Was it really 14 years ago?

airport bank board business

I’m referring to the large financial disaster, which brought about the demise of some of the largest financial institutions in the world, and affected the lives of many. At the time I was living in Japan, where the crisis caused by the securitisation of bad loans was known as “The Lehman Shock”, Lehman Brothers being one of the most prominent casualties of this seismic event.

I was working on the fringes of the financial world, having worked in two major non-Japanese financial institutions, and working for a Japanese bank at the time, but I was minimally affected, though I lost out on a contract to pre-edit Bear Stearns’ investor prospectus prior to the issue of a Japanese version.

However, several of my friends within the financial services industry were affected, and I came to learn of the hardship caused by the dishonest practices of the lenders who took advantage of their clients to earn a fast buck. Michael Lewis’s The Big Short is an excellent introduction to all this (the movie, not so much, in my opinion). In any event, it spurred me into writing two books. Here’s something about the first one.

At the Sharpe End

This was my lecture at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, of which I subsequently became a member, where I introduced the book to a number of people, both Japanese and foreign residents of Japan. It’s quite long, but I think it’s worth watching.

I started to write this some time before the 2008 crash. It was based loosely around what I knew of the financial industry from my own experience, and the experiences of my friends.

It concerns a freelance consultant living in Tokyo (I always say that the protagonist, Kenneth Sharpe, is not me, but I could not have created him without my experiences) who finds himself in possession of a secret technology that allows him to make money in large quantities (technologies very similar to this technology actually exist now – fiction prefiguring fact).

(You can find the book for sale here)

Anyway, for the plot to be interesting, the hero can’t just waltz off into the sunset with his pockets bulging with cash – there must be something to hold the reader’s interest. In this case, I really wanted an external catastrophe that prevented the technology from doing its thing, and so guess what I chose? I was living in Japan, a country with frequent earthquakes and a reliance on nuclear power for much of its energy needs.

March 11, 2011

Yes, I chose an earthquake which wrecked a nuclear power station. This was in 2007/early 2008, several years before the Fukushima disaster. I don’t claim enormous credit for predicting this. I’m not a prophet. The Hamaoka power station, which was the one I described as being wrecked, is situated on the junction of three fault lines. In my opinion, a bloody stupid place to build a fault line. I also did not take account of tsunami action. Incidentally, I was convinced at one point that my wife and I, along with thousands more, were going to die from radiation poisoning. We were lucky that was not the case, though I probably have absorbed more radiation than if I had been living in the UK at the time.

However, after writing this section, along came the Lehman Shock, which made my earthquake rather redundant. I therefore had to change the story a bit, and also, given the time of the year, had to change some of the details in the story to reflect this (heaters went off, air-conditioners went on, etc.). I also incorporated some of the conversations that I’d had with my financial friends in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, where I launched the book (always nice to talk about your book in the places featured in the book – happened to me twice now).

The first edition didn’t incorporate the quake, but used the Lehman shock but when I republished with Inknbeans Press in 2012 (post-Fukushima), I added the parts that I had originally written, and the current editions also have .

Anyway, a lot of readers have found it to be a very convincing and authentic look at life in Japan for non-Japanese, as well as being a well-written thriller with lots of twists and turns, and some interesting characters.

Next, I’ll be writing about my other book that came out of the subprime crisis – Balance of Powers.