You’re a finance professional desperately seeking a creative outlet – so you write a novel. As we noted last year, it’s not new phenomenon.
But so far the financiers putting pen to paper have been overwhelmingly investment bankers setting their stories within the sordid world of Wall Street or the City.
Brendan le Grange has taken a different approach. For one, he’s a senior risk manager (formerly of HSBC, now of TransUnion) not a banker, and he lives in Hong Kong not London. Even more unusually, in le Grange’s new book Drachen there’s not a Bloomberg terminal or office block in site. He’s instead written a thriller about a marine archaeologist being chased by baddies around Northern Europe after discovering evidence of a shipwreck treasure.
But the book isn’t as detached from his finance career as its characters and plot suggest. “The story was inspired by living in Denmark a few years ago and holidaying around Europe,” says South African-born le Grange. “But surprisingly my love of writing first came from doing corporate presentations and then adapting these into articles and training materials. I thought if I’m going to write more, it should be something I really enjoy.”
Le Grange says his finance job also provided the ideal foil for creating an action adventure tale. “Because of my risk management background I like stringing things together in a logical order, so a plot-heavy action book like this complements my skills better than a more literary one would. I’ve also had international jobs – I don’t think I’d have enough experience of different cultures and countries to be a writer if I’d stayed in South Africa.”
He’s also adamant that fiction writing can make you a better finance professional. “Certainly if you work in a client-facing role it does benefit you. It makes you much more confident with your written communication skills if, like me, you haven’t done much proper writing before.”
There are other, subtler advantages of authorship. “For example in credit risk analytics, performing credit scores was once a core skill, but now it’s just point and click. New jobs are more about how you interpret ideas – and writing regularly really helps with this, even if the topic is completely different. At work I’ve become stronger at thinking of ideas, communicating them, and then seeing the project through as writing a book has all these stages too.”
The publishing and marketing process also gives you skills akin to running a small business. “To succeed as a new author is an entirely entrepreneurial exercise – and it’s very tough. I plan to do five books in the same series and it won’t be until the third one or beyond that there’s some monetary upside – when someone enjoying one novel buys the others.”
Le Grange sells the self-published Drachen as a book and e-book on Amazon. “They’ve made publishing much easier, but it’s an overcrowded market. I’m just concentrating on generating enough sales to make the top-three lists in very niche Amazon categories like novels set in Northern Europe. Plus some of my team in Manila bought it, making it technically a best seller in the Philippines, very briefly!”
Finance professionals-cum-novelists face an additional challenge when publishing, says le Grange. “Working in a professional sector like this, if you have a product in the public domain you need to think about the potential impact on your career – how colleagues and clients might perceived you – so the book itself must look professional. The plus side is that thanks to your day job you have the resources to invest in getting it professionally edited, reviewed and typeset.”
And would le Grange ever give up his day job to be a full-time thriller writer? “It’s a nice idea but making a real living from books is a million-to-one shot. But I wouldn’t mind being a business school lecturer one day and have the books as a more serious side-line, putting more time into them.”
Le Grange is now working on his next novel, snatching writing time at airport lounges and during his 40-minute ferry ride to work. It’s set in Hong Kong, follows one of the villains from the current book and weaves in an ancient legend from Lantau Island where he lives.
“Everyone in the office asks why I can’t do something set in the world of credit risk! But seriously, that’s not so far-fetched – I work with big data and it might be possible to tie in something around espionage and data. It’s in the back of my mind – I just haven’t thought of a good plot yet.”