What inspired you to write the book?
In March 2009 I was running in Richmond Park with a friend when he mentioned that former chief executives of recently failed banks would be in a rather uncomfortable position if elements of the Russian Mafia had lost money with them. This was the seed for a thriller plot which quickly hatched in my head. Over the next few months, while either running in Richmond Park or walking the London Loop , the plot was expanded and refined to the point where I felt I had enough for a full length novel. It was all still in my head and I didn’t start writing until September 2009.
Was it something you’ve always wanted to do?
Not at first. I studied Mathematics at University and subsequently had a career as a software engineer. However I travelled a lot during my holidays, either sightseeing or mountaineering, and always took plenty of reading material with me, especially thrillers. I particular enjoy thrillers where the main character has to go into hiding under an assumed identity and where the slightest slip could lead him or her face to face with their pursuers. The Banker belongs to this genre. In the early nineties, the urge to write slowly increased, but I had neither the time nor a plot to proceed. However after finishing a TEFL course in the summer of 2009 I had a few months free before going to South America to teach English. I then decided that South America would be the setting for much of the book.
How did you find the process?
For the first few months I worked on the plot in my head. I wanted a good plot with a strong ending. To give the story plenty of twists and a surprise ending I plotted several threads which come together in the final chapters of the book. Then in the autumn I started on chapter one. I found writing a bit like mountaineering: you were embarking on an exciting journey but many of the days were a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Other days you were playing God, or escaping from the confines of your desk to the scenes of your characters.
Where did you draw your characters from?
The characters and the plot are completely fictional. The characters are not drawn from people I’ve met nor are they a composite of real life individuals. I made them up completely, although there is something of Flashman in Phil Black, the anti-hero of my book. An exception is with a few world leaders of 2009. I’ve used fictional rather than real names. Doing so gives me the freedom to invent new characters for these leaders. Robert Harris did this with Tony Blair in his book Ghost. Nevertheless the reader will recognize some attributes of the real politicians in my characters.
Your main character Phil Black is not a nice man. Why is this so?
The plot just wouldn’t work if Phil was nice. The public image of bankers, especially failed CEOs, is not good. Before the banking crisis lawyers, at least in the US, had an image problem. John Grisham has successfully drawn on this by making many of his lead characters greedy lawyers. So I felt I could use a similar approach with a banker. Phil has lost his moral compass but he does love his family.
What are your views on the banking crisis?
The banks have a model, heads I win tails you lose, that many businesses can only dream of. However their sheer size and interconnectedness mean that governments may not be able to bail them out in future. So a new banking architecture has to be implemented. In 2008 the banks collectively blackmailed governments. So I picked blackmail as a tool that Phil Black frequently resorts to. Bonuses and reward for failure are not unique to banking, just that they are the most extreme examples. I give a few non banking examples in my book.
The book is set in Switzerland, Russia, China, South America and the United States. What experience do you have of these places?
I have visited all these countries so it was fairly easy for me to describe the various geographical settings. I spent the first 4 months of 2010 in South America, the main setting of the book, so I was able to include a lot of detail from my visit.
What research did you do?
Although the plot and characters are completely fictional I have tried to draw on real life events as background. Researching the US White House to find out about the furniture and vegetable garden was easy. Researching the Russian aluminium wars of the 1990s, a period of outright gangsterism, was much more difficult. Both the FSB and the Mafia were involved and it would take a top class investigative journalist or historian to find out who did what to whom. So I created an alternative history, the Russian banking wars, which was inspired by these events.