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Mahi Cheshire: 'If you really want to be published, be prepared for rejection as it happens to most writers at some point or another'

BY Katie Smart
12th Jul 2022

Mahi Cheshire studied with us back in 2018. She is represented by Curtis Brown agent Isobel Gahan and her debut thriller Deadly Cure is out now from Harvill Secker.

Mahi has been shortlisted in two categories at this year’s Dead Good Reader Awards! Deadly Cure has been nominated for The Cold as Ice Award for Most Chilling Read and The Dead Good Recommends Award for Most Recommended Book. Find out more and vote for Mahi here. Voting closes Mon 18 July.

We spoke to Mahi about how her work as doctor helped inspire the hospital setting of her debut thriller and her advice for aspiring authors.

You joined our online YA and Children’s Fiction Writing Studio led by Emily Barr in 2018. How did your time studying with us impact your approach to writing?

I found it really helped to have feedback from Emily and the other writers on the course, and also to give feedback on other's work. We can be so familiar with our own work that it's difficult to see things from an external perspective and see what works and what needs fixing, so I found the course super helpful for that. It also helped having accountability, all of us were working on our pieces at the same time and checking in with each other or posting work for feedback at certain dates really helped me to progress my draft. There is also lots of advice that I've taken away and use, both about the craft of writing and approach to finishing a project. One piece of advice from Emily which I loved was that we don’t need to be actively writing to think about the work. That can be done at any time, even when doing chores etc, and then when you get to the laptop you know exactly what to write and can get on with it.

You’re represented by Curtis Brown agent Isobel Gahan. How did you know that you’d found the right literary agent?

I'm really lucky to have a great agent in Izzy. We had a meeting before I signed and discussed my work in progress and the ideas she had for revision which I agreed with and were in line with my vision for the book. I think that's a really important thing to bear in mind when looking for an agent. Izzy's way of working with clients which involves being hands on and editorial suited me well too as I find sounding out ideas and getting feedback really helpful in improving my work. She was also so approachable, open to answering my many questions and happy to explain things which I wasn't familiar with as a newbie author. And open to work which didn't fall under the genres she represented at the time, something which was really important to me as I love the idea of working across different genres. I think ideally an author an agent should have the similar visions for both their current work and for the longer term.

Your debut novel Deadly Cure is a gripping medical thriller, out now from Harvill Secker. Can you tell us more about the novel and the inspiration behind it?

Deadly Cure is a psychological thriller set in a London hospital, about two doctors/best friends who fall out over a job researching a cancer vaccine. When one is murdered, the other becomes the prime suspect. The main character Rea’s voice, and the prologue came to me quite early on but I didn’t quite know what to do with it until I spotted a certain hidden area in a hospital I worked at. No spoilers so I won't say too much about it here! But it ended up being a very important part of the plot. I did a lot of night shifts in my training and found the combination of the eerie atmosphere in the hospital at night, with hardly any people around, as well as the groggy and exhausted feeling of nights, also sparked something in the story. Rea is a somewhat unreliable narrator at times, for other reasons, but also amplified by that night shift state of mind. The hospital is such a high stakes environment, so I found it lent itself to the drama of a thriller. Deadly Cure is kind of like Grey's Anatomy with a psychological thriller twist.

Would you say that your experience working with the NHS helped you incorporate medical details in your novel?

Yes, absolutely. I did most of my training in hospital, so the environment is very familiar to me. Because of this scene setting e.g. on the wards, in A and E, was more straightforward. And knowing how the hospital works, the hierarchies of job roles and little details like that helped. Having medical knowledge really saved me a lot of research too! That said, I did consult with doctor friends to make sure I’d got details right at various points which concerned specialties I hadn’t directly worked in. We often encountered ethical dilemmas in the medical field and while we have set guidelines to deal with things, these situations would often spark discussions within the team and questions as to what actually is the right thing in certain situations. So that's something I put into Deadly Cure, with an ethical dilemma that underpins the story.

You were originally working on YA before gaining a publishing deal and making waves with your debut thriller. What prompted your genre change?

I had been working on Deadly Cure before the YA book but it needed a rewrite, so I started doing that while the YA was out on submission. I suppose as a distraction from the submission stress! It's a completely different book to the YA so it was nice to have that change. It was fun to try things like different formats with letter and diary entries, changes in points of view and time shifts. I found writing crime/thriller a really interesting process as there was licence to try lots of different ways of presenting the information, to keep the reader guessing, which may not always work in another genre.

Can you talk us through your writing routine?

I balance writing with looking after my toddler and my work as a GP so my writing routine is a bit all over the place at the moment! I just try to get it done whenever I can, mainly at my little one's nap time or after bedtime. I've found using a notes app that syncs so useful for this, so I can even do a bit of writing on my phone when I get a few minutes and pick up again on my laptop when I have more time. My mind tends to be fresher in the morning though, so if I do get time to write first thing, then that's usually the most productive time for me.

What’s been your favourite book of 2022 so far?

I just finished Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura and loved it. It's part magical realism/fantasy, about a group of teens who have been, for different reasons, avoiding school. They meet by accident in a mysterious castle, accessed via mirrors in their bedrooms. It was so unexpected and moving.

What advice do you have for the aspiring authors reading this?

Don't give up! If you really want to be published, then be prepared for rejection as it happens to most writers at some point or another. The important thing is not to take it personally, which can be easier said than done I know, but it's such a subjective industry so if you can make your book the best it can possibly be, then it will connect with the people who are right for it. The other thing I'd say, which helps with dealing with rejection and more, is to find your writing community. Being an author brings up such unique situations and it helps to have people on your side who have been there and get it. It's so nice to be able to vent to each other when needed, to support each other and shout about each other’s achievements when things are going well.

Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?

I’m working on another psychological thriller, this time set in Sri Lanka, about a surgeon who takes a job caretaking an old bank building in Colombo and becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding the house, involving a woman who went missing. It’s quite a different book to Deadly Cure, with a gothic feel and shaping up to be quite creepy in places! I’m also working on something else which I don’t think I can talk about just yet, but hopefully soon!

Get your hands on a copy of Deadly Cure.