We caught up with Hamish to chat all about his whirlwind journey to publication that involved an exciting three-book deal with Pan Macmillan. But these things don’t happen overnight. To understand how Hamish go to where he is today, we have to go back to the beginning.
JW: Hi Hamish, congratulations on such an exciting deal. Can you tell us a little about your path to publication?
In March of 2020, Boris Johnson announced the first lockdown of the UK to prevent the spread of the Covid
By the end of the year, the seriousness of the pandemic had become apparent and the restrictions had become more stringent and so for the first time in thirty years, I found myself at home without a full schedule of meetings and an angry inbox brimming with unread messages.
This was quite refreshing for a couple of days and then as the novelty wore off, I found myself wandering around the house looking for things to do. The inbox was clear, the impossible to-do list had vanished and an idea that had been lurking in the back of my mind since my school days began to take shape.
It was Boxing Day 2020 and I came to breakfast refreshed and alive with energy. “I am going to write a book!” I announced victoriously (I may have used the word bestselling in this sentence). My wife and children laughed. It was the first of many reality checks that would happen over the next three years in navigating the very unique and often frustrating world of publishing a novel.
So, at aged 48, equipped with my ‘B’ in A-Level English and a huge pile of books that I had read over the years, my plan was set; I would dash off a beautiful manuscript, sent it off to a big publisher and wait for the seven-figure advance cheque to arrive in the post. My only dilemma was whether to have Bollywood star Deepika Padukone in the lead role for the film or let the big guns from LA fight it out for Hollywood. This was the start of my historical series The Harveen Gill Mysteries.
My solution to this impossible problem was simple. Cheat.
As the story began to take shape, I started looking into the process of getting my book published and realised that major book companies would not accept an unsolicited manuscript. It would have to be submitted by a reputable agent and it appeared that getting such an agent would be a task in itself.
The best agents seemed to be getting hundreds of queries a week and response times went from non-existent to many, many months. Some analysis of deals announced over the last two years would suggest that authors with a South Asian background account for a little over 2% of all deals and historical fiction as a category accounts for around 3% of deals. I would be shooting at a pretty small target.
My solution to this impossible problem was simple. Cheat.
I looked for a writing community that would help to fill in all gaps in my knowledge and skill set. Joining Jericho Writers was an important step in this process. It allowed me to access comprehensive information on editing, refining my query and getting an agent without having to take the scary step of actually talking to someone (we writers can be a pretty reclusive group).
I used the Jericho Writers agent 1-2-1 service to better understand what agents were looking for, and then used my own network to find people who were in the book industry. I found that by being brave and telling people about my journey and asking for help, a number of introductions happened that led to both the agents that I worked with including the lovely Jane Compton who secured my deal.
Initially, The Muziris Empire, at 130k words, received detailed and mostly enthusiastic responses, editors taking time to explain why they were passing, but passing nonetheless. Entering competitions, working with a couple of beta readers and then finding an editor, the wonderful Holly Domney, who transformed the manuscript into a tight, all-action, historical adventure at just under 100k words.
The second round of submissions to publishers went much wider, to major publishers from both India and the USA as well as the UK. We had strong interest from the start resulting in a number of interested parties and a pre-empt from Pan Macmillan India into what had become a three-book series.
Looking back, there are so many things that I didn’t know at the start of the process and kind people that helped me along the way, so I am always keen to help other along their journey, especially those from traditionally underrepresented parts of the writing community.
JW: Is there anything you wish you knew before becoming a published author?
Looking back, there are so many things that I didn’t know at the start of the process that I wish I had. If you’re a writer, my advice is to:
- Get out to live events. The writing community is generally open and supportive, I found that meeting people really helped me on my journey.
- Join a writing community, ideally that has members that write in your chosen genre as they all have nuances. Historical fiction writers talk about the joys of deep research, staying true to history, best publishers for the category and other things that may not be relevant for YA writers for example.
- Enter competitions, especially those that give feedback. Writers often complain about the lack of agent comments on rejections. For many reasons this type of feedback can be misleading. Better sources of constructive advice can come from competitions, betas and writing groups.
- Get busy on socials: follow writers, agents, publishers. Do interact with their posts. Do not slide into their DM’s asking for help with your project straight away! It’s a great source of information and upcoming events.
- Refine and edit your manuscript. I have recently blogged about the query trenches and why writers may get into a loop of sending out the same query over and over. It took me many versions of both manuscript and query letter to get it right. Eventually I worked with the amazing Holly Domney on a developmental edit which really opened my eyes to some ways to improve the book.
- Submit to agents/publishers outside of the UK. AgentMatch is a great resource to find potential agents, looking at the latest #MSWL on X also put me in touch with some great people. My deal was sold outside the UK.
Read, read and read. There is so much to learn from what is being published.
- Find your own routine and be kind to yourself. Lots of authors advocate for writing so many words a day and at set times. Everyone has a unique life situation and to be the most productive and creative, I think your writing needs to fit in with that. Don’t beat yourself up using someone else’s yardstick!
- Keep going, it can be a long process but, I believe in you.
Many kind people helped me along the way, so I am always keen to help others along their journey, especially those from traditionally underrepresented parts of the writing community.
Hamish Morjaria was born and brought up in North London. Having spent three decades in the business world, working for leading brands and retailers, he finally indulged his passion for ancient history and fast-paced thrillers to create The Harveen Gill Mysteries. When not writing, Hamish can be found watching cricket or walking his dog Simba during the day, and sitting in front of the fire with a cup of tea and a good book in the evening.
Hamish lives with his wife Kalpa, two children and dog in Buckinghamshire.
About the Harveen Gill Mysteries series
An edge-of-the-seat trilogy rooted in ancient Indian history that blends conspiracy theories and ancient secrets as ambitious Indian archaeologist Dr Harveen Gill races against time to make the discovery of a lifetime. But there are greater powers at play, watching her every move. As she pursues the fame and glory she craves, how much is Harveen ready to risk?
The Muziris Empire is the first book in the series and is slated for a summer 2024 publication. The Da Vinci Code meets The Magicians of Mazda in this enthralling alchemy of mythology, science, religion and cryptography, told across three interweaving perspectives, moving back and forth in time and set in present-day Kerala, which was once home to the ancient city of Muziris.