Sunday, 12 November 2017

Debut Spotlight: Stephen Norman

Today it's my stop on the Trading Down blog tour with a spotlight feature on author Stephen Norman and this debut novel which was published on Thursday.

Stephen Norman spent 20 years at the forefront of investment banking IT, facing industry turbulence, from the rise and fall of the dotcoms, the destruction of 911 and the banking collapse of 2008. He has worked in financial centres across the world – from London and New York, to Hong Kong and Tokyo – and has fulfilled a range of high powered roles including Chief Technology Officer at Merrill Lynch and an unusually long 7 year stint as CIO of RBS Global Markets. In 2012, he left the world of finance to focus on his writing.

Trading Down is Stephen’s first novel.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing journey? 
I’m a scientist, really.  I’ve always been interested in how things work.  I was good at maths and physics at school, and hopeless at languages.  Except for English.  For as long as I can remember, I have been reading and writing.  When I was a child, I wrote terrible adventure stories.  At college it was essays.  In my 20s I started a software company and I did the design, the manuals, the business plans and all the marketing literature and advertising.  I’ve written technical books.  In my second career, doing IT in banks, I have started a whole string of novels based on my experiences.  Trading Down is the first one to be published.

If you had to give an elevator pitch for Trading Down, what would it be? 
It’s a book about a bank which is under attack from a cyber-terrorist.  Our protagonist, Chris Peters, figures that out, but no-one else believes him.  Intertwined with his personal struggles (at work and at home), is a tragedy that happened years before, in Yemen.  At the climax of the book, as the bank is a few minutes away from destruction, the two stories and the two protagonists come together.  

As someone who worked in the financial market for over 20 years I would imagine that you have seen a lot of advances in tech/cyber crimes over the years, how much of Trading Down is drawn from your personal experience and how much is fiction?  
I worked for over 20 years doing banking technology and I’ve got the scars from every kind of disaster and craziness.  I have stood on broken trading floors and watched traders smashing keyboards.  I have experienced data centres melting down.  I was stuck in a building next door to the World Trade Center on 9/11.  I’ve tried to distil some of that craziness into Trading Down.  None of it is fiction except that these disasters were mostly accidents, not terrorist attacks.

What advice would you give to other aspiring authors who are thinking about writing a novel? 
J. R. R. Tolkien said that he plugged on with Lord of the Rings during WWII to test himself as a story teller.  That’s the goal for me: to tell a compelling story.  That’s my mantra for everything I write from business plans to newspaper articles and novels.  Aspiring authors should ask themselves why their readers should turn the page.  Or read the next sentence.  Here’s Dickens: “Marley was dead: to begin with.  There is no doubt whatever about that.”  What a line!  In 13 words, we know that Marley has come to an unfortunate end but the seeds of doubt have been planted.  

Also in my case, certainly, it’s important to write every day, come rain or shine.  Just because you’re stuck on the plot, you have to get some words down.

What type of books do you like to read to relax? 
Eclectic.  Science fiction.  Iain. M Banks is a hero of mine.  Consider Phlebas is pure future gazing genius and I’ve just finished Seven Eves by Neal Stephenson.  I read history and politics (I’m in the middle of Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation), thrillers of all kinds like I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes, anything by Elmore Leonard.  I think we live in a golden age of visual story telling.  I get a lot of pleasure out of watching box sets: Breaking Bad, The Killing, Borgen, The Wire, Ray Donovan, Narcos, Gomorrah and of course GOT.  Wonderful dialog, wonderful complex plots.

Did you treat yourself to something special to celebrate your publishing deal? 
A moment of absolute bliss.

Did you do anything exciting to celebrate publication day? 
My sister Charity Norman has published 5 novels.  Her latest See you in September is just out and she arrived from New Zealand in time for us to celebrate.  So we had a big family party with her, my partner Mary, my brother and my Dad and various children!

Finally what can we expect from you next? 
Two things.  I’m working on a sequel to Trading Down.  And another book, something completely different.  I’m still trying to find the perfect story.  I feel it’s there, waiting for me to discover it.

A new kind of terrorist...

Chris Peters loves his work in a multi-national bank: the excitement of the trading floor, the impossible deadlines and the constant challenge of the superfast computers in his care. And he loves his beautiful wife, Olivia. But over time, the dream turns sour. His systems crash, the traders turn on him, and Olivia becomes angry and disillusioned. So much bad luck. 

Or is it? A natural detective, Chris finds evidence of something sinister in the mysterious meltdown of a US datacentre. A new kind of terrorist. But can he get anyone to believe him? His obsessive search leads him to a jihadist website, filled with violent images; a man beaten to a pulp in a Dubai carpark; and a woman in a gold sari dancing in the flames of her own destruction. Slowly, a tragic story from decades ago in Yemen emerges.

Too late, Chris understands the nature of the treachery, so close to him. His adversary knows every move and is ready to strike. Even his boss agrees: if this program is run, it will destroy this bank as surely as a neutron bomb. And Chris Peters has 48 hours to figure it out...

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