Writerly Questions with Martin Bodenham

Warm weather has finally arrived and it is time to start thinking about what to read as you lounge around the pool, while your kids play in the park, or during your hour-long commute on the transpo. To help you prepare your summer-time TBR list, every Monday for the next few months I will be talking with some really fabulous authors about their latest or upcoming books.

July is nearly over and August is on its way, but these summer nights are perfect for lounging at the cottage or telling scary stories around the campfire… or better yet, why not read a thriller aloud to terrify your fellow weekenders? Martin Bodenham is here to talk about The Geneva Connection published by Melpomene in December of 2011.

In his long career as a private equity investor, Martin Bodenham has witnessed investment banking’s greed and fear at first hand, providing plenty of dramatic material for his financial thriller novels.  Much like Grisham does with legal thrillers, Martin sets his fast-paced plots against the real world backdrop of international finance, giving his stories authenticity and depth. He lives in Rutland, England’s smallest county.

How would you summarize your book in one sentence?
Set in the UK, US, Mexico and Switzerland, the story is about John Kent, a massively successful private equity player, and what happens when his unbridled ambition collides with the world’s most powerful drug cartel.

How long did it take you to write this book?
It took me six months to write and then another two months to polish the manuscript for submission. I had to squeeze my writing in around my day job. I run a London-based private equity firm, which eats up most of my time.

How many drafts do you go through?
After my own editing process, I counted nine versions of the manuscript for my first novel. After the third draft, I began to involve beta readers, which meant the fourth draft was a major re-write, addressing points made by those readers.

When do you write best: in the morning, afternoon, or at night?
I squeeze my writing in when I can. Fortunately, I am an early riser so I am usually at my PC between 4.30 and 5.00 in the morning. I try to fit in one or two hours in the evening when I have finished my day job.

I can’t imagine waking up so early! Where is your favorite place to write?
My wife and I live in an old rectory, which we renovated a few years ago. As part of the work, we converted a stone stable into a separate office. I love to work in there as it is quiet and has a wonderful view across a valley through the old stable doors.

That sounds like a lovely place to live and write. But do you use a typewriter, computer/laptop, or pen & paper?
I prefer to use my laptop so I can write on the train. I commute into London by train most days, which means I can use the one hour journey each way. The laptop also comes with me on holiday. When I first started writing, I was amazed how much typing was involved!

What do you drink or eat while you write?
I am a bit of a health freak so I don’t eat when I am writing. I would only be tempted to eat junk food. Water or coffee keep me going. After my morning writing session and before I set off for work, I like to fill up on a bowl of porridge.

I imagine you would need coffee if you are writing before the sun even comes up! Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind?
I have tried listening to music when I write, but I find it distracting. I have to have absolute silence.

 What do you wear when you write at home?
Normally my tracksuit or my shorts in warmer weather.

How do you plot? Chapter by chapter or an overall synopsis? Do you use detailed outlines?
For my debut novel, I wrote by the seat of my pants. The words just flowed out of me, and the plot seemed to find its own way. Maybe that is how a first book works. However, for my second novel, I followed Ken Follett’s method of setting out the fifty or so scenes of the thriller. Each scene consisted of a paragraph or two. It really helped to know the direction of the plot before I began writing the story in earnest. It prevented wasted time going down blind alleys and helped me to keep focused. I think I will stick to this method in future as I believe it led to a better quality first draft.

I have noticed that a lot of authors start using plot lines after the first couple books, too. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?
I don’t like reading books written in anything other than third person, past tense, so that is what I stick to as a writer. I think it suits the thriller genre.

 How do you choose your characters’ names?
I try to have a bit of fun with character names. I try to make a few up and then create some by mixing up the names of people I know. I’m always keeping an eye out for interesting looking names to use. For my second novel, I ran a reader contest by asking readers to submit their names so I could choose one at random for one of my characters. Interestingly, most people asked if I could make them one of the bad guys. What does that tell us about thriller readers?

I guess your readers love your villains and want to live vicariously through them! Speaking of your audience, who is the first person to read your manuscript?
My wife is the first person to read my manuscript. Then I show it to friends and other family members. The problem is they always fear offending me by offering negative criticism. Any writer will tell you that you need to hear the direct truth about what works and what doesn’t. Consequently, I have a few beta readers I use from a writing community to which I belong. That way I receive really useful feedback which helps me make my work as enjoyable as it can be for the reader.

What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published for the very first time?
I took my wife out to her favorite restaurant to celebrate. That was the least I could do for the months of having to put up with me going on about my novel.

Awww, that’s so sweet! But going back even further in time, what is the first book you remember reading?
King Solomon’s Mines by Rider Haggard. I remember how it conjured up such a vivid image of Africa in the 19th century. I loved it and read every book by Haggard thereafter.

What book is on your nightstand right now?
The Partner by John Grisham. He is my favorite author. I like how he uses his real world legal experience to create an air of authenticity in his legal thrillers.

How do you organize your library/book collection?
I have so many books that I simply don’t have room to display them all. My wife accuses me of being a hoarder so, sadly, every now and then I am forced to have a clear out. That is why I have become such an avid convert to eBooks. I own a Kindle and love being able to keep my book collection at my fingertips. As Amazon archives every book I buy, I can avoid any painful clear outs in the future!

I have a similar problem with my books, and an ereader is becoming a necessity! Did you always want to be a writer?
I have always liked writing, but until recently it was restricted to work related matters, press releases, reports etc. I like my own company so I would like nothing more than being able to sit in a quiet remote cottage somewhere on the coast and tap away at my keyboard for a living.

If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask/talk about?
It would have to be John Grisham. I admire his storytelling and credible characters. I would like to learn how much of what he writes is based on what he sees around him and how much is a complete creation of his imagination.

I was kind of expecting you to choose that author *grin* What is the best gift someone could give a writer?
An order for 100,000 copies of his latest novel.

What is the best advice someone could give a writer?
Don’t take criticism personally. Look at all feedback as a way of making your manuscript as powerful as it can be.

What is one random thing most people don’t know about you?
Just after I left college, I crashed my ten year old car and could not afford to replace it. I suggested to my wife that we enter a well-known TV quiz show as they always had a car as the first prize. Believe it or not, we managed to get onto the show and won the car. I have the video to prove it!

 Previous Interviews: Lauren Hunter InterviewSharon Ledwith InterviewEmma Lane Interview


Author: JaimeKristal

JaimeKristal is a freelance editor and writer. She started her book review blog "Tales of a Booklover" for the enjoyment of sharing her love of reading.

3 thoughts on “Writerly Questions with Martin Bodenham”

  1. I applaud your time management skills, Martin! And now I’m dying to know what the quiz show was. I agree about the importance of honest (and useable) feedback. Sometimes I set ground rules to overcome people’s inhibitions.


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