Today I’m joined (virtually – use your imagination) by another Musa author, Martin Bodenham. He has kindly consented for me to put him under the spotlight and fire questions at him from across the desk. Let us begin…
What is your book, The Geneva Connection, about?
It is a financial crime thriller, set in the UK, US, Mexico and Switzerland. The story is about John Kent, a massively successful private equity player, and what happens when his unbridled ambition collides with the world’s most powerful and most brutal drug cartel.
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 financial backers are a front for the world’s largest organized 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 nightmare hasn’t even started…
What was the inspiration for the book?
As a private equity investor, I witnessed a number of financial institutions running into liquidity problems during the credit crisis. That gave me the idea to write a novel about a private equity firm losing the support of its main investor due to the financial crisis and how it is desperate to find a replacement without asking too many questions.
When did you decide to take up writing?
I have wanted to write novels for many years, but the pressure of working full-time in investment fund management meant I did not have the time. Recently, I have wound down a little from running my private equity firm in order to focus on a few other things in life.
What does the writing process look like for you?
I treat as a job. I am lucky in that I have an out-building, which I have converted into an office. The days I devote to writing see me at my desk at seven in the morning. I finish around six in the evening. Whenever I have tried to do something, I have always made every effort to be the best I can be at it.
What is the most challenging part of the writing process for you?
There are always calls on my time and, if I let them, they will eat into my writing space. I mute my telephone and switch off email so I don’t become distracted. If the front doorbell rings, I don’t answer it. Treating it as work makes a big difference.
How did you find Musa Publishing?
A published author contact of mine mentioned Musa as a new publishing house run by industry professionals. They sounded like my kind of people. They were the first US publisher I approached, and they signed me up in days.
Why did you decide to go with an ebook publisher instead of a traditional print publisher?
I have always been an early adopter of new technology and I have used it throughout my investment management career to increase productivity. The days of print publishing for fiction are numbered, in my view. If it didn’t already exist today, would we choose to invent it when digital technology is available? I think not.
Can you tell us a bit about how you prepared a submission package for your novel?
I’m based in the UK so I followed the usual UK format: One page covering letter, two page synopsis and the first three chapters—one, two, three.
Having said that, I found it difficult to reduce my story down to its basic elements. I treated it like all the business plans I have received over the years as a private equity investor. The two page executive summary is massively important. It determines whether or not an investor wants to read the full plan. I figured publishers were like investors, which they are in many ways. They have to decide which few stories they will back. Like investing, knowing the ones to walk away from is as important as choosing the winners.
What piece of advice do you think is most important for aspiring writers to remember?
Think of it as a business if you want to have your work published. Then treat the writing as a job and properly devote your time to it. Treat the editing process as a great way to improve your product, and not as an attack on you. Finally, recognize that publishers are business people, so ask yourself why they should invest their scarce resources behind your work. The rest will follow.
What do you see as the biggest obstacle for emerging writers?
I think the greatest challenge for new writers is trying to stand out in a crowded market and in a digital age in which anyone can broadcast a message at very little cost. Readers and consumers are bombarded with messages, and there are very few quality filters on which they can rely.
Which authors or individual books have inspired you in your writing?
The authors whose work I really enjoy are John Grisham, Michael Connelly and James Patterson. I love their fast pace, multiple settings and attention to detail.
Do you think it’s important to have a character’s morality defined early on in a book?
I think it is important to establish early on the main character traits of the protagonist, so that a reader can decide whether to support them or not. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not the protagonist is likeable. I just want the reader to have a strong emotional bias for or against him and, therefore, have an interest in what happens.
Have you written any short fiction?
No. Once I start a novel, I find I have too much to say!
Do you have a view on the recent criticism of HMRC’s alleged cosiness to some larger companies when they’re negotiating a UK tax bill?
The tax affairs of large companies can be very complex. Consequently, there can be many grey areas and uncertainties as to the right interpretation of the tax regulations relating to their affairs. That said, I see very little flexibility or understanding offered to businesses and individual taxpayers so I don’t understand why HMRC needs to adopt a warm and cuddly approach to large companies. There should be one consistent approach applying to all.
What are you working on next?
Another financial thriller involving a Boston based private equity firm and US government corruption.