Welcome to the three hundred and eighty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with financial thriller author Martin Bodenham. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Martin. Please tell us something about yourself.
Martin: Hello, Morgen. I was born in Leicester, England in 1959 to an American father, who worked in the US Air Force, and a British mother. I was educated at the Duke of York’s Royal Military School in Kent (a military academy) and at the University of Leicester, where I read economics.
After university, I trained as a chartered accountant, working in the UK and USA. I have spent the last twenty-five years in private equity, working either as an investor or advisor. Today, I am the CEO of Advantage Capital, a London-based private equity firm. Along the way, I have been an investor at investment banks, 3i and Close Brothers, and a corporate finance partner at both KPMG and Ernst & Young.
I am married to Jules, a psychotherapist, and we live in Rutland, England’s smallest county.
Morgen: Rutland… in US terms, that makes us neighbours (c.40 miles). How did you come to be a writer, Martin?
Martin: I have wanted to write for a very long time, but running a private equity business is full on. Recently, I have started to reduce my ridiculous working hours to concentrate on a few other things in life. Writing is at the top of that list.
Morgen: Glad to see you have your priorities right. I gave up my job mid-March to write full-time and although this blog takes a big chunk of my day I’ve been writing more too. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Martin: I write financial thrillers, which means my stories are set against the backdrop of the international financial markets, an environment in which I have spent my entire business career. I hope this gives my work an authentic feeling. For the moment, the greed and fear I see in the world of finance provide enough material to keep me in this genre.
Morgen: Just as we would imagine it would. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Martin: My debut financial thriller, The Geneva Connection, was published by US publisher, Musa Publishing, in December 2011. It is about a massively successful private equity CEO, John Kent, who discovers when it is too late that his firm’s biggest investor is a front for a brutal, Mexican drug cartel. Unknowingly, he has been investing illicit drug money. The cartel kills one of the firm’s partners to guarantee Kent’s silence. His nightmare worsens when the ambitious head of investigations at the DEA leans on him to provide evidence against his investors.
I write under my own name, as I am reasonably well-known in the financial markets, which I hope gives me access to an existing platform of readers.
Morgen: I’m sure it would certainly help. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Martin: This is not intended to sound conceited, but my route to publication was relatively simple. 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 is set in both countries. 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, Musa Publishing issued a contract within two days so I accepted. I have to say I have been delighted with them.
Morgen: That’s not conceited at all, I’d say that was really well researched. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Martin: The Geneva Connection came out the week before Christmas. I was delighted to learn it came third in the P&E thriller readers’ poll for 2011, even though it had been out only a few days when the poll opened.
Morgen: Wow, well done. Having bypassed the agent route, would you consider one and how vital do you think an agent is to an author’s success?
Martin: I have just completed the first draft of my second thriller novel. I am going to try to find an agent this time. I think an agent can save an author a lot of wasted time going down blind alleys. A good agent will know those publishers who represent the best fit with an author’s work, and will know how to sell it to them to best effect. That’s worth paying for, in my view.
Morgen: I’d say so too and by having the success you’ve had already that must certainly strengthen your ‘CV’. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Martin: At the moment, The Geneva Connection is only available in eBook format, although my publisher has plans to go into print later this year. I read all novels on my Kindle now. I take it everywhere with me. I think it’s a little like going from paper to electronic diaries, once you take the plunge, you wonder why you stuck with paper for so long.
Morgen: I like both but it is great being able to take 400+ books / stories out with me. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Martin: As my publisher is based in the US, I have taken on a good part of the marketing in the UK. I am happy with this as I see it as an integral part of the work of a selling writer. So far, I have had several BBC interviews, some decent press coverage and quite a lot of interest in the corporate finance / private equity communities (trade magazines etc.). I think it is important to build an author brand.
Morgen: It is and having spoken to so many authors I’ve found that more emphasis seems to be put on the author these days to do their marketing, really regardless of which publishing house they’re with – the upside to spending the time we do doing that is that we can connect directly with our readers. Did you have any say in the title / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Martin: My publisher adopted a collaborative approach to these. They came up with some alternative cover designs, and I suggested changes, all of which they accepted. I had a couple of names in mind for my first novel. It was invaluable being able to discuss these with the Musa team, as this helped us settle on the final choice, The Geneva Connection. I think the cover design and title are immensely important if your work is to stand out from the crowd.
Morgen: It’s a very strong cover, simple yet effective. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Martin: I have just finished the first draft of my second novel. Once again, it is a financial thriller. It involves a private equity firm based in Boston, Massachusetts that finds itself caught up in government corruption going all the way to the top.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Martin: I am an early riser, so I can find the time to write most days. It’s a bit like exercise; a regular pattern makes all the difference. Now, if I don’t write, I begin to miss it. That said, I don’t have daily word targets. I take it as it comes, which means output somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 words a day.
Morgen: That’s good going – even 300 words a day would get you a 100,000-word novel in a year – you could have ten of those. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Martin: My first novel just poured out of me. I took it as it came, with no idea where it would take me. However, for the second I have adopted the Ken Follett approach, setting out the fifty or so scenes in outline first, and then fleshing them out after that. I have preferred this latter method, so I think I will stick with it.
Morgen: And it works for him. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Martin: There is no doubt that my second novel has come out as a more polished first draft. I guess that means I have learned something about writing technique. Talking to other writers, I have discovered this is a normal progression. The risk is that a writer can become too bogged down in the writing and forget about the story-telling if a balance is not found.
Morgen: And purely the fact that it’s your second novel means you’ve had the practice getting to it. You clearly write what you know so do you have to do much research?
Martin: Not so much on the financial markets, as I know enough about these to provide my books with an authentic backdrop. However, I do like researching the details about places my characters visit and things like the type of pistol a character might use in a given situation. I think readers like a sprinkling of detail as it can bring the story to life.
Morgen: I like that; “a sprinkling”. Too much as it feels like you’re showing off but equally readers will let you know if you have something wrong. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Martin: Always third person. As a reader, I don’t like reading any other perspective so I’d find it hard to write in anything other than third person. Besides, I think it suits the thriller genre.
Morgen: It certainly is the most popular. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Martin: I have been amazed by the similarity of the worlds of publishing and my own industry, 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. I gather the hit rate for first time novels is even worse!
These three things are: 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?).
The other advice I would share is to take all criticism as having the potential to improve your writing. Don’t take it personally!
Morgen: Absolutely – it’s finding the right thing for the right person… which you did. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Martin: Yes, there is. Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.
Morgen: Indeed… or busy writing, blogging, marketing, and so on. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful
The best book I ever read on storytelling is Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. It’s an oldie, but still good.
Morgen: Yay for Litopia! I discovered it a couple of years ago and had missed the first three years of its life, which is a real shame as it’s a wonderful station. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Martin: I think these are exciting times to be a writer. The industry is changing incredibly quickly, as digital takes over from print. I think we writers will need to be prepared to learn new rules of the game and, in future, accept that much of what we have learned about the way the industry works will be wrong. That said, storytelling will still be what we are about.
Morgen: It will and it certainly sounds as if you love it. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Martin: My website www.martinbodenham.com is always kept up to date with news about my writing and the odd opinion piece on matters financial. I have received a lot of feedback from readers since my first novel was published. Some have suggested topics for future books, while others have offered feedback on The Geneva Connection. As a writer, it has been wonderful to be able to use the internet to have direct contact with my readers. They can contact me using the email link on the bio page of my website. A number have told me what they really liked about my novel. The more specific feedback has been particularly helpful. That way, I have learned what works and what doesn’t. I guess I have also matured with the process, learning to take feedback as a way to improve my writing.
Morgen: I’ve heard even long-established writers say that they’re still learning and I think of it like learning a language, there’ll always be something new or undiscovered and as long as we enjoy what we do we’ll want to keep learning. Thank you, Martin.
I then invited Martin to include an extract of his writing…
He sat staring at the screensaver on his PC. What’s the point of doing any work if the business is about to go off a cliff?
Tara brought in his coffee. “This came for you by courier first thing this morning,” she said, handing him a large brown envelope marked Private and Confidential.
Kent sipped the coffee. “Thanks,” he said as Tara walked back to her desk. He ripped open the envelope. Inside he found a DVD case and a typed note. It read:
“You may wish to reconsider sending your letter after watching this.”
What the hell’s this? He stared at the DVD on his desk and then reread the note. There was no signature, and the envelope gave no clues as to the identity of the sender. It took a few moments before his brain engaged. He stood up, shut his office door, and then inserted the DVD into the drive of his PC. His hands were shaking.
The machine whirred as it launched the disc. The PC screen went black, and Kent could see the reflection of his face, wide-eyed and frightened. A moment later, the screen lit up.
“Oh my God!” he said out loud.
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