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The Business in The Writing

Updated: May 14, 2022

People who first meet me as an historical author keen on sailing and naval history, are sometimes a bit bemused that most of my life was spent in the towers of banking and finance in many different nations. When they ask how it impacts my approach to writing novels and developing plot ideas, I usually reply that it means I entered this new field knowing it was more for the joy than for the dollars! My background gave me the freedom to be able to research thoroughly and take my time to produce quality work as a debut author. As the discussion developed, I realised there were many direct ways a business background can help the writing process.

1. The Organisations

Image: ‘The East India Company: The original corporate raiders’. The Mughal emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive, the governor of Bengal, which transferred tax collecting rights in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the East India Company. Illustration: Benjamin West (1738–1820)/British Library. With thanks to:

Corporations today have many resemblances to institutions of the past. Among the leading eighteenth century institutions were the Royal Navy and the East India Company. I like to believe that the Royal Navy, like modern corporations was relatively well organised, efficient and the most capable of achieving its goal – domination at sea.

In business, I see many of the same characteristics:

· goals which are easily expressed,

· significant investments in real assets which are then managed by people who are evaluated and rewarded based on their results.

· risks to be calculated,

· decisions to be made,

· people to be trained,

· strategies and tactics to be considered.

Each of these elements come into my stories. I have a feel for what life might have been like in the navy. Of course there are so many differences but these, too, bring the similarities into focus as well.

2. The Personalities

Business is changing. It is less hierarchical and more diverse than in days past. Yet many of the personalities who drive successful businesses today are similar to the characters who inhabit the world of fiction. There are the bold and assertive, there are the empathetic and communicative, there are the cold and diligent, and some are the mischievous and colourful. When I think of my characters and how they behave, I sometimes find a person I once knew and use him or her as a model in my story.

3. The Underlying Tension

Image: Does the Drama and Tension Never Stop? 5 Signs You Work For a Brilliant Jerk. With thanks to Tech Funnel.

Business is rarely relaxed. If it is dull and boring, it is usually a sign of a company which is failing. Most businesses need focus, dedication and a sense of urgency. There are always deadlines and there are always obstacles. People who succeed in business are usually considered “a safe pair of hands” – especially if they are given authority, but there are always the Mavericks, people who live by their wits and take risks – until they are found out. We need tension to make a novel enjoyable to read. How that tension arises has a likeness to the world of business.

3. Business is about Relationships

Successful businesses operate because people enjoy the stimulus and the pleasure of working together. They trust each other – up to a point – and they want to succeed as a group. But business also has its lone wolves, hungry people on the make who gang up to upset the status quo. The novel gives the reader pleasure in identifying with people who they like and trust and also excitement because of those they distrust. I sometimes felt I was “in” the plot of a wild-west cowboy movie. And there was nothing more reassuring than the arrival of the honest Marshal, a person of virtue and few words who gathered us together around a grand result.

4. Location.

Image: 'The Most Beautiful Places in South Korea' With thanks to:

A good plot always finds the right location and that becomes part of the story. In my career in international business, it was about the countries where our business was transacted; Malaysia was tropical and mysterious and beautiful; Korea, was the hermit kingdom where culture is so dominant and different. Its mountains have striking stony features and the blue-purple smoke from tiny villages rises in the misty autumn afternoons amid persimmon trees and old Buddhist temples. The great port of Hong Kong shepherds millions of containers from China as the vessels to take them out on the Pearl Delta to faraway countries. Even New York, gritty and self-obsessed, had a grandeur- its skyscrapers and bars ever buzzing with excitement and possibility. Scenes for a novel indeed.

When I look back at the time I was in business in Asia and New York City, I have a feeling, a sensuous memory of a rich experience which informs my writing. I hope my work reflects this and I hope my readers share this when they read my novels.

Are you an author? How has your ‘other’ career impacted on your writing? Please comment below or email me at Happy to share your story as a guest blog.

Nelson’s Folly is available in hard copy or on kindle at and other online book stores or at The Constant Reader Bookshop in Mosman and Crows Nest.

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