18 February 2019

Emad Akhtar: ‘Write the book you want to read’

Emad Akhtar, publishing director for Orion Fiction
by Curtis Brown 120 Curtis Brown 120, Writing Tips

Welcome to the next in our series of Curtis Brown 120 blog posts, these blogs include exclusive interviews with authors, agents and publishers; writing tips; industry insights – and much more besides.

This week we’re talking to Emad Akhtar, publishing director at Orion Fiction. Emad is the lead for crime novels and thrillers. Read on to find out more about Emad, including what he looks for in a submission and his go-to book recommendations …

What was the first book you commissioned?
I reckon it was The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel. It was the first in a series I’d pitch as a sort of Victorian Jonathan Creek – each book is very entertaining and clever ‘is-it-or-isn’t-it’ supernatural puzzle to solve. That book (and the cover) will always hold a special place in my heart!

What’s your favourite debut novel?
Tough to pick only one… In terms of recent crime novels, then definitely Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which is simply spectacular. In terms of stuff less in my work area, maybe Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid or White Teeth by Zadie Smith as between the two of them they do capture something about Pakistan and London respectively which did speak to me quite deeply at the time.

If you could tell your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Read more, smoke less, and nobody really knows what they’re doing so don’t feel like you have to!

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write the book you want to read.

Which book do you always recommend to others?
A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. And Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Very different but very brilliant – I remember the whole time reading them both it felt like my heart and mind were expanding, and I want everyone to feel whatever that is.

What is your pet hate in submissions?
I do get annoyed when the overall impact of a series of words and sentences reads like the most obvious, stock phrases have been chosen ad nauseum. If – out of all the words, ideas, images available in this incredible communication tool of written language – someone outsources all their word/phrase choices, it will make me despair.

Who is your favourite fictional hero/heroine?
This is basically impossible to answer… Hercule Poirot? Jean-Luc Picard? Arya Stark? They’re all up there but I really cannot pick just one.

What was the last book you read?
Reading all the time for work, so I increasingly read non-fiction in my spare time. Just read a book called A Little History of the World by E. H. Gombrich. I am getting quite into ancient history at the moment – it’s proper mad how all that happened…

What book is totally overrated in your view?
It’s easy to say stuff is overrated if you’re not in the audience for it, or it’s not your thing. Loads of stuff I don’t like because, really, I don’t get it. Which is fine, but I try to not weigh in too much – it’s just an opinion, probably an ill-formed one. I also don’t like that many books. For example, most psychological thrillers I read are wildly overrated. But I think, to keep it more in my own wheelhouse, I personally felt that The Reluctant Fundamentalist was overrated. This is an author who I’ve read everything by, am a big fan of (see earlier), and whose books I buy the week they’re out. And this is his most famous one – and I thought it good for the most part, but not very good in one respect. It gets way more praise than any of his other fantastic books, for reasons that I am very suspicious of.

Also The Fellowship of the Ring – is good, but sort of overrated. The Two Towers, however, absolutely brilliant! This is fun … What else? Most of that Beat generation stuff I’ve read – Kerouac, Bukowski – I always felt all that was a bit overrated. I feel bad for authors, as it’s not up to them how things get (over/under)rated, but any backlash is still on them.

What’s your guilty reading pleasure?
I just don’t believe in such a thing – sorry!

What is your prediction for the next publishing trend?
I have a few but I’ll say the one I want to be true, in the hope of fanning the flames – interactive fiction… that is choose-your-own-adventure, or reader-as-character, or other, fiction which has multiple branches of manipulatable, reactive narrative. I would love that to become a proper trend.

What are you looking for in a debut?
Something that will either make me turn the pages – so, well structured in its tension – and make me think – so, ideas to engage me – and have something to say – about us and how we live. If it does all these things, then I’ll be all over it.

Find out more about Curtis Brown 120 here.

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