Friday 9 March 2012

Dancing With Myself: MARTIN BODENHAM interviews MARTIN BODENHAM

Lots of news this week. 

First off, Dirty Old Town (and other stories) has made it through to the Final 4 of the Spinetinger 'Favourite Crime E-book Tournament'.  Thanks to all those who have supported the collection so far.  If you feel like voting again, check out the might books in the semi-finals here.

I'm also pleased to be able to let you know that Dirty Old Town should sell its 1500th book over the weekend, which is way beyond my initial hopes.

Yesterday the short story competition for the Bloody Scotland crime-fiction festival was announced.  The prizes are ace - a pass for the whole event, an engraved decanter filled with some posh (and expensive) whisky, a week at an Arvon course of the winner's choosing and publication in an anthology to be put out by the amazing Blasted Heath.  It's £10 per entry, but the cause is a worthy one, so thinking caps on.

And there's news from Byker Books that their latest collection is out this weekend.  Welcome to Radgepacket 6.

If that weren't enough, here's Martin Bodenham takng to the dance floor.

Take it away, Martin.

Investment bankers are down there with traffic wardens and tax inspectors; people love to hate them. What made you become one?

When I started in private equity in the 1980s, it was about providing risk capital to growing companies. That appealed to me. But somewhere along the line much of the industry moved on to mega buy-outs, laden with massive amounts of debt, forcing companies to lay off workers and cut costs to meet their debt obligations. Little wonder that taxpayers baulked at bailouts for investment banks that spent the last decade gambling pension fund monies and mutual funds at the casino. Underneath all this, quietly happening in the background, the proper role of private equity goes on. I like to think I am still part of that sane bit of the market.

It sounds like you have little time for the financial masters of the universe.

The truth is there are some big egos in investment banking and many enjoy enormous rewards for taking little risk. Most of the capital they invest is not their own, and yet they take a disproportionate share of the upside. On top of that, the big US private equity fund executives pay tax at the rate of 15% on most of their remuneration. I don’t think that’s right.

So why set your novels in the financial markets if you don’t like the people?

Because those markets are full of great material for a writer. Greed and fear in private equity provide all the conflict and tension I need to create interesting stories. The excesses and the Machiavellian characters I have met in the industry are a bonus for any author looking for inspiration.

The Geneva Connection was your debut thriller novel last year. What gave you the idea for the story?

Real life. My own private equity firm suffered the loss of its largest investor, and we had to litigate. That made me question what one of the mega firms would do if they lost their largest source of investment funds. How desperate would such a firm become, if the CEO was one of these guys with a massive ego? What corners might such a person cut?

The Geneva Connection is a financial thriller where the worlds of private equity and organized drug crime collide. CEO, John Kent, thought he had it all. The phenomenal success of his private equity firm has propelled him into the world’s wealthy super-league. Self-made and from a poor background, he’s living his dream. Then he discovers his new financial backers are a front for the world’s largest organised crime group, the Mexican Caruana drug cartel. It is run by Felix Safuentes, also known as “Jivaro” after the South American tribe famous for decapitating its enemies. Kent’s life spirals into a nightmare when the head of the DEA’s investigations unit leans on him to provide evidence against his criminal investors or be incarcerated for collusion and money laundering. It will be obvious to the cartel if he cooperates.

Are financial thrillers what you want to write in future?

Yes. Having spent the last twenty-five years in private equity, it’s an industry I know well. I’d like to use that experience to give my novels an air of authenticity. When I read a novel, I want to be entertained, but I also want to experience worlds about which I know nothing, learn something new. I think the public is fascinated by the world of international finance. It’s a mystery to most people. Now the financial crisis is daily news, my judgement is that there is a real appetite for financial thrillers.

Any plans for your next novel?

I have just finished the first draft of my second novel. It is about a private equity firm in Boston Massachusetts and how it becomes caught up in US government corruption going all the way to the top.

The Geneva Connection was partly set in the US as well. Why the fascination with the US when you’re a Brit?

Although I grew up in the UK, and my mother is British, my father was an American serving in the US Air Force. I have family there too. For those reasons, I have always had an interest in America. My wife and I lived there for some years when I was working for Price Waterhouse in the 1980s. It is quite interesting that I ended up with a US publisher.

How did you find the process of finding a publisher when you were a debut author?

As a first time author, I thought it would be difficult to attract the interest of the big publishing houses, particularly without an agent. A friend of mine is a multi-published writer, and he suggested that some of the smaller, independent presses were still open to direct approaches from debut authors. This seemed like good advice so I researched the market, both in the UK and US, as my novel was set in both countries, as we just discussed. I ended up with a potential list of fifteen publishers. I started small and approached only one in the US and one in the UK in the first instance. I figured I would learn from those before sending out more submissions. In fact, both publishers showed interest, and I decided to accept the contract from Musa Publishing.

What has surprised or amazed you about the publishing industry as a whole?

I have been amazed by the similarity of the worlds of publishing and private equity. When I sent in my publisher submissions, I remembered what three things matter most to a private equity firm when it decides whether or not to run with a business plan. Only one or two plans out of a hundred are ever considered. These three things were: money (how will the publisher make money out of this?), market (can I convince the publisher there is a sustainable market for my writing?), and management (do I have a strong background in my market which means my writing will have credibility and authenticity?).


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  1. Great interview, Martin! Many people do not consider those three things - money, market and management - when fishing the waters for a publishing company. Prospective authors need to realize publishing is a business first, and that publishers invest in authors. Sounds like Musa made a great investment! Cheers!

  2. Hi Sharon

    It is a common weakness with creative people, I'm afraid.