Why did I decide to write 10 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Money?
What makes it different?
What is its special alchemy?
Sometimes books are the fruit of a long obsession, of years of dreaming, plotting, planning.
Sometimes they’re born of a throwaway remark, a chance encounter, a lightbulb moment when you think what if.
This book, 10 Things Everyone Needs to Know about Money, is all of the above.
There are lots of ingredients in this creation of mine.
I’m interested in the subject of money, personally and professionally.
I studied economics (along with politics and philosophy at university) and as the daughter and the sister of economics professors I was fairly well versed in the subject academically.
I worked for eight years in the heart of the money machine, as an investment banker, in London, New York and Eastern Europe, and I have continued to work in the financial services sector as a consultant and investor.
I’ve written a series of financial thrillers portraying the shenanigans, the glamour and the dark side of money, as well as the nature of the people who work in the money-world: their motivations, the temptations they face and how they navigate them.
I hadn’t written non-fiction about money since my university days but a few years ago, I decided to write a Preface to a new special 20th anniversary edition of my first bestselling book, Nest of Vipers. I decided that I would write about the main developments in the financial world over the previous 20 years. One of the main events was the global financial crisis. As I wrote about it, I developed a growing sense of outrage. I discovered a new voice speaking within me, bubbling up to the surface.
I also, in 2018, spent a term as the inaugural Writer in Residence at my old Oxford college, St Edmund Hall. There I spoke with my old professors and new academic friends about all things money.
I plunged deeper into the money-world, and so insistent was this new voice, and so carried away did I become, that I ended up writing over a quarter of a million words.
There is no point writing even if you think the content is good, if nobody is ever going to read your book because it’s too dense, too impenetrable, too wordy.
And so I started cutting and pruning, what Stephen King called killing my darlings, as I pared down the book, as I conceptualised it around the framework of 10 things everyone needs to know.
Because the thing is, our knowledge of money, our financial literacy, is surprisingly limited.
We’re not taught it at school.
We don’t like to talk about it – see my section on the money taboo!
We’re not as fluent as we could be.
As we need to be.
We cannot afford NOT to speak money well.
Money is one of the most important languages on the planet and in this book I want to help everyone understand and speak it better. I want to explore how global financial systems impact our everyday lives, what we can do about it, how we can improve our own and their family’s financial literacy.
I also wanted the book to be vibrant, eye-catching, to speak to people…
In the midst of all this, a friend came to stay: the artist Nick Bashall.
Nick is a very old friend of my husband, Rupert, and had gifted us a couple of hilarious cartoons on the birth of two of our three children.
Nick is by training and profession a portrait painter and war artist but he is also an exceptionally gifted cartoonist.
And this is where the throwaway comment comes in.
Nick had mentioned years earlier that he would like to illustrate and write his own esoteric version of the Asterix books, but life had rolled by and he’d never got round to it.
So I thought to myself what if Nick illustrated my money book? The eccentricities, pretensions and excesses of the money-world make it ripe for satire. Sometimes a picture can speak a thousand words. Nick also happens to be a former corporate lawyer and so he understands that world very well.
I put it to him:
Would you like to illustrate my book?
We had a number of discussions which culminated in me saying to him, bearing in mind he is an artist with all the attendant issues relating to deadlines, free-spiritedness and general anarchy:
It’s all right if you say no (I was fervently praying he would not say no) but if you say YES, you need to deliver and you need to deliver on time.
To my delight, Nick said yes!
I’ve never worked on a book with anyone else before, other than with editors (often but not universally a pleasant experience).
But, working with Nick has been a joy.
It has also brought a new language into play.
Seeing my concepts, my arguments, my words, transformed via Nick’s glorious artistic alchemy into images has been unique, thrilling and powerful.
As I write this I have the book open on my desk and I look at his cartoons, at the faces in particular, and I smile.
Many people have told me how much they enjoy the cartoons and the whole approach of the book. Yes, money is serious, yes, it is important, but we learn as we smile and laugh, as we read and see.
In my quest to help people speak and understand the language of money, I have deployed the language of art and humour along with words and numbers.
This is our alchemy.