After a thirty year career in private equity and corporate finance, in 2013 Bodenham moved to the west coast of Canada, where he writes full-time. He held corporate finance partner positions at both KPMG and Ernst & Young as well as senior roles at a number of private equity firms before founding his own private equity company in 2001. Much of the tension in his crime thrillers is based on the greed and fear he witnessed firsthand in investment banking. He often gets mistaken for B.J. Penn, the former mixed martial arts champion and says maybe that’s why nobody has ever picked a fight with him.
What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?
The first book to have a massive influence on me was King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider
Haggard, which I read at school. It’s almost a hundred and fifty years old now, but I remember it completely absorbing me and transporting me into another world. Many say it was the genesis of the “lost world” literary genre. From then on, I was hooked on reading and I admired the skill of writers to transport the reader to other times and places.
What’s your new book/work in progress about? What inspired you to write it?
Shakedown is about a political conspiracy, blackmail, dirty secrets, and assassinations. It
describes how far a desperate government might go to avoid financial collapse.
The idea for it came from my time as a private equity fund manager. From time to time, the
government would auction off assets, and private equity firms would bid for them. When
thinking up the plot for Shakedown, I imagined a corrupt government on the brink of financial collapse and how far it might go to manipulate an auction and thereby coerce a buyer into paying much more than the asset is worth.
What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?
The challenge for any writer is how to elicit empathy for a protagonist. That challenge is even more difficult when the protagonist is from a group that suffers from generalized antipathy. For example, the main character in Shakedown is a former Wall Street investment banker trying to get his new private equity firm off the ground. Since the financial crisis, investment bankers have been down there with tax collectors and used car salesmen. So one thing I had to focus on was how to show my protagonist as a decent person with the human decency not often associated with Wall Street.
Practice pitching: tell us what your book is about in 30 words or less.
Shakedown portrays a terrifying web of organized crime—extending all the way to the White House itself—involving blackmail and assassination on an industrial scale.
Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and
how it changed you.
My father died at the age of thirty-seven. At the time, I was a teenager, the oldest of three
children. It made me grow up fast and appreciate the time we have. When I left the world of corporate finance, a number of my friends thought it was my mid-life crisis. Actually, it was a rational and thought-out decision. I wanted to write novels. Even if it didn’t work out, I was more frightened of reaching the end of my life not having tried than the fear of leaving a successful career behind. None of us gets the chance to come back to try something different. We have to do it this time round.
What’s the best thing about writing?
Hearing from readers who have enjoyed one of my novels, particularly when there seems to be a genuine connection. One of the most touching examples of reader feedback I remember is when a reader posted the following review of my novel, The Geneva Connection, on Amazon:
“I bought this novel as a gift for my Dad. He had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was having difficulty with reading, among other things. So he bought a Kindle. Not sure of his thought process but it seems to work. This was one of the first stories he read on the Kindle. I can’t even explain how wonderful it was when Dad realized he could read again, and he finished this in a weekend. So, I’m posting this review for my Dad. Dad has spent years reading every political intrigue book he could find. He absolutely loved The Geneva Connection and ranks it in his top 10. Highly recommended read for everyone.”
What’s the worst thing about writing?
Editing. After a certain point, the repetitive process of working through the manuscript becomes a real pain, but it has to be done. I once asked an experienced writer friend how he knows he’s finished the editing process. “Simple,” he said. “When the thought of starting another edit makes you feel physically sick, you’re about there.”
Due to oppressive taxation you have to move into a tiny house. What are the ten books you aren’t giving up?
King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Firm by John Grisham
Red Notice by Bill Browder
The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
Paper Money by Ken Follett
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
The Injustice System by Clive Stafford Smith
Maybe I could squirrel away a few more in the crawl space…
Do you listen to music when you’re writing? How does music/art influence you creatively?
Only classical music, playing low in the background. If there are any lyrics, I get distracted and start singing along.
Inspiration square: Tell us about 4 books, 4 songs, 4 albums, 4 movies, 4 places visited or 4 things experienced that have had a huge impact on you personally, or have influenced your writing process or affected your protagonist.
No Country for Old Men – I love how the viewer is drawn to the main character, even though he is a violent sociopath.
12 Angry Men – The movie shows how clever dialogue without much action can still keep an audience riveted.
Collateral – I’m a sucker for ordinary people being placed into extraordinary circumstances. You can’t help but empathize with the cab driver played by Jamie Foxx.
Remains of the Day – Once again, the superb dialogue in this movie is captivating.
Cape Cod – I love walking the long sandy beaches. Sometimes, you can walk for miles without seeing another person. In Shakedown, my protagonist’s parents are based in Barnstable on the Cape.
Tofino – This town on the west coast of Vancouver Island is a five hour drive away for me, but my wife and I make the trip every winter to watch the storms blowing in from the Pacific. One day, I’m going to base one of my stories around the town.
Cambridge, UK – The architecture of this historic university city is beautiful. When I lived in
the UK, home was not far away from here. Little surprise that the main setting for my novel, The Geneva Connection, was Cambridge.
Bagnoregio – This has to one of Italy’s best kept secrets. It is one of the most stunning and
surreal places on earth. Google it and you’ll see what I mean. If I wrote sci-fi novels,
Bagnoregio would make a great out-of- this-world setting.
If you have to live in a potential natural disaster zone, would you pick blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions? Why?
As I live on Vancouver Island, I don’t have to imagine. We are right on the west coast fault line, so earthquakes are a common occurrence.
What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?
It has to be dialogue. I’ve seen some high budget movies set in some wonderful locations, but they have been let down by a poor script. For me, dialogue is massively important in thriller novels.
Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?
Given the immense pressure Damon faces in Shakedown, I’m surprised he doesn’t go insane. Just when you think he’s had enough, I pile on yet more stress.
What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?
Damon’s greatest fear is failure. He gives up a glittering career on Wall Street to set up his own private equity firm in Boston. After a year of doing no deals, many of his old peers expect him to fail, but then he gets the chance to bid for a defense company being sold by the federal government. It’s Damon’s last chance to avoid a public failure. Given what happens next, he would have been far better off failing.
Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?
My wife and I love walking the trails on Vancouver Island. The scenery is unbeatable. We
don’t stray too far off the path, though. There are cougars and bears out here.
What genre trope are you most tired of seeing in fiction? Why?
Maybe it’s me, but I don’t get magical realism. For me, a story’s characters, plot, and setting all have to ring true if the reader is to be drawn in. Unreal elements create too many hurdles for me as a reader.
What strategies do you use to keep your books fresh? Particularly if you write a series character, how do you keep them consistent without retelling the same content book to book?
I like to use different locations to keep the reader interested. I try to introduce a few elements that only someone who has actually been there would know to be true.