a signed copy of Unimagined to all 646 MPs.  Then, as the discussion proceeds, it slowly dawns on me that they expect me to pay for the 646 books!  My agent remains silent.  I think: ‘It doesn’t matter – I’ll soon be getting all those royalties. This is book is so highly acclaimed and it hasn’t even been published yet.’

 

·  After publication of Unimagined, I become an occasional guest on BBC Radio London’s In Spirit programme on Sunday mornings, with Jumoke Fashola.  I review and discuss items of religious, ethical and spiritual news.  I have to get up at 5:30 am, for the car which comes at 6:15 am, to be on the show at 7:10 am.  Even though I love my sleep, I still do it, because – if you are not a celebrity footballer, model, chef, politician or criminal – every opportunity counts to promote your work.

 

 

 

2008

 

·  February:  I receive an invitation to the Sydney Writers Festival!  What an honour.  It is expected and customary that my publisher will pay the air fare.  Aurum spend three weeks thinking about it, and then say ‘No’.  During this time, the fare has crept up from £650 to £800.  They won’t pay this difference, either.  Without further delay, I book it myself, on my credit card.

 

I am invited to be interviewed on a popular television show in Melbourne, prior to attending SWF. The television station will pay my air fares between Sydney and Melbourne, but I need to arrive in Sydney a day earlier than planned – incurring a £50 change fee.  £50 isn’t bad as travelling expenses for a national (in Australia) television interview.  Aurum declines to pay even this fee.  I am outraged, and force the issue by deducting the £50 from a payment I have to make to them for copies of Unimagined which I bought for marketing activities.

 

Aurum now requires me to pre-pay in full for all future orders.

 

 

·  April:  I send a copy of Unimagined to that chap, Senator Barack Obama, who’s hoping to win the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.  I write in the book: ‘Dear Barack, The world is hungry for change.  America must lead the way.  I hope you lead America.  Best wishes, Imran Ahmad.’

 

I could send one to Hillary Clinton too, but that would be hypocritical.  Besides, I sent Hillie a copy of the self-published book in 2005, and I still have the very personal ‘thank you’ note she sent me.

 

 

·  After SWF 2008, I am invited to the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali.  They will cover everything, except the airfare.  Of course, Aurum won’t pay for me to attend UWRF.  I pay the airfare myself, with my credit card.  

 

 

"This [Unimagined] could be really successful in the US, if launched properly."

 

John Berendt, author of 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil' – at UWRF 2008

 

 

 

·  The UK paperback of Unimagined is not doing at all well.  It's completely anonymous.  I know the reasons for this.  

 

First, the cover.  I had a big argument with Aurum when they first showed me the proposed paperback cover.  I thought it looked vulgar and awful – but obviously designed to stand out on the 3-for-2 tables.  I think this was a big mistake.  The hardback cover really worked – it had such dignity.  I personally watched people (usually women, as I lurked in bookshops) being drawn to the hardback cover when it caught their eye, and buying the book.  I never saw this with the paperback, no matter how much I lurked.  

 

Second, the paperback was never on the 3-for-2 tables, or anywhere prominent, ever.  It received no promotion whatsoever, being published and going straight to Biography – one or two copies sulking untouched next to Kate Adie.  

 

Even whenever I put a couple of copies in an empty front-of-store position and observed, no-one paid any attention to the book (except the Waterstone’s woman who gave me a suspicious look as I lurked innocently nearby, and she unceremoniously whipped them from the shelf).  

 

No, the UK paperback looks awful and is receiving no promotion whatsoever.

 

         

     

 

·  August:  On my way home from In Spirit one Sunday morning, I listen on the radio to the American reverend who is the guest after me.  He is Andy Pakula and he is a Unitarian Universalist.  He explains what this means.  UU’s believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every individual; in equity and compassion; world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.  Most interestingly, they don’t have any fixed religious dogmas – they believe that it’s okay for an individual to be on a lifetime spiritual quest and to change their beliefs from time to time, as they learn new things, without losing their community.  That’s interesting; in conventional religions, if you ‘convert’, you lose your community.  But you can be a Unitarian Universalist and a Christian, or a Jew, or a Buddhist, or an atheist.  Or a Muslim.

 

·As he runs through the fundamental principles, and the lack of any specific dogma, Jumoke seems to make fun of him: ‘So you don’t know what you believe?’  

 

I practically scream at the radio: ‘Shut up, Jumoke!  That’s what I believe.  I must be a Unitarian Universalist!’

 

 

 

 

·  October:  Unimagined becomes available in the US.  I have given the UK publisher permission to send copies by ship for distribution via IPG in Chicago.

 

I had tried to get a US publisher, but they seemed disinterested, because there was no terrorism angle.  In other words, if only I had become a terrorist or, at the very least, a radical Islamist, then obviously there would be more interest ...

 

Only a hundred or so copies get shipped to America at a time, so the main retail outlet is Amazon.com.

 

I know that I will have to do all the publicity work.  I always do this by sending copies to selected parties, and hoping to get a good result (as with Sue Townsend, Anne Widdecombe, Philip Pullman, and all those literary festival directors – Catherine, Wendy, Janet etc).

 

So, who in America should I invest in sending copies to?  I already sent one to Barrie (Obama).  I sent one to Oprah last year.  I could do a trick like sending one to every MP – but, they don’t really have MPs, they have senators, representatives and governors.  Bloody hell, where do I start?  That would be very expensive, and I’m not so sure it would work in this case.

 

I go to bed, still thinking about this.  As I drift off to sleep, and I’m in that netherworld between consciousness and dreams, a still, small voice in my head says, ‘Send it to the Unitarians.’

 

The next morning: that’s a great idea.  The UU Reverends would read it, would appreciate its religious angst and spiritual questing, and would recommend it to their congregations.  I find the UU main website, and it lists every congregation by state, city and number of members.  I decide to send a copy to the 50 biggest congregations, having them shipped directly from Amazon.com.  It’s another credit card investment.  But there are so many big congregations, by the time I’ve finished my virtual tour of the states, I’ve sent it to 90 of them.  My fingers ache and my credit card is burning hot.

 

 

·  Unimagined really should be an audiobook.  People have said I read it very well, and its structure and light tone is just perfect for an audiobook.  I research UK audiobook publishers on the Internet and find WF Howes.  I send them an e-mail, with all the acclaim and links about Unimagined.

 

 

·  This is completely bizarre.  Within a short space of time, I receive three e-mails about Unimagined, from people in the US who, during the course of our exchanges, turn out to be Unitarians.  I check my Amazon address book, and it appears I did send a copy to each of their Reverends, but they have no knowledge of this.  Their e-mails to me are completely unconnected to my submission of books.  All three think it would be great if I could speak at their congregations, if I’m ever in the US.

 

·  In a further twist – which needs a separate bullet point, or it would be totally confusing – one of these contacts is my old friend Bill Wellman, who was an American Exchange student to Stirling University.  I last said goodbye to him in 1984, and he never wrote.  (It turns out his bag containing his address book was stolen at Glasgow airport.)  Bill came upon my book through the Stirling University alumni website, and then recognised himself in the on-line extracts on my website (as ‘Bill Goldman’).  Bill is now a Unitarian.  

 

Hey, what’s going on with all these coincidences?

 

 

·  December:  I come into the office and there’s a strange Meeting Request in my Outlook diary:  11:00 am  Meeting with HR.

 

The HR guy is my old friend and colleague, Shaun.  He moved to HR a while ago.  He’s sitting alone in the conference room, looking uncharacteristically grim.  ‘Hey wassup, bro?’

 

Okay, it’s what I knew was inevitable.  The company is looking for urgent cost savings, and is identifying certain positions for possible redundancy.  My position has been identified as one which is ‘under review’.  This is no surprise.  We’ve just finished a four year global ERP programme and, in the current economic climate, there are no more projects on the horizon.  They don’t need an expensive ERP programme manager without a programme.  The decision will be made in January.

 

-  Before Christmas, I drive up to Scotland to see my best friend Milton.  Spend the long weekend at his cottage, doing the things I love: hill walking, chatting with Milton, eating fish and chips, enjoying the moment, and just being.  Whatever happens, I’ll always have Scotland.

 

     

 

 

 

2009

 

·  January:  There’s an absurd situation in America, on New Year’s Day.  A party of nine Muslims (all US citizens and eight US-born), including three young children under the age of eight, are forced off an AirTran flight from Washington DC to Orlando, because two teenage girls heard one of the men and his wife casually discussing where was the safest place to sit on an airplane.  This isn’t just paranoid, it’s utterly stupid.  As if terrorists would discuss anything sinister in English, in earshot of everyone as they walk down the aisle!  

 

 

Photos: CF News 13

 

This attitude in America is very troubling – I wrote Unimagined to address issues like this, as a ‘re-humanising’ book.

 

 

·  Back at work, the decision is confirmed.  My last day at the office is 16 January, but the money they are giving me is equivalent to about six months’ take home pay.  So, I have six months without any serious impact, to find something new.

 

 I should find a new job, I suppose.  But, with six months’ pay, this is a huge opportunity to do something different.

 

·  20th January: I’m lying on the sofa, looking for a new job, and watching President Obama’s inauguration speech.  It is spellbinding.  He talks of a new era of ‘mutual respect’ between America and the Muslim world.  Exactly!  That’s what I’ve been trying to advocate all along – mutual respect and ‘re-humanisation’.  He’s talking to me, directly!  I’ve been so wanting to do a speaking tour of the entire United States, and I’m sure President Obama is looking right at me, telling me to do it.

 

 

‘Do it, Imran, just do it!’

 

But how could I organise it?  Who could I get to host me all over the US?

 

Holy s—t!  The Unitarians will host me, of course they will!   When I sent copies of Unimagined to the 90 biggest congregations, I had no idea where this was heading.  

 

 I run up to my study and open a map of the United States.  I start plotting a route by road, starting with a rental car in Chicago and going clockwise in a huge circle, also dipping in and out of the middle.  I pick major cities, try to visit most states, and use Mapquest to calculate reasonable daily driving distances.  The whole thing begins to develop in an Excel file.   I work on this over the next couple of days, and finally have a route which covers about 40 cities in 50 days.

 

 

 

 

 

When could I start this?  Well, I have the Perth Writers’ Festival in late February, early March, and I’m supposed to address the English Literature students at Stirling University (where Unimagined is on the core reading list) on Thursday 12 March.  I come back to London on the Friday … I would need the weekend … could fly to Chicago on Monday … could do the first event on Tuesday 17 March.  That’s it.  I enter the dates as a new column on the spreadsheet.  There’s a few days off in the whole plan, especially when I have to drive really long distances.  The last event will be 4 May, and I will fly back to London on 5 May.

 

I create a webpage and place the whole proposed route and schedule on it.  The table has a column showing proposed/confirmed venue in each city.

 

I select the major Unitarian congregations in my proposed cities, and start preparing e-mails to them, giving them a link to the tour web page and asking if they will let me speak at their venue at 7 pm on the proposed date.  (They already know who I am, because I sent each of them a copy of my book, a few months ago.)  These are to be public events, not specifically Unitarian or religious in any way, but I hope that they will be willing to provide a venue and do some local publicity.

 

This will be a speaking tour, rather than a book tour.  I won’t be carrying copies of Unimagined to sell, but I will put the hosts or local bookshops in touch with the distributor in Chicago, so that they can order books to sell (and for me to sign), at each event.

 

Bill Wellman gives me advice on my approach.

 

The emails go out, and I wait.

 

The first ‘Yes’ comes in, the next day, from Marietta (Atlanta)!  I update the webpage with the confirmation.

 

Days pass, it’s agonising.  Will this really work?  It’s crazy isn’t it?  I’m crazy, aren’t I?

 

The replies drift in, although I do have to send a lot of reminders and follow-ups.  Most say ‘yes’, a few say ‘no’, some don’t reply at all.  I fill out the schedule with confirmations, approach alternative congregations, and do a little re-routing here and there.  This requires a lot of focus – I am dealing with 40 different parties at once, and it is vital to get the date/time/location correct in every case.  Some don’t want me to speak in the evening, but at the Sunday morning service!  Slowly, the schedule fills out with confirmations.

 

I pre-book a hybrid car from Hertz (a Toyota Prius), and my first hotel on arrival in Chicago, but I leave the rest of the accommodation to be determined as I go along – complete freedom!  (Apart from having to deliver a performance/talk somewhere at 7 pm nearly every evening).

 

 

·  February:  WF Howes contacts my new agent, inquiring about the audiobook rights.  I make it clear I would like to be the narrator, but that is a separate decision.

 

 

·  I travel to Perth (Australia), for the amazing Perth Writers Festival.  It’s so hot and sunny.  

 

I go snorkelling with Stella Rimington (former head of MI5), and I hope that she will pass on my name to her contacts at ‘Five’ and ‘Six’.  I need a job.  

Stella Rimington and Imran Ahmad.  I know!  Reminds you of M and 007!

 

 

I do a stand-up storytelling routine for The Moth (www.themoth.org).  What an opportunity!

 

 

 

In Perth, I do events with James McBride, and he says wonderful things about Unimagined!

 

"Imran's book is so refreshing."

 

James McBride , author of 'The Color of Water' – addressing audience at Perth Writers Festival 2009

 

 

 

·  I’m still confirming US tour venues.

 

 

·  March:  I take the train to Stirling University to address the English Literature students, who have to read Unimagined this semester.  I’ve always loved this beautiful campus, but there is now a business hotel on-site where I stay in a nice room with an en-suite bathroom, and there’s a restaurant where my dinner is ‘on account – English Dept’.  It doesn’t get any better than this!   I go for long walks around the campus and up the hill to the Wallace Monument (which now has a Visitor Centre and a statue of William Wallace that looks remarkably like Mel Gibson).

 

         

 

 

·  I’m still confirming the last handful of US tour venues.

 

 

·  WF Howes confirm that they would like to make the audiobook.  I make a representation to them that I should be the narrator.

 

 

 

·  I depart to Chicago for my US speaking tour.

 

The whole story is here: http://www.unimagined.org/ustour.html

 

When the first BBC News website article is published (as I’m on my way to Boston), I start to get e-mails from people all over America, asking me to speak at various places, and some berating me for not visiting their city!  I begin to have a glimmering realisation.  This self-organised tour is just a warm-up.  I’m going to do this again one day, but on a much bigger scale!

 

The whole tour is an amazing experience; the audiences are overwhelmingly appreciative of my ‘re-humanisation’ talk; some people say that they could have listened for hours; I should have been an actor or a stand-up comedian apparently; the book sells out in most places; scores of people tell me that they will write to Oprah about Unimagined and this tour (I tell them how: go to Oprah.com and follow the ‘Contact Us’ link at the bottom of the page);  I break down in South Carolina and Arizona; I struggle to have a negative interpersonal experience.

           

 

 

 

I stay in cheap motels which I choose when I’m tired and can’t drive any further, and also with relatives … friends … old colleagues … complete strangers (usually Unitarians) …… beautiful, sophisticated, intelligent, assertive women I meet along the way … Wake up!  I‘m driving the car!

 

 

In the end , I drive 13,934 miles and do 41 events in 39 cities.  

 

I return to the same hotel in Chicago, 50 days later.

 

 

"I loved your book!  I gave it to my mother, and she loved it.  Then my sister read it and she loved it.  Now my other sister

is reading it. ... Of course you can have a late checkout."     

 

Mary Sitkowski -- Manager of Chicago O'Hare Garden Hotel

 

 

The manager at Hertz looks at me blankly when I answer the question about the return mileage.  That number doesn’t make any sense to her.  (I did read the contract very carefully to make sure that ‘unlimited mileage’ meant ‘unlimited mileage’.  I took good care of their car; it had two oil changes along the way.)

 

Many people send me copies of what they sent to Oprah – they are wonderful endorsements of my speaking events.

 

 

Return to London.

 

 

·  Now what?  I have to find a job, I suppose.  My money will run out soon.   I spend a few days finishing my US blog and completely rebuilding my website with all the new material:  www.unimagined.org

 

·  I start applying for jobs, but of course I really want to make a living from writing and speaking, peace work, teaching, media work and so on.

 

 

·  May:  I’m a guest at the Muslim Writers Awards, and I’m sitting next to Wendy Cooling – who is a literacy consultant to the Government.  We discuss Unimagined and its content – it is a universal growing up story, dealing with many common issues, not just a ‘Muslim book’.  Wendy suggests that I could possibly do school workshops, and tells me that schools have budgets for such things.

 

 I formulate what I would cover at school workshops, put together a web page detailing my offering, and start e-mailing it to secondary schools:   http://www.unimagined.org/ukschoolsinfo.html

 

  

·  June 2009:  With the Byron Bay Writers Festival approaching, and the programme planning underway, I say ‘Yes’ to everything they ask me to do.  I also tell my Australian publisher that I will travel via Sydney, and I will do a speaking event if they can find a venue.  I contact the British Consulate-General, and ask if they will host/introduce my talk.  

 

It all comes together:  http://www.unimagined.org/australia.html

 

 

·  I didn’t get any response from the schools I e-mailed about school workshops.  I discover a marketing company which will send a custom-designed e-mail, with graphics, to every school in the country (within selected parameters).  I opt to try this, starting with every secondary school in England (keeping the potential travel distances under control).

 

About 5,000 emails go out, on the day of the campaign.

 

I get about 150 hits to my schools webpage, in the time immediately following the campaign.

 

I get two calls.

 

I get one firm booking.

 

A girls’ technology college in Spalding asks me to spend a day there, just before the end of term, and conduct three 90-minute sessions, to a total audience of literally hundreds of pupils.

 

I am apprehensive, but the sessions go really well. The time flies by.  I talk about ‘emotional intelligence’ – what this means, why it’s a good idea, and illustrating it with personal experiences.  I also explain about not judging people, not jumping to conclusions based on limited evidence, and not making assumptions (the Anne Widdecombe story is perfect for this).  

 

The pupils do seem engaged.  By lunchtime, I’ve done two sessions, and I’m exhausted.  The third session does go mercifully quickly, and I am totally drained, but in a good way.  I really enjoy this!   The pupils seem to enjoy it as well.  

 

       

 

Each time, pupils form impromptu queues for my autograph, and ask painful questions like, ‘Are you rich?’

 

Throughout the day, the school staff are supportive and seem very interested themselves. My impression of teachers is that they are very busy, burdened, and somewhat tired

 

 

The money I make from this event is enough to pay for the marketing e-mail.  I don’t get any other bookings before the school year ends.

 

So the school workshops idea does work, it’s just a question of getting enough exposure and invitations.  (Okay, exposure is the wrong word to use in this schools context, what with all those new government background checks.)

 

If I can do two of these per week, I will be fine.

 

 

·  July 2009:  I finally meet Nick Gold, head of Speakers Corner – the UK’s leading speakers’ bureau.  I tell him about my US speaking tour, the warm reception I received, the wonderful acclaim and the amazing testimonials.  Nick tells me that he receives scores of approaches every week, from people who want to be listed as speakers.  I talk enthusiastically to Nick about my experiences, and he says that I am ‘a natural storyteller’ and agrees to list me on Speakers Corner!

 

 

 

 

·  I go to a recording studio to audition for the part of myself, narrating the audiobook of Unimagined.

 

A few days later I get the news – I got the part!   I’m good enough to play myself.   (But for the screen version, I insist on someone better looking, to better represent me.)

 

 

·  My financial situation is becoming dire.  I don’t understand.  I put everything into this, but I had such great evidence that it would work.  Sue Townsend and Anne Widdecombe each chose Unimagined as their favourite books of the year, in two different UK newspapers, Guardian and Independent; the Sydney Morning Herald chose it in their ‘books of the year’, and their reviewer, Bruce Elder, wrote the most amazing foreword to the Australian edition; Scott Pack said the paperback would be ‘massive’; dovegreyreader chose it as her favourite non-fiction read of the year; Clive Keeble, a bookseller in Somerset, read it three times and said it was a ‘defining moment in his trade’; Manchester Grammar School placed it on their Year 9 Top Ten reading list; Stirling University put it on the core curriculum for English Literature; Publishing News said it was likely to be ‘a word-of-mouth hit’ and ‘a slow build bestseller’; Phillip Pullman read it twice and wrote a glowing review; Booksellers’ Choice selected it from all the thousands of books which come out every season; Catherine Lockerbie ‘just loved Unimagined so much’ …. The list goes on and on.  

 

I don’t understand it.  With so much acclaim and positive energy, why is it not possible to make a profit from a book?  … It’s the poor distribution and non-existent promotion.  Without these, it’s impossible.  Despite all this acclaim, WHSmith refused to stock Unimagined.

 

 

·  August:  My financial resources are at an end.  I haven’t been able to make any net profit from writing or speaking, so far.  I’ve applied for corporate jobs, but nothing has come through.  Now I’ve run out of time.

 

 

Wednesday:  The phone rings.  It’s a recruiter I’ve dealt with in the past.  There is a company which is planning a global ERP implementation programme.  My 20 years of experience in this area would be of enormous use to them.  I say that I am interested.  He calls again later, having arranged an interview for the next day.

 

Thursday:  The interview goes remarkably well.  There is no doubt that my skills and experience will be useful.  He wants me to come back for a final interview next week. But I’m going to be in Australia.  He agrees that I should come in the week after I get back.

 

Saturday:  Leave for Sydney, and in the back of my mind I’m more relaxed, because I think I have a job sorted out.

 

 

·  This two week trip kicks-off with my talk at the famous Gleebooks – introduced by the British Consul-General!

 

http://www.youtube.com/user/UnimaginedComms#p/a/u/1/8xhqS4q8IRU

 

 

I travel on to Byron Bay, for BBWF 2009.

 

 

BBWF 2009: ‘If I’d known this, I would have brought fewer underpants.’

 

 

I had said ‘Yes’ to everything, during the planning stage, so I have a very busy literary festival at Byron Bay (Australia’s second largest after Sydney).

 

‘Yes’ to the schools event before the Festival proper.

 

http://www.youtube.com/user/UnimaginedComms#p/u/0/HzLb8s-ybNg  

 

I tell the kids I didn’t fully understand the mechanics of reproduction until I was 12.  A local newspaper reports that I didn’t know where babies come from until I was 17. That’s outrageous!   How dare they make this stuff up.  http://www.northernstar.com.au/story/2009/08/07/schools-thought-writers-festival/

 

‘Yes’ to all the panel events.

 

‘Yes’ to ABC radio.

 

‘Yes’ to the evening event in an art gallery.

 

‘Yes’ to the Writers’ Cabaret:   http://www.youtube.com/user/UnimaginedComms#p/u/2/68oDck8hejk

 

‘Yes’ to out-of-Festival events:  http://www.youtube.com/user/UnimaginedComms#p/u/3/e7IT65HGnsk

 

I have a wonderful time, people are very appreciative, and Unimagined is the Number One Bestseller at BBWF 2009!

 

http://blogs.smh.com.au/entertainment/archives/undercover/022014.html

 

Sunday: Return from Australia and sleep.

 

Monday; Sleep some more.

 

 

Tuesday:  Drive to Queens Park, NW6, for the first of three days in the sound studio, recording my audiobook.  Patch and Adam are consummate professionals – they make this a really enjoyable and fulfilling experience.  Adam is managing my recording and is very easy to work with.  Three days in a windowless room, eloquently reading aloud your own book is hard work!

 

During the recording of the audiobook, the narrator (myself) is only allowed to make changes if these are agreed with the writer (myself).  So I can make little changes here and there, to enhance the audiobook, as long as I notify myself and get permission from myself.  I do make a few minor enhancements, which make the audiobook better, and I do give myself the necessary approval.  

 

Wednesday:  I’m driving to the studio on another beautiful, sunny morning.  On the final stretch, I’m aware of a police car immediately behind me.  Ahead of me, a parked car is indicating that it wants to pull out, so I slow to let it go.  Just before the studio, I approach a zebra crossing.  A couple of pedestrians are coming up to the crossing, but they are still about five feet away from it.  I drive past slowly, and reach the gate of the business estate which houses the studio.  I’m out of my car, walking to the gate to use the buzzer, when the police car pulls up behind me, with its blue lights flashing.  The boy in the police uniform then proceeds to give me a lecture about stopping at pedestrian crossings.  But the two pedestrians hadn’t reached the crossing!

 

I’ve had a full driving licence since before this kid was born – literally.  I am seething with anger that the law and order system in this country is slowly being lost to young people who wouldn’t even be able to explain the difference in the algorithms used to define the ‘Famous Five’ and the ‘Secret Seven’. (Answer:  ‘Five’ includes the dog, ‘Seven’ excludes the dog.)  But, my commonsense prevails.  I know that he has all the power in this situation, and I act with deference and respect, apologising profusely for my error of judgement.

 

 

I walk into the studio and my energy and mood have changed noticeably.  I am so angry – will this change of emotional state be apparent in the middle part of the audiobook?  Will the listeners notice?  I breathe deeply and let it go.  We miss you, PC Rice, rest in peace.

 

Thursday:  I complete the recording, and Adam says it sounds really good.  His wife’s been listening to it, and she thinks so too.

 

 

·Friday:  The final interview for that job.  They want to give it to me, because my skills and experience, in global ERP implementation programmes, are exceptional.  The Chief Operating Officer (COO) discusses the offer directly with me.  He explains that he doesn’t want to pay me what I’m worth, because he has to pay a % commission to the recruiter, based on the salary, and he wants to minimise this commission.  He wants to start me at a lower salary, and he will give it a full review on 1st December.  He offers me precisely half of what I used to be on.  I try to protest, but he won’t budge.  What choice do I have?  I have nothing left.  I agree.  Then I learn that: there’s no pension scheme at all; there’s no healthcare insurance; there are fewer vacation days than I’ve ever had; they are the longest contractual hours that I’ve ever had – 8:30 am to 6 pm.

 

This feels so seedy and exploitative.  

 

This is the first time in my life I’ve accepted a job offer which left me feeling dead inside.

 

I start on Tuesday and I’m given an antique computer and placed in a room with absolutely no natural light.  I am grateful for the job, and the income (which I need), but my energy is completely drained every day and I can’t do anything to do with writing and speaking.  I am miserable.

 

Every lunchtime, I walk outside in the business park, appreciate the beautiful trees, watch the ducks, admire the clouds (they are all unique), breathe deeply of the air.  I am grateful for this job and this income.

 

 

 

I’m in a meeting with some consultants who are hoping to do the global ERP project for us.   The COO treats them like dirt, saying he’s heard terrible things about their performance at other places.  It’s his way of trying to haggle them down.  That’s no way to treat people.  (Several other firms,  who came for discussions, have walked away.)  This is so typical of the awful attitude here.  I don’t feel like I belong here at all.  In fact, I’m ashamed to work here.  (But I need the money.)  (‘To thine own self be true’ echoes in my head.   Who said that?)

 

At least I’m going to Indonesia soon, for UWRF 2009 in Bali (I’ve been invited back – apparently I did quite well last year – what an honour!) and a speaking tour to launch my Indonesian book.

 

 

·  October:  Thursday: Five weeks into the new job, my boss tells me that they’ve shelved the ERP project, and he’s going to let me go.  Since I’m on probation, there’s only one week’s notice.  But, as a kindness, he’ll do it when I return from Indonesia.  (I’m leaving on Saturday.)

 

·  Friday:  I get an e-mail from America.

 

"Imran, you bastard!  I'm supposed to be revising for my Congress exam, and picked up your book for "just a bit."

Now I've read the whole damn thing! … If I’d been born seven years earlier, I might be your twin."

 

Lieut Greg Bowling -- Texas National Guard

 

 

 

·  The same day:  Aurum Press give me the following information about Unimagined:  

 

Hardback, 102 in stock, 5380 sold; Paperback 0 in stock, 3369 sold.  

 

This is completely askew, of course.  A paperback is supposed to outsell the hardback by about ten-to-one.  But the awful paperback cover and the complete lack of promotion have done this.  And they made my wonderful Editor, Karen, redundant at the beginning of the year – the one who had written, when Unimagined was first submitted to her: ‘Seldom have I enjoyed a manuscript so much.’  

 

I write to Aurum, urging them to adopt the hardback cover for the reprint, because the paperback cover never worked.  Also, Wendy Cooling thinks there should be a schools edition, which just goes up to the point where I leave for university.  She’s already had interest in this.  

 

Aurum’s reply is somewhat unexpected: they won’t be doing a reprint and the rights can revert to me.  I’m going out-of-print!  I’m JR Hartley, already!  Soon I’ll be wandering around second-hand bookshops, trying to find copies of my book.

 

 

 

·  Saturday:  I’m sitting at Heathrow, on my way to Bali, and I call Milton.  I tell him that I have no job and no publisher.  He says, ‘Well, it sounds like they were both holding you back.’  He’s right: both this job and this publisher were wrong for me.  The job sucked the creative life-force energy out of me, and the publisher just couldn’t keep up with everything I did to make Unimagined successful.

 

·  I have a wonderful time at UWRF 2009, which is truly a magical and wonderful literary festival.  Apparently, Janet DeNeefe has written to many famous writers, inquiring if they’d be interested in coming, and some never bothered to reply.  Well, it’s completely their loss.

 

UWRF 2009: 'Please take off your clothes and lie down, Mr Imran,' she says.

 

The Director of the Byron Bay Writers Festival, Jeni Caffin, is in Ubud, and she tells me about the Emirates Literary Festival in Dubai.  Apparently, it’s a magnificent, prestigious, glamorous event.  She’s going to recommend me to them, but the programme is closed for March 2010, so it would be for 2011.

 

Whilst in Bali, I have an opportunity to visit the amazing Green School.

 

After UWRF, I do a speaking tour of Java, and it’s an absolutely wonderful experience.  The Indonesians are a gentle, humorous, good-natured people (even though I generally avoid sweeping generalisations).  They seem to have a warm, spiritual Islam, rather than a dark, fear-driven one.  My fundamental message is that they should not judge the whole Western world by outrages like Abu Ghraib, anymore than they would want all Muslims in the world to be judged by the actions of some terrorists.  They seem inclined to believe me.

 

 

 

After one talk, at a university, the Professor brings forward an envelope and something in a cylindrical wrapping, saying that they have something for me.  I’m going to get an honorary doctorate!  At last!  I failed to get a PhD in Chemistry the usual way (by doing the hard work).  

 

They turn out to be a Certificate of Appreciation and a mini-umbrella.  Well, that umbrella will be useful in England, because a doctorate would not keep the rain off me.  I can always frame the Certificate of Appreciation.

 

 

 

·  Back in England, I am not let go from my job, after all.  Aside from the shelved project, there are other tasks that I can be deployed to do – not very stimulating tasks, but I’m grateful to have a job.  I get started on writing the standardised global accounting procedures.  I am also required to note down minutes of meetings (they know that I am a skilled writer).  

 

·  The best part of every weekday is my lunchtime walk amongst the trees, resting my tired eyes by drinking in the views.  I used up all of my 2009 vacation days for Indonesia, and will have to work every day between Christmas and New Year.

 

 

·  The audiobook is out.  It’s really great!  And that’s the objective opinion of people who aren’t my friends.

 

  

 

·  My financial situation is terrible.  Because I’m only earning half of what I used to, it’s a real struggle to meet all my commitments, especially the credit card balances accumulated by my unwavering investments in writing and speaking.  I finally seek help from a debt advice company, cease all use of credit cards, and go on a debt management plan.  This is so unexpected – I always thought I would get a return on my investment.  I always thought it was the right thing to do.  Should I not have paid for Sydney, Bali, the US speaking tour, Byron Bay, Bali again, and not given away so many copies?  

 

 

·  The anti-Muslim hysteria continues to sweep across America, with incidents taking place everywhere.  It’s catalysed by a media which only covers negative news items, perpetrating the idea that all Muslims are terrorists, completely skewing reality – this is like Germany in the 1930s.  What America needs is an insight into the overwhelming ordinariness of being Muslim.  America needs to read Unimagined.

 

·  Scott Pack tells me that he will try to introduce me to a UK publisher who might be willing to take on Unimagined.

 

·  My agent at Curtis Brown tells me that ICM, one of America’s leading creative agencies, is looking at Unimagined right now, with a view to possibly finding a US publisher.  I ask her to make sure they have my Proposal to a US Publisher.  

 

 

 

·  Monday 30 November: I wake up to find a completely unexpected e-mail – an invitation to the Emirates Literary Festival 2010 in Dubai – all expenses paid!   I thought the programme was closed.  They tell me that Jeni Caffin recommended me, they looked at my website, and decided to squeeze me in.  It’s in March, and it will be amazing.

 

 

 

·  Tuesday 1 December:  I send the COO an e-mail reminding him that he deliberately started me on a low salary so that he would pay less commission to the recruiting agency, and that he promised to fully review my salary on 1 December.  

 

·  Tuesday 8 December:  My boss runs over the things I’ve been tasked to do, perks up suddenly when I mention that the least important task of all (printing out some process flow diagrams, which he only ever mentioned verbally, and was never on any written plan), hasn’t gone well for technical reasons, and he immediately writes it down.  Half-an-hour later, I am fired.  

 

My boss isn’t actually a bad guy.  It’s this awful place that forces people to behave this way.

  

I should be upset, for I have no money, but I feel curiously liberated and a sense that this was inevitable.  Even though I’m facing financial ruin, I feel relief that I’m not going into that environment anymore.  It wasn’t what I’m supposed to do.

  

·  I face the prospect of Christmas and the New Year without a job, without an English language publisher in the Northern Hemisphere, and without money to pay the bills.  But my heart tells me that I was right to pursue this, and to put everything into it, because this is my true Life’s Work.

 

 

·  I see Piers Morgan on the television, and I remember him saying that he was once flown to New York, just for a quick press appearance.  There and back, just like that.  Why can't that happen to me?  Why do I have to struggle so much to make an impact?

 

·  The next morning, there's another e-mail from the Emirates Literary Festival.  They would like to fly me to Dubai in January, just for a quick appearance at the publicity Press Conference to announce the unveiling of the Festival programme (the Festival is in March).  They would like me to appear as an Author Representative, because they think I would be great for that purpose.  There and back, just like that.  

 

'Is that okay?' they ask.

 

 

·  Dear Santa,

 

   I would like to propose two options for what I’d like for Christmas:

 

O  Option A

 

    --  A committed UK publisher

 

    --  A smart US publisher

 

    --  A lot of school workshops

 

    --  A few paid speaking events

 

    –  Peace-work opportunities

 

    –  A portfolio of opportunities to make a living, using my gifts for the greatest good.

 

or

 

O  Option B

 

    –  A job that’s well-paid enough for me to meet all my financial commitments, and forget this foolish dream of being a writer/speaker/educator/peace-worker.

 

 

Lessons Learned:

 

·  I have no idea.

 

 

All of my adventures are here in one convenient place:  http://www.unimagined.org/adventures.html

 

 

author@unimagined.co.uk

 

www.unimagined.org

 

 

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