A couple of years ago I received a copy of this book through the post. It was the self-published memoir of a Muslim businessman who had been born in Pakistan but grew up in the UK during the 60s and 70s. Everything about it said 'self-published': crap cover, terrible title, dodgy production values. My instinct was yelling 'avoid avoid!'. But one thing I always tried to do when I worked in bookselling was to read a chunk of everything I was sent. It could be a chore but I sort of felt it was the least I could do.
Wherever possible I would read 50 pages. Sometimes this was simply too painful and I had to give up earlier but usually 50 pages would give me enough of an idea of the tone and feel of the writing to assess whether it was worth pursuing. The sheer volume of books I received made even this small amount of reading per title quite difficult to achieve but, on the whole, it was worth the effort. Books that passed the 50 page test would go on to another pile for me to complete at a slightly more leisurely pace.
I distinctly remember tackling the first few pages of The Path Unimagined over a cup of tea in my office at Waterstone's. An hour later my tea was cold and I was nearly half-way through the book. When the time came to trot off to the boardroom for a meeting, I found it painful to have to put it down. It was remarkable: funny, moving, intelligent, beautifully observed. The amiable confessional style along with short pithy chapters with titles such as Jesus, Spam, Muhammad, Wogs and Spock, reminded me of Nigel Slater's excellent memoir Toast. Only with added Islam. This was an excellent book and I was convinced it could be huge. But not with a cover like that it wouldn't.
Here is a small sample to give you an idea of the style and subtle humour:
I came second in the Karachi 'Bonnie Baby' contest. I was wearing a black suit, white shirt and dark tie. Smartly dressed, suave and handsome, I looked like James Bond, although I was too young to have seen either of his movies. I was also somewhat unsteady on my feet. People were particularly impressed by my light skin.
First prize went to the child of the organiser. The judges were her friends. This is absolutely typical of third-world, banana-republic unfairness. In the West, the organiser's child would not be allowed to enter the contest. I was denied the title of 'Karachi's Bonniest Baby' by blatant nepotism. I began my lifelong struggle against corruption and injustice.
I contacted the author, Imran Ahmad, and asked his permission to pass the book on to an agent. He consented so I whacked it over to Charlie Viney at the Mulcahy Viney Agency and he quickly read it and agreed with me - it was a book that deserved to be published properly.
So I am genuinely delighted and chuffed to announce that Unimagined by Imran Ahmad has just been published in hardback by Aurum. It has the most fantastic author photograph on the front (recognise the outfit?) and, with the text having been spruced up a little, is an infinitely better-looking book than its first incarnation. Sue Townsend chose it as her pick of the year for 2006 in The Guardian (presumably she read an advance proof), it is starting to get some really positive coverage and the author has already received a gushing email from one of his first 'proper' readers who bought it in Borders and is going to recommend it to all her friends.
I confidently predict that Unimagined is going to be a huge word-of-mouth success. I hope the hardback does well but, however that performs, the paperback will be massive. I cannot imagine anyone with a love of books could fail to revel in this original and witty memoir. An essential addition to your library, if you ask me.
I am very proud to have a copy inscribed by the author with the words 'Scott. This would not have happened without your help. Thank you so much! Best wishes, Imran Ahmad.' I am not sure how true that is but if a book is worth shouting about then you might as well do so loudly, and I won't stop shouting about this one for a while yet.
If you get a chance do please visit the author's website. He is organising a charity launch for the book in early March from which 100% of the proceeds of book sales will go to the Shooting Star Children's Hospice and plans to send a copy to every MP in the House Of Commons. If there is any justice, success is just around the corner for Imran.
Unimagined is published by Aurum, officially in March, but you can pick up copies now.