A wealthy Hong Kong banker is discovered drowned, leaving Cheryl behind as his widow. Feelings of sadness and confusion soon turn into terror and desperation, as she realises that her husband’s death may have links to a massive project in Macau, and the shadowy men who will stop at nothing to ensure that their investment is successful.
Phillip Yim recently spoke about his writing and his debut novel, Nothing Gained,set in Hong Kong:
Q. You have worked in the finance industry for over twenty-five years, why did you decide to write a novel, and what in particular inspired you to write Nothing Gained?
I've always had creative urges, but was too busy over the years working as an investment banker to properly address them. However, I had accumulated many fascinating and intriguing experiences over the years, and the need to put them in writing finally became irresistible. I chose to write a novel because I felt that I could tell a better story by doing more than just presenting fact. Non-fiction would have also involved exposing too many people and embarrassing matters better left undercover!
Q. Did your years in banking give you enough insight into the world, characters, and situations you came to write about in Nothing Gained, or did you do a lot of new research? What type of research did you do?
The years in banking gave me loads of industry insight and oodles of plot ideas and character elements, so not much additional research was needed. One area of research that I did was in relation to the Macau casino scene. I knew that I had to weave that world into my story, but I had no direct business experience in Macau. I therefore sought out and interviewed people I knew who knew the industry well. Other than Macau, I did some research into the investigative process undertaken by Hong Kong’s regulators - the Securities and Futures Commission.
Q. Do you think that the recent global financial crisis was caused by shady bankers like the ones in your book?
The recent global financial crisis was a function of an ill-constructed and malfunctioned system, rather than simply the behavior of shady individuals. The problem was the conflicts-of-interest, lack of accountability and moral hazards that came to characterize the global banking sector. Gordon Gekko types were free to pop up everywhere.
Q. To what extent are the characters in your novel based on real life people, do you think there are any real-life Howard Leitners in HK now? Is your archetypal HK investment banking playboy Winston Chan based on anyone in particular?
Other than one character (who I will not name!), all other characters are loosely stitched composites of people I have encountered over the years, or drawn from my imagination. Friends who have read drafts of the book have commended me for disguising people well. In any event, Hong Kong, China and Asia abound with scummy, sleazy characters like Howard and Winston whose ambitions trample their morality. So there is no shortage of inspiration for colorfully nasty characters.
Q. The locations and settings in Nothing Gained are often very specific, places that exist in real life – why did you choose to make use of non-fictional places in your novel and why did you choose these places in particular? Is K.C. Goh’s pleasure palace based in fact?
I was paid millions of dollars for product placements, a rarity for a first-time author. OK, I’m kidding. I simply wanted to make the setting more realistic and immediate for those who have spent time in Asia and know the place. I hope that one of the key hooks to the story is its believability.
Goh’s place combines elements from night clubs that I have witnessed or heard about – it is an exaggerated composite. I have no doubt that similar over-the-top places exist in Asia and other emerging markets such as Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Q. What is next for Cheryl and Todd? Any plans for a sequel?/What are you working on now?