Interview: Rehan Khan

Rehan Khan is a talented Dubai-based author and history buff. He bases his stories on historical events, integrating plenty of gripping action and suspense. Mr Khan is the author of ‘A King’s Armour’ and ‘A Tudor Turk’, which was nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 2020. He recently very kindly agreed to be interviewed by me.

In your opinion, what are the most important elements of a good piece of writing?

Making an emotional connection with the reader. Any piece of writing, particularly the novel form is an opportunity for the reader to enter a world where they meet characters who are different to them. It’s also an opportunity for the writer to create a bridge of empathy between the character and the reader. Outwardly these characters appear dissimilar to us, but as we learn about their struggles and challenges we recognise a common human struggle and that in turn brings us closer to them.

Then, when we meet people in our communities, who are unlike us, we can reach out to them with the same lens of empathy we were willing to show the characters in the novel.

Forging an emotional connection with the reader should be your focus. How you deliver that on the page is then down to learning the craft of writing: such as how you plan and design your novel’s setting, it’s characters and the plot. These are the tools which the writer has at their disposal.

What drew you towards writing about the historical fiction genre?

History was always my favourite subject at school. Yet I always had this gnawing sensation that I wasn’t seeing the whole picture, the helicopter view. What we were taught was only a slither of what was actually happening at the time. This is understandable, because a syllabus can’t cover everything.

After finishing University I kept reading books about historical periods and came across fascinating situations and individuals with incredible tales to tell. My curiosity led me to dig deeper, find out what else was going on and I uncovered entire gold-mines of narratives, myths and legends, which when woven together created a fine tapestry of storytelling material.

For example I read about the Battle of Tondibi in west Africa in 1591, when the Moroccan forces defeated the Songhai nation. I hadn’t even heard of the Songhai, but when I looked them up I realised they were the most significant empire that there ever was from west Africa. My research led me to creating the character of Awa Maryam al-Jameel who comes from the famous intellectual centre of Timbuktu.   

History provides a gold-mine for the writer, but these tales need to be relevant for the modern reader, and so this comes back to making an emotional connection and using the tools of storytelling to make the narrative gripping.

What do you hope your readers will take away from this story?

In A Tudor Turk and A King’s Armour, the central value running through the story is one of unity. Here is a quote from A Tudor Turk, which summarises my idea about unity. It’s spoken by the antagonist, or the villain of the story.

Rothminster surveyed Konjic with a penetrating gaze. “You strike me as a good man, Commander, but where the good are put in charge of the wicked, empires will be destroyed. It is when the wicked are given oversight of the good, does empire become strong.”

“I would beg to differ with your kind of politics,” said Konjic.

Rothminster took a step closer to him. “My type of politics leads to a clash of religions, a clash of cultures and a clash of races. Your type of politics unifies under an imperial cause. In the end I will win, because dividing and conquering is far easier than unifying the hearts of men.”

And that’s the value I’m trying to express in the story – unity. It’s hard to remain unified, but when we do we can achieve so much together. Unity doesn’t diminish us, it enriches us.