Transcript of Justin Cartwright - Other People's Money Video Content
JUSTIN CARTWRIGHT: I read a piece
in the newspaper saying that we were really in need of a state of
the nation novel and my name was cited as one of the people who
might be able to do it, and couldn't help but notice that two of
the others were dead! So I thought this was a sign. And
the more I thought about, the more I thought: Yeah, we do need a
decent state of the nation novel. And I'd heard that in the
dealing rooms when deals went down that the people shouted
gleefully: Other People's Money or OPM. And although that's
not the most original title, it seemed to me to be, to catch the
essence of what I was trying to do.
NICOLA BARRANGER: What struck me
as gripping in the book, is the fact that you've created characters
that are not faceless bankers, these are real people. Let's
just talk a little bit about what happens in Other People's
J C: Well, yeah,
I've decided really that plausibly, you couldn't paint all bankers
as sort of unreservedly evil, but I would prefer to look at a
family who'd got caught up in something they didn't fully
understand and their bank was going down. Instead of getting
a Malmoth or somebody from Dickens in literature who was
appallingly evil, I thought I'd see somebody sort of weak and
N B: This is Julian, isn't it?
J C: Julian is the son of the dying Chairman of the bank,
and he has more or less been forced into the job and really wasn't
up to it, and like a lot of bankers, he didn't really understand
what these new financial instruments were, and that's what led them
N B: And then we've
got the comic tale. It has been described as
a thriller, though I would dispute that. To me it's much more
of a comedy of the two worlds - of the banking classes and
then what's going on down in Cornwall. Let's just talk a bit
Yeah. In fact it was described as a thriller but in early
publicity which, but that's unfortunately Internet age, you know
- I thought that was a mistake described as a thriller, but
it's not a thriller. And what really I've contrasted is the
world of finance and commerce with the world of art, and the art is
represented by one who probably my now favourite character in all
the books I've written, who's -- everybody laughs when you mention
his name who's read the book.
N B: This is Artair....
J C: He's a sort of heroic character,
ridiculous on the one hand, but also heroic and he believes in the
transcendence of art. But he desperately believes that sooner
or later he's going to persuade Daniel Day Lewis to appear in a
major film or play that he's planning, while producing Thomas The
Tank Engine in Cornish …
N B: It has also been described as an 'Idiot's Guide To
The Financial World', but beautifully crafted in literature.
Tell me about the research that you did to write this.
J C: Well you know, I wouldn't pretend to really know the
ins and outs of finance, but as one of the reviewers said: "He …
Cartwright's obviously done his homework but I wouldn't trust my
pension with him!"
I wouldn't trust my own pension with me! But I did look at
some of the things like CDCs and so on and hedge funds. I
sort of know how they work or didn't work. And really the
conclusion I came to is a lot of the bankers didn't know what they
Retail bankers really hadn't any idea what the investment arm
was doing. The investment arm were the people who
decided to dice up mortgages, fine and sell them on. The idea
was that if you chopped up mortgages into little packages and lump
them all together you'd take the risk out. It's absolutely
crazy. It's what Keynes called 'Casino Banking'.
And my impression after talking to a lot of bankers, is that
actually really what happened was the believed that as long the
money was rolling in, there was no need to look closely at the
regulation or what underpinned it.
And as one banker said to me: "Well really, the worst that could
happen to you is that if you made a horrible mistake and lost money
you'd get a job somewhere else." It wasn't their money they
were losing, if they did lose money. But they had a run of
making money and they didn't want to stop the train. In a
way, understandably, but the whole ethos was a sort of
testosterone-fuelled, you know, we can make money out of
nothing. And in a way I began not to sympathise, but to
realise they weren't quite as mad and bad and evil. Although the
consequences of what they did was appalling.
And the big problem with bankers is they're not, or not even
bankers, people in the financial side of life, is that they're not
really concerned about the social effects of what they do, that
isn't their job. Their job is they believe they're on a sort of …
they're doing the real business of society and life and the rest of
us in arts or whatever are sort of wimps and almost irrelevant,
they can patronise us. But we're not really. We don't
really understand what's really going on.
N B: Yes, as I was reading your book I
suddenly thought at one moment of David Hare's play 'The Power of
Yes', and there was a scene where one of the bankers was justifying
being Masters of the Universe. Did that ever spring to mind
as you were talking to these individuals?
J C: Yes. I mean they did … my
overall impression was that they really did think they were very,
very important, and they didn't mean that just because they were
dealing with the finance, they actually sort of thought they were
connected to something that most of us didn't understand.
And..... arrogance isn't the word, but it's a kind of
entitlement that obviously was bred in them for many years, 'cos
what they were doing essentially, was dealing with enormous sums of
money and taking a slice -- I don't mean illegally -- but taking a
slice. And they … what happened was they were so sort of
confident in their own judgement, their own ability to make money
out of nothing, that I think they thought if it was legal, it was
fine, the ethics of it, so their social consciences didn't apply to
them because it wasn't their job. They actually thought their
job was really kind of to create wealth in a way that the rest of
us could only dream about.
N B: Did anything surprise you as you were
J C: Yes. I talked to somebody who dealt
in trusts and I asked him whether … cos I had the idea that the
family would try and pad their assets in the bank when things went
wrong, and I asked him if they would use their own money or use
their customers' money. And he said: "Oh, they'd use their
customers' money" because it could be hidden for a very long time
-- their clients as they call them in investment banking -- it
could have been hidden for a very long time before the regulators,
the rating agencies, the charity commissions has caught up with
them. So as long as you could rectify it say within two years
it would be fine. And apparently he seemed to think, and this
is an example of one, but he seemed to think that that was pretty
well understood in the City.
N B: It is very different from anything else I've read of
Justin Cartwright's. Did you enjoy writing this sort of
J C: I did enjoy writing it. I
mean I just had in mind these kind of solid, Victorian novels with
plenty of characters, and so I didn't start … I'd actually read a
few State of the Nation books as I was thinking about this, and I
thought there's a problem if the finance dominates the story.
Finance is really very, very difficult to understand, and
by trying to make it authentic, some of the books I'd read, I felt
they'd got completely lost in the woods, you know.
N B: But you do balance it with the lovely,
light hearted comedy.
J C: Yeah. I mean I didn't … I just … My
central premise was that this bank was trying to pad assets for
reason of trying to save the bank and get rid of it, and that's
perfectly plausible up to a point. But basically, my idea
was, how did this financial collapse effect the nation from the top
to the bottom, and the bottom is down in Cornwall. Almost
literally you always think of Cornwall of somehow downhill.
And you know, the idea of a heroic actor/manager trying to stage an
improbable production with Daniel Day Lewis, as contrasted with
these people up in London with their grand houses and their houses
in Antibes and so on, trying to hide the facts. the balance was … I
enjoyed it a lot, and I loosened my spays slightly, I mean I
had just an awful lot of fun with this book.
N B: And film rights were zapped up pretty
quickly. I understand that there's a television production in
J C: There is, yeah.
It looks like it. It looks like being a sort of grand,
sweeping, four part television production. But I mean, you
know, nothing's certain I the film world, but I think it's …
judging by the reaction it probably will happen within a shortish
space of time.
N B: We'll look forward to seeing that, Other
People's Money, Justin Cartwright, thank you very much.
For his research he listened to city bankers about what they
felt about making and losing money and whether or not the
consequences would affect them.