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RuinairThe Little Book of Mick

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Paul Kilduff follows up his first book Ruinair with Ruinairski, a companion travelogue charting the trials and tribulations of exploring the former Iron Curtain via budget airlines. An accountant, Kilduff has also written four thrillers. Interview by Lucy White.

You’ve been all over Eastern Europe writing this book: where was your favourite place? I liked Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, possibly because the city has no Ryanair flights so there are less tourists and certainly no stag or hen parties. I flew there on easyJet via London Luton. The city might be (another) new Prague - it’s full of history, markets, castles and medieval squares, plus rivers and canals with boat trips, and there are lots of cheap open-air bars, cafes and restaurants - just avoid the fillet of foal on the menus.

And your least favourite? That would be Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic, and badly in need of a second vowel. Ryanair fly there via London Stansted but don’t do it. Despite being a large enough city of 300,000 people, there really is nothing to see or do in Brno. So when I returned I wrote a letter of complaint to Ryanair Customer Service who replied to me, advising that Brno is more exciting than some parts of Dublin.

And the most surprising? I had low expectations for Gdansk after Michael O’Leary said, ‘Who wants to go to Gdansk? There ain’t a lot there after you’ve seen the shipyard wall.’ But there is certainly more to this Polish port than Lech Walesa and Solidarnosc - there is even a bar there called Roosters, where nice Polish girls in tiny red shorts and tight t-shirts with pictures of ‘cocks’ dispense pitchers of beer to blokes arriving on Ryanair.

What do you think of Ryanair’s proposal to charge people for use of their on-board toilets? - much ado about nothing invented by O'Leary? Yes, the notorious ’Pay to Pee’ announcement is another classic O’Leary PR stunt with little basis. As O’Leary said recently, “It is not likely to happen, but it makes for interesting and very cheap PR.”

What was the most bizarre thing you have witnessed on your travels? Watching the Miss Captivity show on Lithuanian television - it’s a reality show to find the most beautiful woman in the nations prison system.

Which is, in your opinion, the best/worst in-flight uniform? The worst is that Ryanair cabin crew uniform in the same shade of blue as the Smurfs wear, plus they don’t seem to do fittings for staff. The best uniform has to be Virgin Atlantic - just watch their sexy ‘25 Years & Still Red Hot’ advert on YouTube.

When was the last time you were truly impressed by an airline? I was on an immaculate and civil German low fares airline named Air Berlin (which does not fly to Ireland sadly) from Vienna to Dusseldorf. I paid €1 plus taxes for the flight and was feeling pretty satisfied when the cabin crew came around with free soft drinks and sandwiches for all.

Have you ever been utterly and totally outraged at your treatment by a low fares airline? Being abandoned for ten hours in Malaga airport by Ryanair with no information or assistance was bad enough to make me write a book about them, which I called ‘Ruinair’

What advice would you give somebody who has? On any typical airline? … gather your evidence, write many letters, complain loudly and persevere. On Ryanair? … just give up.

Which is the worst airport in Europe and why? When I was last there, Paris (Beauvais) was the worst because it wasn’t an airport - rather it was a large marquee tent in need of a party. One strong gust of wind and that airport would move even further away from Paris.

Laughing Michael O'Leary should give up day job and be a stand-up. As Ryanair considers charging €5 to check in, author Paul Kilduff says the airline boss should be on the comedy circuit.

"After 20 years of high-flying success, it's time for Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary to leave his present aviation job and assume his real vocation in life. This realisation dawned upon me when I watched his performance recently on BBC Breakfast TV in the now infamous 'Pay-to-Pee' interview. It was immediately clear to me -- this man should be on a stage somewhere.

What would it cost to buy a full minute's advertising at prime time on television, I wondered as O'Leary positioned himself in the car park of his head office at Dublin Airport, so that the Ryanair company logo on the roof could be seen in shot. Probably more than a return flight from Dublin to Hahn (near Frankfurt) or Torp (near Oslo), and quite a lot more than a wee on the plane.

Having followed O'Leary antics for the past three years in order to write two books about his operation, I found his appearance exceptional in its audacity, even by his standards. The car park was half empty -- the message was, Ryanair staff do not have to arrive at work as early as their boss.

His was a typical PR stunt, yet the media fell for it, as it does, every time. But to set up this canard he wore a particularly cheap and nasty brown coat with the collar turned up, complete with awful scarf, as if to emphasise the overall cheapness of his airline. My only surprise was that he did not wear another of his fancy dress costumes or turn up dressed as a hairy lavatory brush.

In Ireland we know O'Leary too well so we just laugh at him. What we don't do is, as BBC News 24 did, run his manufactured stories every hour. Nor do we read out texts from viewers which become more ludicrous by the hour, such as the text accusing him of discriminating against elderly people because they have "reduced bladder capacity".

And every time a presenter read out a comment, the screen behind showed a Boeing 737-800 in the Ryanair livery. And every time Ryanair appears on TV screens, bookings for flights increase in exactly the same way that bookings on easyJet increase when ITV shows Airline.

I knew it was a joke when he first uttered the "loo fares" soundbite with a wry grin. Sure enough last week O'Leary spoke at a Dublin tourism conference and confirmed it was all a public relations stunt. "It is not likely to happen, but it makes for interesting and very cheap PR." But it was mission achieved with free media coverage once again, from Dublin to new York, from Bydgoszcz to Brno. Even my opinionated opinion falls for the same joke from O'Leary but on this occasion at least I get to share a little of the publicity.

O'Leary does not have a team of scriptwriters and he writes almost all of his own material. And in case you think O'Leary cannot ad lib like the best of comedians -- think again. I watched him in action when the last Ryanair annual general meeting was gatecrashed by a topless male environmental protester. As the man departed O'Leary called after him, "Next year send a topless female protester -- I'd much rather have an environmental debate with a topless female." O'Leary is introduced at every AGM with the words, "Now for the Michael O'Leary Show." I wonder.

He's already done everything he can for the low fares airline industry by inventing and then increasing every discretionary charge known to man. Ryanair says it will never charge passengers a fuel surcharge -- why would it when it has so many other charges which it can increase? Imagine if you went into Tesco and were charged five euros to use a credit card. You'd walk out.

And his customer service leads the industry -- don't take my word for it, ask O'Leary. Or ask anyone who's been left in a regional Polish airport at midnight in November in a foot of snow.

His airline loses the least baggage (because we cannot afford to check it in any longer), his airline is the most punctual (because it waits for no one) and his airline replies to all complaints in writing in a speedy seven days (because of all the practice it gets in dealing with complaints).

So it's time for the retiring O'Leary to ditch the dull aviation job and finally book a 10-night run at a city comedy club. Certainly the drinks and snacks will be expensive and there will be a mad rush for the best unassigned seats at the front.

I for one will be happy to pay whatever ticket price O'Leary decides, plus of course I will continue to pay those nasty taxes, fees and charges, to see him become Ireland's greatest stand-up comedian."

sunday tribune logo

Hacked off with Ryanair? Paul Kilduff was, to such an extent he decided to go on all of their routes and write a travel guide about it . . . albeit a razor sharp one. He tells all to Patrick Freyne.

PAUL KILDUFF'S new book comes at the bargain price of one cent. However, with taxes and assorted charges you'll still end up paying 12.99. And thus with a satirical gesture Kilduff takes a swipe at Ryanair, the subject of the book. If you're a fan you might not appreciate an extended rant. Of course, the title is a giveaway. Ruinair is an entertaining travel book based around the destinations you can visit on the much-used but maligned airline. It's very funny.

Douglas Adams once joked the Book of Revelations was written by John the evangelist while he was waiting for a ferry. Similarly the idea for Ruinair first came to Kilduff after Ryanair stranded him in Malaga with little in the way of compensation or apology. "Yes, the idea came to me in despair. I was marooned for 10 hours and I was just so hacked off. I had written books before and over the 10 hours I went from deciding to write a stroppy letter to a whole book. I had a publisher and felt it was a good topic."

Kilduff 's previous works were financial thrillers, not a hugely populist genre, so he was unprepared for the interest his new endeavour would stir up. "When I told people I wrote financial thrillers they'd all just glaze over, " he chuckles. "But when I tell them I'm writing about Ryanair they go 'oh God!' and tell some story where they were left in the snow in Poland for two days. So I knew I was onto something."

But to produce this work meant Kilduff had to travel all the time, which took its toll. "Visiting 20 countries in a short-ish time was a fairly horrendous experience. Some of the places they fly to are so grim that even spending 48 hours there can be a struggle. The trick was to see what Paris Beauvais was like, or Haugesund Norway. And to be honest there isn't much to do in a herring fishing port. So for every place like Berlin or Barcelona, there were destinations with nothing to recommend them and I found I was getting increasingly depressed, flight after flight."

But why pick on Ryanair: aren't there plenty of budget airlines to choose from? "After flying on every single low-fares airline in Europe, I still think Ruinair are the most hostile, aggressive and in-your-face, " says Kilduff with a sigh. "And the flying experience is certainly the least pleasant. For example, I went to Cologne on an airline called German Wings for one cent. The staff were friendly and there was free food and drink. But Ruinair have taken the model to an unpleasant extreme."

Part of Ryanair's mythology is based on the cult of their unapologetic and mischievous CEO, Michael O'Leary, and indeed the book has a picture of him on the cover and the text is sprinkled with his wit. Kilduff is well aware the maverick CEO is literary paydirt but also thinks the persona is a well-managed pose.

"I've seen him on TV, at press conferences, at the shareholders meeting, and he's always ready with the soundbites, the aggression. But I've also seen him outside of that context. The first was in the airport where he was flying in the same plane as me. He was chatting with people, helping the staff and he just seemed to be a very relaxed sort of guy. The other time I saw him was at Christmas. I was in Hodges Figgis and he was there buying a book and chatting to people behind the counter. He was very friendly and civilised.

"I think in public he has to play up to this cartoon figure. He has a soundbite on everything. You ask him about oil prices, or Dublin airport, or BA and he'll churn out perfect soundbites. I'd say himself and Peter Sherrard . . . Ryanair's communications guy . . . craft soundbites for every single issue. But, if I did have any advice I would say buy Ryanair shares and go to the AGM. It's the best 30 minutes of entertainment you'll get all year. The chairman even introduces him by saying: 'And now for the Michael O'Leary show.' They just wheel him out. As I was leaving I heard one man say to his wife, 'He gets better each year.'" And is all this such a bad thing?

Surely seeing an Irish company flourish internationally gives him some good feelings? "Well, yes. I was in Paris Beauvais, which is basically a tent in a field, and I watched all the planes landing, one going to Milan, one to Barcelona, one to Dublin, and they all have the tricolour. It is phenomenal that this Irish airline would be taking the French to Spain or the Germans to Paris. Nobody would have thought that possible 10 years ago. So you do get a vague swirl of national pride.

"I quote Mick in the book saying, 'We're stuffing it to all the other airlines in Europe and it feels bloody good, ' . . . and that's true. And they've influenced change on a massive scale. The fact a Pole can commute to Dublin for 30 once a month indicates they've helped Europe to integrate."

But you still think they're chancers? "Yes. I'm still flying Ryanair [Kilduff is working on a book about Ryanair's eastern European destinations called Ruinairski] but I'm a seasoned traveller and I expect little. I still think the whole thing is just a negative experience. The staff don't care about you. When you complain the replies are baloney.

And I know from comparing them to other budget airlines they're the lowest common denominator. But I'm not disappointed this time. You play by their rules. You don't change your flights. You get there on time. You bring your passports and documentation. You don't over-pack. You follow their rules because if you don't they'll charge for everything."

So why do people keep going back? "They're cheap, " he says.

Ruinair Author Paul Kilduff on the journeys that inspired his new travel book...

"I was not the first person to be abandoned in a foreign field by a cheap Irish low fares airline named Ruinair, and I won't be the last, but I craved a modicum of revenge. As I sat in the greasy departures lounge of Malaga Airport for ten long hours, reading the back of my boarding card for the millionth time and wondering if there would ever be an FR flight (the 'R' standing for Ruinair and the 'F' for …?), I decided to write a letter to their famed Customer Service department.

But soon after I had a much better idea - I had already published four novels so I thought why not go one better than a mere letter and write a travel book about an epic tale of human endurance on Europe's low fares airlines. I determined to attempt to visit all the countries in Europe for the same cost as my incredibly ‘low fare’ to Spain of €300. My publisher later selected a better sub title for the book - ‘How To Be Treated Like Shite in 15 Different Countries … And Still Quite Like It.’

The following 18 months were amongst the worst of my life - Getting up before dawn to catch 7am flights, all those taxes, fees and charges, queues, boarding scrums last seen in the Six Nations, sitting for hours in planes with vomit-yellow interiors and sticky plastic non-reclining seats, being shouted at by cabin crew in a language known as Spanglish (who can count neither passengers nor euro change), trying not to buy chicken soup, scratch cards, bus tickets, Bullseye Baggies and hangover cures in-flight.

I landed at airports far from civilisation (of which Torp being 140 kms from Oslo wins), spent days in towns like Haugesund (a herring fishing port in Norway) and Beauvais (nothing like Paris 80 km away). I inhaled the carbon monoxide poison of Andorra and I was the only tourist who overnights it in Liechtenstein. I just about escaped with my sanity, plus 115,000 words; enough for a book.

Upon advice from my psychiatrist, I sampled other low fares airlines. easyJet flew me to Athens (a city whose reputation lies in ruins), a Spanish airline Vueling flew me to Gaudi’s Barcelona and an Italian carrier MyAir flew me to sinking Venice. The pink Swiss airline Helvetic flew me to Zurich’s banks, HLX flew me to Hamburg’s Mile of Sin, GermanWings flew me to the Christmas markets of Cologne and Air Berlin flew me to Dusseldorf, while Air Niki (of Lauda ex-F1 fame) to the coffee houses of Vienna. The other low fares airlines in Europe are cheap and the crew are less hostile.

My increasingly insane letters to Ruinair’s Customer Service department always merited a reply; my Eureka moment being my formal complaint that their fares are too low, to which Mick O’Leery replied to me in person sharing my view “that fares of 1 cent or 1 penny are much too low“.

Mick is my all-time hero of Irish business. Founded in Waterford in 1985 with one turbo-prop 15-seater aircraft, 50 staff and 5,000 passengers, Mick has transformed Ruinair to be the largest scheduled airline by passenger numbers in Europe. His airline this year will take 52 million of us from A to somewhere remotely near B, using 133 aircraft on 630 routes between 26 countries.

I hitched a ride to Stansted Airport with Mick, I saw him at the company’s annual general meeting and I even encountered him during my Christmas shopping in Dublin. Off camera I found Mick to be mild-mannered and unassuming, which came as a surprise; “We are a small Irish company, out there stuffing it to the biggest airlines all over Europe, and of course that feels good.”

dowjones.com

BANKER ENJOYS SECOND CAREER AS NOVELIST

DUBLIN, IRELAND (c) Dow Jones & Company Inc – Like the protagonist in his debut novel, Irish author Paul Kilduff enjoys playing tennis, people watching and travelling the world working for a large investment bank. But that’s where the similarities end.

Unlike Anthony Carlton, the hero of Kilduff's financial thriller Square Mile, about the inner-workings of London’s financial district, the author hasn’t been chased by would-be assassins or become caught up in a web on illegal international finance schemes. The book is currently on the UK best-seller list. But Kilduff’s work in Dublin does provide him with some fresh material for his second career as a novelist.

Kilduff says most of his ideas come from his "mad, vivid imagination" rather than real life work experiences, but it’s clear that his knowledge of the world of high finance has a major influence on his writing – and the two careers often overlap.

Take Kilduff’s recent business trip to New York. The 35-year-old Dublin native met with colleagues for three days, then took another two days vacation in New York’s Battery Park, the Upper East Side and on Wall Street, doing research for this third book, The Frontrunner.

Having worked in the financial sector for 13 years, Kilduff says he has always been intrigued by the scandals that have affected other banks, using them for inspiration for his fiction. "Some are stories that I’ve heard from people, others are things I’ve read in the Financial Times," Kilduff says. ‘I pick up on things, scams I come across, and things that have happened in banks in London, Tokyo or New York."

Kilduff calls the collapse of Barings plc in 1995, then Britain’s oldest merchant bank, "thrilling," became it was the work of one person, Nicholas Leeson, who seemed normal and wasn’t unusually suspect. "When I was with HSBC and Barings collapsed, we went out next week to Singapore to make sure our futures broker out there wasn’t in the same position," Kilduff said. "The place was full of auditors and staff from every bank in the world out there checking out their SIMEX members."

The paperback edition of Square Mile won’t hit the bookshelves in the UK and Europe until January 2000, but Kilduff has already finished his second book and is about one-quarter done with a third. Since its release in June by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd in London, sales of Square Mile have taken off, especially at Heathrow Airport, where Kilduff believes many business travellers pick it up on their way to far-flung destinations in Asia or the Americas.

‘The bookshop in Terminal 4 has reordered many times," Kilduff says. "They are obviously selling it in good volume because that’s partly whom it appeals to.’ It wasn’t too long ago that Kilduff was one of those business travellers picking up a book on his way out of London. In fact, it was reading thrillers that gave him the push he needed to begin writing himself.

‘I read (one particular novel) and thought it was average, and said to myself, "If he could get that published, I could certainly do something quite similar," he said. Without any formal training in writing, Kilduff speaks easily about the structure of a novel, and, for example, knowing when conflict is needed to excite the reader. He said he’s helped by a keen sense of observing people and situations around him. Now most of his writing is restricted to weekends, because, he says, it’s too difficult after a days work to focus on writing. When he does write, he’ll do it with an idea in mind of what he wants to happen in that part of the story, so he can hammer out a chapter in three to four hours of writing.

‘If you sit down with an idea in mind about a scene, that x does y and z meet this, and this happens there, it will go very quickly, Kilduff explains. Returning to Dublin five years ago afforded Kilduff the time and energy to juggle his writing with his career. ‘In London I was busy and crazy with working, commuting and the hassle of overseas travel, whereas in Ireland, you can get some time to think about things." Kilduff says.

As a sign of the times, Kilduff included his email address on the last page of the book, prompting dozens of readers from around the world to write and share their thoughts on the story.

Not only did he hear from old friends and colleagues, but he also got a note from a newspaper vendor in London, who wondered if he was the inspiration for one of the characters. And a London investment banker wrote to say that his firm practices a scam similar to the one pulled off by Kilduff’s fictional bank.

Kilduff has completed his second novel The Dealer, which is set for publication in March 2000. He says the book is very different from his first effort. For one thing, it’s aimed at a larger, international audience. Square Mile was targeted at the small segment of people who work in the finance business in London, but Kilduff says he took a different approach with The Dealer by focusing on an America angle and placing scenes and characters on Wall Street or in the Securities & Exchange Commission in Washington.

Kilduff, now a pro, also thinks it’s an improvement on his first effort. "I started out with very firm ideas about where it was going, how the plot would evolve to different locations, and some of the characters I fit into the plot after the event," Kilduff says. "The second book is much more character driven.’

BEANCOUNTER TURNS BESTSELLER - Daisy Downes, Accountancy Ireland
When a guy tells you he worked hard for a B.Comm. in the 80s you know he can spin a good yarn. Meet Paul Kilduff, the beancounter turned best selling author whose day job is Vice President of a US investment bank in the IFSC in Dublin. Paul's first book, Square Mile, has been the top selling paperback in the City of London over the past few weeks. His second, The Dealer, is due for publication soon, and he's already at work on a third.

Born in Dublin, Paul currently lives in an apartment in Ballsbridge, with an easy commute to work. "Dublin's a relief after 15 hour days and the hassles of the London tube." Tell that to drivers on the Naas Road or the N11.

He attended St Michael's in Ballsbridge "educators of the cream of the country", he says before adding "in other words, the rich and thick". He went from there to UCD where he earned his B. Comm. in 1985 and followed that with a DPA (now the Masters in Accounting) in 1986.

Since the book came out he's had email from all kinds of people. "One guy, a newspaper seller outside a tube station, asked someone else to email me for him. He wanted to know if he was the newspaper seller in the book. In fact he wasn't. The guy I based that character on has since died."

Paul's new found fame suits him. He's been interviewed for radio in the UK. He's been profiled in the press. He appeared on Sky TV's book program. "I was glad it was on late at night. I thought that meant no one I knew would see it but they did. It seems like everyone was getting home late from the pub and just happened to turn on the television."

"I suppose I decided to be a CA because it's a good qualification," Paul says. "I always wanted to work in the City of London so qualifying as a CA seemed like a good move". He trained with Touche Ross, now Deloitte & Touche, recalling how one partner sat with his feet out the window of his upper floor office on warm summer days, summoning staff at reception to retrieve his shoes from the pavement below if and when necessary. "I enjoyed the audit work. We had some interesting accounts, Dunnes Stores, the Ansbacher accounts, and NIB. You have to see the CA training as an investment. It's not great when earning say £5,000 a year while your friends are getting £15,000 but it's worth it in the end."

Having completed his training contract in 1989, Paul headed for London where he joined the American securities house, Prudential Bache, to work in the investigation area "reviewing their business operations around the world".

"Investigation is exciting. There were days when I flew to New York and back just for a meeting. You get to meet with the legal and compliance people, and I guess you could say that some of the ideas for my writing were inspired by that experience."

Since then, Paul has worked for various financial institutions in the City of London.
The direct inspiration for Square Mile had an immediate and somewhat bizarre source. Arriving at work for London stockbrokers James Capel one Monday morning some years ago, Paul was shocked to discover that the Director of Investment Trusts who occupied the office next to him had been murdered over the weekend. The victim a quiet, 51 year old corporate financier, lived in a modest one-bedroom flat in Spitalfields and went to visit his widowed mother every weekend. The murder weapon was a serrated knife.

Despite being a high profile case, the murder was never solved. The police investigation uncovered evidence of a secret lifestyle: letters, videos, nights spent trawling the bars of Old Compton Street, and mysterious payments to an address in Morocco.

That Monday, says Paul, was the day he realised there was a great novel to be written about the City of London and that he was the one to write it.
Although he claims not to be a great reader, Paul is very much up to speed with the "who's who" of financial thrillers. His favourite author is Tom Wolfe (Bonfire of the Vanities) but others left him less impressed and gave him the confidence to have a go himself.

He set about the task with a discipline any Chartered Accountant would admire. "The average novel is 120,000 words - that's about 30 chapters with 40,000 words in each." He writes mostly at the weekends being too busy with work to be able to think or write fiction during the day. He aims to write 3,000 - 4,000 words over a weekend. That said, if it's a sunny Saturday or Sunday, he's equally likely to be out playing tennis but he does set himself targets and he meets them.

The manuscript finished, he sent some sample chapters to about 20 literary agents in the UK. "A couple of them came back almost immediately asking for more. I met a few of them before settling on Judith Chilcote. She introduced me to Hodder & Stoughton who were very positive about the book from the start. They were in the market for a financial thriller writer and I filled a gap on their lists. If they had already had someone writing that kind of book for them, they wouldn't have taken me on. Publishers don't buy competing authors in the same genre as authors already on their lists. They're investing in a writer for the long haul so they like to meet you and reassure themselves that you are someone they are happy to invest in. It's an advantage to be young. They are more interested in investing in someone in their 30s than in someone in their late 50s.'

The market Paul is aiming at is fascinated by Nick Leeson's breaking of Barings or more recently, the Martin Frankel story. Frankel is the American high school drop-out, banned by the SEC from securities trading, who recently pulled off one of the biggest frauds ever, siphoning more than $300m from a group of insurance companies before disappearing, leaving behind a bizarre trail of astrological forecasts and a to-do list with reminders to "Launder money".

"After Barings, the company I was working for sent me out to Singapore to check our operations out there, just to make sure that the same thing couldn't happen to us. When I got back, I wrote up a report of about 10,000 words. I guess that kind of writing was good preparation for writing the book."

"It's probably true that the financial markets lend themselves to fraud, particularly where a head office is in one country with smaller operations overseas, often in different time zones with communication done mostly by email or fax. Also, people like Leeson tend to know a lot more about the market they operate in than their bosses, so they're more likely to be given a free rein. That's what happened in Barings".
Back in Dublin since 1995, Paul only recently revealed his closet fiction writing to family and friends. "When I told people at work that my book was reviewed on amazon.co.uk they thought there was some other guy with the same name. Eventually I convinced them it was me", he says.

Paul says he has no plans to give up the day job at the moment. "Writing is just a hobby". But with two more books on the way, we've got to wonder for how long. "Square Mile is mostly plot driven. The Dealer will be a better book because it's character driven. It's important for your second book to be better than your first", he says.

It's not often Accountancy Ireland gets the chance to read thrillers in the line of duty. Square Mile is a gripping read. Great pace, exciting, well researched, it has a couple of murders, embezzlement, a hero you can empathise with, and it's in stock in a bookshop near you. If you liked John Grisham's The Firm, then you only need to know one thing. This is better and I, for one, am looking forward to the next one!

 

BALANCING THE BOOKS, The Examiner, by John Daly.

John Daly meets Paul Kilduff, the Irishman who's nurturing two thriving careers - as a high flying banker and a crime novelist.

In a modern business environment where a simple series of clicks on a computer mouse can result in the illegal transfer of millions of offshore dollars, euros or yen, it's little wonder that the financial thriller has become a permanent addition to the best-seller lists. With the Cold War over and international conflict now mostly confined to the more remote corners of the globe, the glamour and danger of international intrigue continues to thrive in those novels set in the major financial institutions of London, New York, Hong Kong, and even Dublin.

Paul Kilduff is one of this new breed of thrill dealers, a man whose banking day job has provided a rich seam of experience for his evening toil as a thriller writer. The mystery surrounding a vacant desk on a London dealing floor was the impetus that originally led to his second career as a novelist. "I saw the vision for my first thriller, Square Mile, when I came into work one Monday morning at a leading stockbroker in the City of London only to discover a colleague would no longer be sitting there" he recalled. "A middle-aged investment banker who worked directly opposite me had been murdered in his Spitalfields apartment over the weekend, stabbed several times. The killer was never caught. It started me thinking - What if his death was connected to his work as a big-shot corporate financier? This was the genesis of the novel and the start of my writing career."

Having graduated from UCD in 1985 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, Paul Kilduff is antithesis of the staid accountant with a vivid imagination for financial thrillers that continues to rise in tandem with his banking career. Having taken a job with Prudential-Bache Securities that led him to Asia and the USA on frequent business trips, it was partly the limitations of airport bookshops that also helped spur his initial interest in the genre. "The chunky paperback was a required possession on a nine-hour flight to Hong Kong. And while there were many police, detective, serial killer, legal and forensic thrillers on the shelves of WH Smith, it seemed no one was writing decent financial thrillers. There are 300,000 people who work in the City and many millions more who buy and sell shares daily, and I wondered if they too were looking for something different to read."

With plot lines in Square Mile, The Dealer, and his latest, The Frontrunner, encompassing murder, blackmail, secret off-shore accounts, hostile takeovers and a liberal sprinkling of pinstriped sexual peccadilloes, Kilduff has joined a select fraternity who bring multiple bangs to their fictional bottom lines. Recently returned to Dublin where he presently works as a Vice President in the IFSC, he continues to straddle the disciplines of daytime commerce and evening fiction. "I try to write about the types of varied characters who work in and around the major financial centres" he says "I want to explore their interests, ambitions, conflicts and lifestyle. I want to expose the inner workings and dark underbelly of the City."

Ever since banker Paul Erdman's visionary novel, The Crash Of '79, hit the best-sellers lists in the mid-1970s, the financial fiction genre has spawned a growing number of writers who have parlayed their monetary experience into the currency of imagination. While much of the early output in the sector emerged from American writers like Tom Wolfe, Po Bronson, Christopher Reich and Stephen Frey who mined Wall Street's ruthless ethics as their operational backdrop, European writers like Linda Davies, Michael Ridpath, John McLaren and Paul Kilduff are now balancing the global literary picture with scenarios set in the fast track market centres of the EU and Asia.

With Ireland's citizenry becoming increasingly aware of international markets through their equity investments in companies like Eircom, CRH and AIB, their interest in fictional financial scenarios has the potential to expand accordingly. "I think if you watch finance from afar, you are less likely to buy a financial thriller" concludes Kilduff "However, if you actually own shares in companies like Eircom, Bank Of Ireland or Abbey National and watch them go up and down every day, it does increase the appetite for further knowledge either in fiction or serious reading."

In a world where an honest buck or a criminal million are often separated only by a mouse click, the notion that greed is indeed good permeates all social stratas from the sidewalk to the boardroom. "Ever since Nick Leeson demonstrated how one man could bring down an entire bank, people's perceptions of financial stability have changed. Wherever there is money, whether that is in banking, construction or property, people may be tempted to cross the line. If you're sitting there with millions floating around you, it's very easy to consider taking a piece of the cake and saving a few crumbs for yourself.

THRILLS BY THE MILLION - by Ann Dermody, Ireland on Sunday

Whoever suggested working in finance was dead boring obviously never worked alongside Paul Kilduff. Dead perhaps. Boring, never. Kilduff decided there was enough murder, mystery and mayhem in the fickle world of finance after returning to his job in the City one Monday morning to find one of his colleagues had been murdered over the weekend.

The financier who sat opposite him had lived in a modest one bedroomed flat in Spitalfields and had visited his widowed mother every weekend. However the police investigation unearthed a double life showing the victim trawling the bars of Old Compton Street, and mysterious payments to addresses in Morocco. The murder weapon was a serrated knife, but the case was never solved.

It was enough to inspire Kilduff into thinking the financial world was a hotbed of potential thrillers however. So much so that the Vice President with a US investment bank now spends his weekdays shifting hundreds of thousands of dollars and his weekends scribbling hundreds of thousands of words.

The Frontrunner, Kilduff's latest novel imagines a global meltdown in which various characters are caught up. It begins with the assassination of the Chinese Premier being recorded on live TV in Hong Kong for which an elderly widow is charged. From there the book wings its way at high speed to London then back and forth from Tuscany, Nerja and Hong Kong before finally settling in Bermuda.

Logistics are obviously important to Kilduff whose meticulous method and attention to minute detail allows the plot of his books move at lightning speed around the globe. "I plan all the books on an excel spreadsheet file. Every single book with 30 or 40 chapters and three scenes in each chapter. I map out how the whole book will develop and look at each scene to make sure it's in the right place. I'll also track the main characters to make sure they appear in every chapter or often enough to make them critical."

It's not an exaggeration to say Kilduff writes like John Grisham. His way of telling a story allows you the internal visuals to clearly see the film that has yet to be made in your head. "The whole plan really is not so much to make it a financial thriller rather than a thriller about people set against a finance background" he says. "If you take Grisham's The Firm; it's a book about a guy who works in a legal firm but there isn't any legal case in the book. In the same way I think my books are about how people evolve. They're not about how to work in a bank."

If the big movie deal does materialise, Kilduff says he'd be happy enough to leave the heady world of international finance behind. Already most of his holidays are spent travelling to new destinations to check out possible plot locations.

September 11th he says has nothing to do with the theme for The Frontrunner although the day he sent the rough draft to his publisher the stock market fell by 6%. "I suppose I write for all those people you see at airports like Heathrow travelling away on business. A lot of them work in the financial services and I think finance is more topical now. A few years ago it wasn't but now everyone owns a few shares or is watching things happening on the markets. I did a lot of travelling with my job in the City so I know what these places are like."

Since moving back to Dublin in 1995 he's returned to a more normal pace affording him the time to write. "In London the culture was coming in for eight o clock, sandwich at your desk and then work until seven or eight in the evening. You can do it for ten years and then you get exhausted or burn yourself out. I have a much more normal lifestyle here and I can write more. This year I'm taking a four day week which means I can write a few thousand words on a Friday."

 

KILDUFF EMERGES AS A FRONTRUNNER - by Fiona Shoop, Shots Crime Fiction Magazine

With the release of his third novel, The Frontrunner, Paul Kilduff, looks set to take the world by storm and emerge as one of the best thriller writers of his generation. He talks to Fiona Shoop about what makes him more than just another City-based writer.

Think of the financial markets and you’ll invariably either yawn or remember the scenes of devastation when the World Trade Centre collapsed. Paul Kilduff wants you to forget all that and, in a fast-paced, multi-story, high-thrill novel, emerges as one of the best new writers of his generation.

The Irishman has realised his potential. "The Frontrunner is a more complex book than The Dealer. I’m trying to write a better book each time and I’m very conscious of not leaving any dangling loose ends or unsolved storylines. So, every plot or subplot I start, I would like to finish with a satisfying conclusion. I wouldn’t want to leave it halfway through the book. Each character has issues and I try to make sure these issues are developed and, ultimately, resolved."

This is not an easy task with so many important characters and storylines running throughout the novel. Lesser writers would have lost at least one of the threads but Kilduff is adept at juggling and retaining control of a complex plot. "I do it on a one page Excel file. A sideways A4 page. I plot down the left-hand side, say 30 chapters, and I have four scenes in each chapter which gives me about 100 scenes. Each scene is 1,000 words. That’s the book done. "Basically, I write the scenes I think are right and I move them around this template. On the right-hand side, I write a column for each of the main six or seven characters – whether they’re in the chapter or not. Jonathon (the main character) is in each of the chapters at the very start, whereas Lauren (the feisty Frontrunner – a term meaning to buy stock ahead of your clients, thereby profiting from their buy) is not. I make sure characters are in scenes and I develop them. At the end of every book, I look at every, single character who’d appeared in the book – whether they’re minor or major – and I’ll make sure, in my mind, that every, single character had something happen to them and where they’d end up. The last ‘press article’, the last three to four pages of the book, wraps up five or six of the main characters."

Whilst stockbroker Lauren is almost stereotypical in her attractiveness (which Kilduff excuses as being typical, not of his imagination, but the City itself), the au pair is not. "I think it’s easier with a female character to make her appealing to men and to make her attractive. But the au pair is not an attractive woman. I think you have to break the stereotype. People at Jonathon’s work might think he’s got a Swedish nanny at home and she’s 18 with long, blonde hair but I think it’s quite important to break the mould and she’s actually a bit different, a bit of a battleaxe. It’s easier to do it with a nanny [than a stockbroker]. You can’t imagine a fifty-year-old saleswoman who’s as tough as boots and who competes with the men." Eva is not the only atypical character, Jonathon has to juggle a high-flying career with raising two small children after his wife died of cancer. "I think you have to have a character with whom people empathise and who has some issues. Being a widower and having two kids and conflicts makes the book more interesting. If the guy is a very self-satisfied, smug consultant, then you don’t really bother about him that much but, if he has issues and a conflict – whether he goes to Hong Kong or takes his kids to the Millennium Wheel on a Sunday morning – then he knows which is the right job to take. It makes the character more identifiable and people can like him."

There is a fear that readers can identify too much with contemporary thrillers if the events turn into reality. The Frontrunner is set in several cities, including New York, in a world about to face a global meltdown unless the main players can stop it. With the events of September 11th and the on-going threat of a world-wide recession, is Kilduff worried that the readers might not want to read about their reality – or would this encourage them to buy the timely novel? "It’s a global book, it’s about critical mass, about a wide canvas where people are coming and going and meeting different people and lots of events have an international, knock-on effect. If you were an average punter in the world and that was happening, you would find your savings disappearing, stock markets collapsing, people queuing in banks to get their money because things are going to the wall. People would be panicking."

"When it comes out in paperback (in March 2002), I think I might take out one or two mentions of the World Trade Centre so it doesn’t actually feature. By September 11th, the book was already a done deal – it had already gone to press. It could have been worse, I could have written the main guy actually worked in the World Trade Centre. "It is a worry when you’re writing contemporary thrillers that events overtake you. If, for example, the Chinese Premier had died [as in the novel], the book would have been incredibly timely or incredibly bad timing. It’s a risk. This is a novel about markets collapsing and it’s timely. I think people like that."

The Frontrunner is also a novel with humour and shows how far Kilduff has developed as a writer. His desire to grow with each novel will be seen with his ground-breaking fourth novel, the aptly named The Headhunter. Set in the City, it follows a recruitment advisor and one of his clients. It’s also Kilduff’s first attempt at writing about a serial killer. If The Frontrunner will establish him firmly as one of the best thriller writers of the century, The Headhunter promises to take him beyond that.

 
FINANCIAL FICTION PROVIDE USEFUL LESSONS FOR STUDENTS, AND ROYALTIES - Sarah Butcher

Glamorous and unscrupulous, charming and misogynistic - investment bankers have a chequered literary profile. But the best financial thrillers and trading floor memoirs illuminate the financial services industry for those on the outside, including students choosing a career.

Kerry Hood of Hodder Headline, the publisher, says that the public's appetite for thrillers and other financial fiction is growing. Personal accounts by bankers of their working lives are also in increasing demand, read with the same fascination as the memoirs of former spies and SAS officers.

Liar's Poker, an exposition of Salomon Brothers published 12 years ago by the former bond trader Michael Lewis, continues to earn its author large royalties. It has been reprinted 23 times and is sold in as many different countries.

Lewis himself is under no illusions as to the source of public interest. 'People read the books because of the money. They want to know what people do to make so much money, and they want to know how their own money is managed.'

Other traders-turned-authors agree. 'There's pent-up frustration from the public,' says Frank Partnoy, author of F.I.A.S.C.O, an account of life as a derivatives trader at Morgan Stanley in the early 1990s. 'They know that there are people making $5m a year, and they want to know why.'

Accounts of insalubrious antics on the trading floor may have also boosted Lewis's and Partnoy's sales. Liar's Poker has gained near mythical status as the definitive guide to egotistical traders. F.I.A.S.C.O. followed in much the same vein: Partnoy recollects a secretary being paid to eat pickles covered in hand cream.

However, Lewis warns that sensational accounts of the trading floor are now dated. 'Students who read Liar's Poker and go to Wall Street are disappointed. Liar's Poker was written when banks were partnerships. Now that they are public companies, the idiosyncrasies are far fewer.'

In the absence of corporate idiosyncrasy, other factual authors have carved their literary niche by suggesting that banking is simply tedious. Monkey Business, written by disenchanted DLJ associates John Rolfe and Peter Troob and published earlier this year, dismisses the work of an associate in corporate finance as 'mindless paper pushing'.

Having looked forward to a world of limousines and expense accounts, Troob and Rolfe find themselves stuck in a windowless room known as the 'Bullpen', where their 20-hour days are illuminated only by the presence of four attractive BAs (banking assistants).

Troob, who is now a hedge fund manager, says that the perception that entry-level individuals lead a glamorous life is wrong: 'It may look glamorous from the outside, but these guys work very, very, hard.'

Nevertheless, money and glamour provide a good premise for fictionalised accounts of the industry.

Helen Dunne, the Daily Telegraph journalist and writer of the Trixie Trader column and book, says her readers are not interested in knowing too much about the work itself: 'A bond issue is only interesting for those involved in it. Readers don't want to get bogged down in the intricacies.' Dunne advises graduates and MBAs who really want to learn about the industry to read financial thrillers. These, she says, often provide technical information as well as entertainment.

So Something Wild, a book by banker-turned-author Linda Davies, might be just the thing for anyone who wants to know more about securitisation. The plot revolves about an attractive heroine who securitises the income of a rock star. Similarly, a perspective on global financial crises is provided by The Frontrunner, a new book by Paul Kilduff, financial thriller writer and vice-president at a US bank in Dublin.

Students who want to be bankers are an important market for books of financial fact and fiction. Lewis says that one of the reasons why the royalties cheques keep on coming is that some business schools have Liar's Poker as a set book. Kilduff says that he receives emails from students interested in the industry who thank him for removing the mystique from banking.

MBAs at the London Business School confirm that reading such books plays an important part in their preparation. 'You can learn a lot from reading financial novels, even though they sometimes exaggerate,' says one.

In the absence of big bonuses for the foreseeable future, writing informative and entertaining accounts of life on the inside may prove an alternative source of remuneration for many bankers. Hood, at Hodder Headline, says the growth in the financial fiction market is being held back only by an absence of good material. Everyone has been too busy doing deals, she complains - at least until now.

USING FINANCIAL SAVVY FOR PAGE-TURNING THRILLS - by Devika Sahdev © Earth Times News Service New York

Paul Kilduff's writing talents surfaced in letters to friends and family at home in Dublin-- he was often told his descriptions of life in London were insightful and funny.

"When I went to London I used to write letters home to everyone and they enjoyed the letters," said Kilduff, who now lives in Dublin. "In my job I started writing because I was doing investigative work. You had to get your facts right as well as develop a good story."

The jump from letter writing to penning best-selling novels occurred in 1999 when Kilduff's first novel, Square Mile, was published in Europe. He began writing the novel in 1996 after he realized that there was a gaping hole in the thrillers market for professionals like him--those who work in the financial sector. There are any number of thrillers about pathologists, forensic scientists, politicians and, of course, detectives, but no thrillers about securities analysts. Besides noticing the gap in the market, Kilduff also had first hand experience of a murder within the financial world, a real-life incident that motivated him to write about the world he knew about.

"One morning when I came into work I found out that a middle-aged investment banker who worked directly opposite me had been murdered in his apartment at the weekend," said Kilduff. "I knew him reasonably well and the entire episode was heavily covered in the papers and magazines. I thought 'If someday I write a book, this will be the first two chapters.'"

Working in London did not afford much free time to write and Kilduff did not start writing till he returned to Dublin in 1995, after a six-year stint at securities firms in London. Working conditions were not as stressful and demanding on his time, meaning he had time to write.

Starting to write was not easy. "I found myself thinking, 'If I don't start this book now, I'll never do it.'" said Kilduff. "I had some time, I had an idea, I had a computer at home. I just thought I'd write a few chapters, and that's how it all started."

Writing for the first time was like a new job, he said. "It takes you a while to figure out what to do right, to get the content, the twists and turns, the characters right."

With a complete first draft, Kilduff had to find a publisher--always one of the hardest tasks for writers. "Every author had been turned down," he said. "Even J.K. Rowling was turned down several times before she finally found a publisher and now look at her." After going through almost 20 publishers and facing rejections, he acquired an agent, which, he said, made a big difference. He got a two-book contract in 1998 and immediately started work on his second novel, The Dealer.

"I would never have written a second book if I hadn't sold the first one," he said. Having his first novel finally published in 1999 was a thrilling experience. "When you send off your manuscript, which is 400 pages long with handwritten notes on the side, and it comes back from a typesetter and it's perfect--that's an amazing feeling."

The next best thing was actually going into a bookshop next to his old office, placed in the financial district, and seeing that it was the number one best selling thriller in the shop. Clearly there was a market for financial thrillers, and Kilduff filled the gap well. Square Mile received good reviews and a positive response from readers. He has a personal web site and he invites readers to e-mail him in response to his novels. "I receive three to four e-mails a day, and I honestly haven't gotten one negative e-mail," said Kilduff. "I'm really happy that people have the time to contact me. Writing can be a lonely business, but when you get a bit of encouragement from people, it's worth it."

All his novels are situated in the global financial sector, from China to the Caribbean. His research includes the work he does on a daily basis and his experience working in large securities firms in London. The Dealer, was published in 2000 and his third novel, The Frontrunner, in 2001. Kilduff is currently working on The Headhunter, which will be published in 2003. Kilduff hopes that, while people who work in the financial sector will naturally be interested in his novels, others will also pick up his thrillers. "I've written them for bankers and also for people who are interested in finance," he said. "Going simply for a market of bankers is too narrow."

TINKER, TAILOR, BANKER, AUTHOR. - Securities Institute Magazine

Dublin based Paul Kilduff leads two lives. By day he is a Vice President with a Dublin bank. But in his spare time he is a successful author, writing financial thrillers for a London publishing house, meeting editors, agents, publicists and doing promotional work, press and radio interviews.

Kilduff explains how this chartered accountant and securities professional first saw the inspiration to write a thriller. ‘I was working in a stockbroker in the City of London when a colleague was murdered. His death made the front page of the Evening Standard and was on BBC’s Crimewatch. I knew if I ever fulfilled my ambition to write a novel, this would be the opening scene. Every thriller needs a death on page one.’

After spending six years working in the City with Prudential-Bache and HSBC, Kilduff moved back to his native Dublin where he completed his first novel, Square Mile. He found an agent in London and signed a two-book deal with UK and European publishers. The Dealer and The Frontrunner have since been published. Now he receives emails from readers all over the world, public speaking invites and even tax-free literary royalties. ‘An Irish payslip often has more deductions than a Sherlock Holmes novel.’

But there is a downside. ‘I use much of my vacation time to visit London and overseas locations.‘ Kilduff’s novels feature the City, the US, Hong Kong and Bermuda. ‘A book takes one year. Writing is not so time-consuming. Getting the characters, tension, pace, dialogue and plot development right requires most time.’ Kilduff has no plans to quit his full time job. ‘Writing for me is almost a hobby, a creative outlet. It’s not a job.’

Kilduff’s fourth thriller The Headhunter is published this month but he’s not keen to divulge the plot. ‘The Oxford English Dictionary defines a headhunter as a person who recruits personnel for senior positions, and also as a member of a people who collect the decapitated heads of defeated enemies.’ Read on.