There is some overlap in the chronology between Part Two and Part One.
· 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
· 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.
· 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,
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.
· 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,
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 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
· 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.
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.
· 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
· 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
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
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
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
· 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
· 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!
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
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.
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 audiobookis 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
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
· 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
'Is that okay?' they ask.
· Dear Santa,
I would like to propose two options for what I’d like for Christmas: