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It’s often the first question that readers ask an author: are your characters based on real individual people you know?

Usually, the answer is that fictional characters are a composite of people who have intrigued the writer. Indeed, Old Blue Imran Mahmood, from the Class of 1987, reveals that his first novel’s main character, Hero, was inspired by the many young men he defended as a barrister, in the Crown Courts across the country.

Clearly, as a criminal defence barrister of 30 years, Imran has much raw material to draw on. His hugely popular debut novel, You Don’t Know Me, has now been adapted as a BBC TV drama which is currently available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

The protagonist – who is named but who for convenience we may refer to as ‘Hero’ is on trial for murder after his girlfriend goes missing. He sacks his lawyer, believing he can better tell his story to a jury, but his version of events is entirely different from that put forward by the prosecuting barrister.

The novel’s realism, based on the author’s experience, was recognised in glowing newspaper reviews, with The Guardian newspaper hailing it as “an original take on a courtroom drama that puts the reader in the position of the jury … a gripping, vivid depiction of London’s gang culture with an authentic feel.”

Written in 2017, You Don’t Know Me, was nominated for numerous awards and presenter Simon Mayo selected it as a BBC Radio 2 Book Club Choice. Since the novel’s publication, Imran has published I Know What I Saw, in 2021

It’s an intriguing story, narrated by a once wealthy London banker, who becomes homeless and takes shelter in what he mistakes as an empty flat in the capital’s wealthy Mayfair district. To his shock, the occupants – a couple – return to the flat and begin an argument which results in a grisly murder. The police are sceptical about his story.

A reviewer from the Financial Times’ claimed that the novel “affirmed his talent.”

Imran’s third novel, All I Said Was True, is due to be published in summer 2022, and again grapples with the truth behind two versions of one story.

After leaving Blue Coat in 1987, he graduated from Kingston University, London, in 1990, and trained at the Inns of Court School of Law, going on to become a full-time practising barrister in 1992. On his chambers profile he said to be “a calm and confident advocate” who practices in both civil and criminal law.

Imran’s court on camera

We were lucky to be able to catch up with Imran to hear about his novel being adapted for television and how he finds time to write in such a busy work and family life.

What was your reaction when you received the call that the BBC would like to adapt your first novel into a television series? Did you ever consider it would be adapted for television when writing it?

“Well the process is actually quite a long one. The first thing that happens is that a TV producer asks if they can ‘option’ the book – which gives them the right to produce it. Once that has been set up then they have to approach a channel to see if the channel will give them a grant to develop it – usually something like a pilot script. Then once they are happy with it they will commission it, ie ‘greenlight’ it. That’s when you have a sense that it will be made. But even from that point on – it is never a guarantee. So, I was excited at every step of the way for sure, but there was never really a single moment when the BBC called, as it were. It is very surreal though, having something that was just a figment of your imagination being given life on screen.”

Did you have much involvement during the adaptation process?

“A good TV company has a lot of experts, so you hope that you aren’t too involved in a way. But the screen writer did ask me my opinion about some of the legal scenes and I helped re-write some of those in quite a small way. I was also the legal consultant on the show and executive producer, so I was involved in making sure that the court set was accurate and that the dialogue in the courtroom felt authentic.”

You are a criminal defence barrister and a father, so how do you find time to write? Where do you write?

“It really is getting harder each year. For the first book, you have your whole life to write. The rest are usually on contracts with deadlines. So now I write on trains on the way to court or during lunch times or even when waiting for verdicts to come in.”

Did you find the process of writing easier the second time around?

“Second time around was actually quite hard because the book was very different in terms of structure and theme so I was really starting all over again but this time with a deadline! The third book was easier and the fourth feels easier still. So hopefully it’s going in the right direction.”

With your third novel All I Said Was True due out in 2022, are you planning a fourth novel?

“The third novel has been ‘delivered’ and is ready to be published next summer. I am contracted for a fourth, which should come out the year after that.”

What makes you want to write? What feeling does it give you?

“It’s not always easy to find the right people to say whatever is on your mind, But with writing you can say all the things you want to say and your words will find people – hopefully – who will want to hear it. It gives me a way of resolving the questions I have in my mind about life and death and everything in between. It’s a great way of exploring your own feelings and holding them to account.”

Have any of your clients asked to be featured in your work?

“Not yet. But a lot of friends have asked for their names to be featured in a book. And I have done it for one or two of them!”

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