Clem Chambers’ The Armageddon Trade has already been widely hailed (‘Captures the nature of the traders behind the foolishness and greed stalking the financial markets’ – Daily Mail; ‘Like a digital-age John le Carré, Clem Chambers spins a gripping tale of terrorist apocalypse informed by a deep understanding of financial markets and computer technology’ – Wired) and bids fair to make Chambesr a crime-writing star. Crime Time caught up with him…
I start writing my books on the basis of a very simple idea. Once I’ve had the epiphany of a simple idea, I know there is a story in that thought and as soon as I start writing it begins to be revealed.
For example the sequel to The Armageddon Trade is called “The Hole.” It comes from the Mark Twain saying, “a mine is something with a crook at the top and a fool at the bottom.” With the title and that line, the whole book just fell into place in my mind. I don’t know what exactly happens, who does what to who or where, but I can feel this bundle in my brain ready to be shot down my nervous system to my fingers and onto my hard disk. Now I just need to sit down and type it out. I have no idea if that’s the norm or if that’s weird, but my brain seems to just download as fast as I can type it out.
I’m not a big reader of fiction and my tastes are very mainstream. I’ll read a McNabb or a Rowling or a Dan Brown with a totally uncritical mind. I read them like a consumer, not a writer. All I want is to start on page 1 of a book and read it to the end without stopping and that is how I want my writing to drive my readers. That’s the one and only goal for me. People that have read The Armageddon Trade say I’m the ‘Grisham of finance’ and that’s just fine with me.
I realised recently that my major influence is Ian Fleming. The reason is hugely atavistic and rather embarrassing in a cute kind of way. At the prep school I went to at the tender age of 9, there was a small library that every few weeks took in a new intake of paperbacks. Young children being less than kind to books meant the library was constantly refreshing the books that got mangled. Bond books were always coming and going and the first book to vanish out on loan.
You had to be quick to grab one when it came in. As the weeks past, different Bond episodes would pop up and you would try and snag it. A Bond was the prize and I would run out of class at break and go straight to the shelves. Fleming was utterly salacious and thrilling to a youngster in the early seventies. While the Bond character seems rather naïve and gentlemanly now, for a nine year old in the era of Titbits magazine and Slade, he seemed brash and brazen.
Crikey, there was a book in the school library which actually had sex going on!
That sex and adventure was totally compelling to a school boy. Strangely, in today’s over-sexualised world, it seems pointless and dull to write sex scenes. Sex is so commoditised in media, that writing about seems to me to be like describing a character brushing his teeth or taking a shower. I appreciate the Guy Ritchie treatment of sex in Rock’n’rolla as a five second shorthand for the completely obvious.
For me sex and violence are different issues. Two people having sex is not on the same moral, ethical or emotional axis as violence. For a start violence in reality is much rarer. Violence is important in my writing but is bound up with an idea that when you write you shouldn’t torture your characters or readers with contrivances. I hate contrived set ups.
If violence is a natural flowing result of an interesting situation, that is fine by me, but if the plot has to go to contrived lengths to get the characters into a wicked situation, I wouldn’t write that scene. I’d never have my heroine close the door behind her in a dark room only to turn the lights on to see it full of birds, a la Hitchcock.
If it could happen, if the violence unfolds down credible lines, if there is not vicarious sadism about it, then I’m totally fine with writing violence. I was actually responsible for the first 18 certificate computer game, so I suppose I can speak from a position of having spread a little horror, but there is a broad line separating ‘snuff’ from ultra violence. Violence; yes, snuff; no.
I write a huge amount of non-fiction for newspapers and magazines on finance for papers such as The Telegraph and The Express, mainly about investing in the stock market. I’ve columns with The Scotsman and Forbes. Sometimes I write highly technical stuff, sometimes its novice ‘How to’ guides. So writing fiction has been a background task for me that seems to express a need to say something from my subconscious.
I’ve been predicting the current crash for two years now in the national press and on TV and I think the need to write this book was an early warning from my inner mind to my conscious mind that something nasty was coming up.
While The Armageddon Trade is absolutely not about the current crash, it is about the fragility of the world economic system and how its interconnectivity and efficiency can be turned from a huge virtuous circle into a death spiral. The original title was 9/11/11, but that got vetoed by my publisher, who I think was worried about a fatwa or a US ban on the book or something. I still think it’s the right title, but I don’t want to have to go into hiding either.
People think the subject matter is pretty controversial but I think that’s because the story is highly plausible and you can easily forget its fiction and start to worry about whether it could really happen. I suppose that’s because it could.
The kick for me in writing the book and I hope for people reading it is the ride it takes you on from a calm world we know, to the edge of the global abyss. While our leaders can’t solve the credit crunch, how is the plot going to resolves when the stakes are infinitely higher? That’s the rollercoaster I hope the readers are going to ride.
For me writing the book was like reading it, because the characters had a habit of speaking for themselves and the situations unravelled as I filled the pages.
Once I’ve written a section I pretty much forget what I have laid down, so in a strange way, within a day or two the story suddenly becomes as fresh to me as if someone else wrote it.
I used to read quite a bit of true crime, because I was always interested in understanding how criminals get away with such outstandingly gross behaviour or how professional crime operates in what is effectively the harshest of business climates. In the end it seems to boil down to either corruption or law enforcement inertia but the narratives can be fascinating nonetheless.
There is a zone between normality and criminality and I think most of my fiction pivots around that interface. They say behind every fortune there is a crime and there are certainly many fortunes made out of things that should be a crime but aren’t.
The Armageddon Trade is published by No Exit Press