Briefly tell us about your book.
Man in Armour is written from the perspective of Charles. A successful London banker – he is extremely well paid to do a job he has a natural talent for, is married to a pretty doctor, has three healthy children, and travels the world for work and pleasure.
But Charles suffers ennui. He no longer feels triumph when closing a deal, no longer feels close to his wife, no longer enjoys the company of his friends…he no longer feels anything much at all.
Over 48 tortuous hours, Charles is put under pressure. By his boss. By his brother. By his friends. By the government. By his mother. By his protegee. Will he break?
What inspired the idea behind this book?
I have always loved to read. I belong to two book clubs and have always read about a book a week.
I also love to write. But until a decade ago I really only did character studies in snatched moments between working and mothering. I certainly didn’t have the confidence to attempt a novel. But I had a breakthrough when I read an interview in 2010 with Hillary Mantel after she published Wolf Hall. In it, she described the five years of detailed research she undertook to create the Tudor world in which Wolf Hall is set.
This came as a moment of stunning insight for me – as a writer, I should recast my professional life as research! In that moment I decided to write a full-length novel set in the business world.
I was surprised to realise there are so few novels written by business people, whereas there are spy novels written by former spies, there are crime novels written by lawyers, political thrillers written by political insiders. But I was sure I had done more than enough ‘research’ to creditably create an authentic glimpse into the way business is done – the aggression, the high-stakes, the celebrations, the bad behaviour, the misogyny, the ostentation and the grudges.
I set myself the challenge of telling a story through the eyes of Charles, a person who at first impression isn’t particularly endearing. But who readers get to know better through the difficulties that beset him through the novel.
What are you hoping the reader will take away from reading your book?
I enjoy reading books that allow me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Experiencing the world through the prism of someone else’s values, someone else’s capabilities, someone else’s choices is something I seek. I like to be confronted with the universal human emotions of fear, despair, love, and longing and to be brought by a skilful author to feel empathy. For me, reading is a constant reminder that people are people.
Readers may not be familiar with the business world, but I suspect they will be familiar with Charles’s character traits of ambition and self-destruction. These same character traits are observable in elite athletes, senior politicians, successful academics, Michelin-starred chefs, and pop stars. As a society, we often benefit from the drive and self-belief of these modern-day heroes, but their behaviours come with a price, for them and for us. I hope my book allows readers to reflect on that price.
What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
This book has taken a decade to write, partly because I lacked the time to progress more swiftly.
I used to carry a copy of The Economist magazine with me everywhere to help manage my impatience, for example, I would whip it out while waiting in long Customers & Immigration queues. But once I started writing Man in Armour it supplanted The Economist, I always had a chapter with me, in my handbag, to work on in any spare moments. It got to the point where I would be thrilled if my late-night flights were delayed because it meant I could find a quiet spot in the airport and become absorbed in writing.
However, I struggled to find consecutive days during which to write, which is why not skiing became my secret joy. For years my family and friends have nagged me to learn to ski, but I wouldn’t. Not only because I am too old and too uncoordinated, but also because skiing holidays meant I could stay back at the chalet and work on Man in Armour.
How did you think of the title of the book?
Most people don’t see Charles, they see a man in armour. They see Charles’s carefully cultivated veneer of charm, intellect, sang froid and steely determination. But inside Charles’s armour is a person. A damaged person. Who carefully, methodically created that suit of armour. To protect himself.
The novel explores whether armour is useful, even necessary, in business life. And if it is, what price it extracts from the wearer.