In terms of typecasting, there may be no two careers at greater odds than banking and writing. Bertolt Brecht famously asked: “What’s breaking into a bank compared with founding a bank?”
But the gap between the myth of the tortured author and the reality of the beleaguered banker may be tighter than bid-ask spreads during the credit-fueled heydays of the early-naughts.
There is a proven track record for some bankers, often with a humbling start that’s not unlike the roller-coaster markets they left behind.There is no bull market in fiction, but a former financier has as good a chance as any other writer entering a brutal marketplace, whether they use
Mark Twain summed up seizing market volatility with the observation that “A banker is a fellow who lends his umbrella when the sun is shining and wants it back the minute it begins to rain.”
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Today it’s not uncommon for bankers to write books on banking or business (or have someone ghostwrite their books), but crossing over into the literary fiction realm is also an ongoing phenomenon. The quest for money and fame is universal, or at least it’s a tie that binds bankers and authors.
And it’s nothing new.
Take T.S. Eliot, who rose to fame in 1915 for his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and cemented his status as a literary icon when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. But Eliot wasn’t holed away all day in some ex-pat writer’s enclave when he penned “The Waste Land” in 1922. He was working in the foreign transactions department at Lloyd’s bank from 1917 until 1925. He took literary meetings on his lunch breaks and wrote when the markets closed.
Even fame as an author didn’t drive Eliot away from banking immediately. Aldous Huxley was shocked when he visited Eliot at Lloyd’s and found Eliot “was not on the ground floor nor even on the floor under that, but in a sub-sub-basement sitting at a desk which was in a row of desks with other bank clerks.”
Here’s a look at some contemporary bankers who have made the literary leap and never looked back:
Amish Tripathi is now best known for his blockbuster Shiva Trilogy. His 2010 debut and the first in series, “The Immortals of Meluha,” was a bestseller that catapulted him to fame and landed him the #85 spot on Forbes India Celebrity 100 list in 2012. Tripathi spent 14 years in financial services, working at Standard Chartered, DBS Bank and IDBI Federal Life Insurance before he turned his gaze to a higher calling.
While Tripathi’s books focus solely on religious themes, others bankers have borrowed from their banking days to find returns in writing.
Call it the pink sheets of the literary world. David Lender found a second life making money from his top-selling ebooks at 99 cents a pop on Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook. His suspense novels are based on his more than 25-year career as a Wall Street investment banker. Lender wasn’t peddling penny stocks at Merrill Lynch, Rothschild and Bank of America.
His transition wasn’t quite as quick at Tripathi’s, but he didn’t give up. Lender started writing his first novel, “Trojan Horse,” in the 1990s while working in international banking and he hired an editor to teach him the fundamentals of thriller writing. He joined Bank of America in the late 1990s, then went on to launch a private equity firm and came back to BofA to work in M&A. He left Bank of America again in 2005 to bolster the New York office of Cascadia Capital and then abandoned banking altogether.
Understanding and accepting market volatility clearly helped Lender navigate his writing career. When he first released his “Trojan Horse” ebook in January 2011 with a $9.99 price tag, it flopped. But axing the ask to 99 cents made it a market winner.
I’m not a famous enough writer to advise any banker to quit his or her market-hours job and seek success in the literary marketplace, so I’ll leave you with Ernest Hemingway’s (earnest) analysis: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Most bankers who make the transition find that relying on their own experience is the best bet for success.Sometimes that’s not obvious from the start.
Michael Crawshaw quit his job at Credit Lyonnais and Schroder Securities a decade ago to home-school his five children and write fiction, first tackling the tale of an Amazonian tribe.
The first plot didn’t pan out, so Crawshaw borrowed from his City days to create the character of trader Mickey Summer who stands to share a 150-million-pound ($223 million) cash lock-in if he can avoid being murdered like his London’s Royal Shire Bank colleagues. Mickey ends up as the prime suspect.
Crawshaw self-published “To Make a Killing” at the end of 2012, and sends profits to Hands Together’s Tiplyang Project, which supports a school in Nepal. Actress Joanna Lumley is the charity’s patron and Crawshaw a trustee. OK, so he’s not in it for the money.
David Charters tapped into his rich career past which included working as diplomat and investment banker, who spent 12 years working on many large international flotations and privatizations to build a literary empire. He is best known for his best-selling Dave Hart series of satires, set in the fictional world of “Grossbank.”.
After earning his first fortune at J.P. Morgan in New York and two European banks, Stephen Frey made writing full time his career and found fame. Since 1995 he’s published 18 novels published with Penguin Putnam, Random House and Simon & Schuster, some with bankers as protagonists and others delving into different worlds.
Like Eliot, Elizabeth Corley hasn’t given up her day job even as she’s profited from her portfolio of crime-writing,including her latest Requiem Mass: A Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Fenwick Mystery, published May 21.
Follow the author on Twitter @natashagural