Stuart Black’s The Signatory – Q&A
Witness our in-depth interview with author Stuart Black, the founding partner and CEO of South-East Asia’s leading healthcare communications groups, Ward6. We discover Stuart Black’s inner workings as he speaks of his life, career and newly released book The Signatory!
Q: What motivated you to write in the crime and murder genre?
A: The crime genre is built around a type of storytelling that appeals to me. And, for me, a novel is always about storytelling. I like the genre because it’s entertaining, it packs a punch, and it still allows you to deliver a powerful message.
Q: As a CEO of a major company, how do you balance the responsibilities of that role with your interests as an author?
A: As many authors before me have said, writing is a compulsion. I’ve always done it. I started writing songs – they were the vehicle for my storytelling when I was younger. And when I stopped playing in bands, I switched to writing novels. I don’t have as much time for it as I would like – I do have to run a business – but I have enough time.
The upside to running the company at the same time as being an author is that it provides rich material to write about – each and every day. It also means that I can afford to write about what I find most compelling – and am not forced to try my hand at what seems trendy or what someone else might think I should be writing about. I am free to write my stories, in the way I see fit.
Q: What environment helps you best to sit down and write?
A: When you are busy, as I usually am, and have competing priorities, as I usually do, then motivation is the key. What motivates me is engaging with the world in a positive way – where the moral or philosophical issues that I like to write about have a chance to spring to life. Going for a walk in the park can be motivational, watching the news can be motivational, reading a book can be motivational, listening to a great piece of music can be motivational. And my office life can be motivational.
The location I like to write in varies. I am not one of those writers who needs to go to the same small ‘writing room’ each morning at 7 am. For me, the constant that I seek is good light. I don’t like to write in dark and depressing closed-in spaces. I love a good chair and a good desk in a bright and open space.
Q: What were your challenges when writing The Signatory and what helped you overcome them?
A: There are always many challenges to writing a novel. Number one is getting the first draft down on paper. But that’s easy compared to the rewriting. It is incredibly hard to look back at your own work and make the necessary corrections/improvements.
Having said that, what is satisfying is that, when you do, and you spot the stupid mistakes you made in the first draft, you know you are making the manuscript better. That motivates you to keep going.
When you feel you’ve given it your best shot, it’s also great to get feedback from an external source, such as a friend or an editor. Just when you are feeling burnt out by the process, that external feedback can give you a new energy. Enough to have another go and do that extra bit of rewriting that is always needed on my manuscripts. And as with the previous manuscripts I have written, that was certainly the case with The Signatory.
Q: What aspects of corporate life in Sydney led you to set the novel there?
A: While I travel regularly, Sydney is my primary place of work, so it was easiest to set the novel there. I know Sydney very well and I hope that gives the novel – from a setting point of view – extra authenticity.
But it’s important to note that the themes in the novel are universal. From a business point of view, what I am describing in The Signatory could have happened in any major western city. The reader is looking into a Sydney-based ad agency, but it has been bought out by a global firm, and that happens regularly in cities around the world.
The fictitious global company in the novel is listed on the US stock exchange, and that means it has all the pressures on it to consistently increase revenue and profit that all listed companies have. And all the associated temptations for management to cross the line between right and wrong (to make an extra dollar).
Q: Were you influenced by other crime authors, and, if so, what are the points of difference between their work and yours?
A: I am influenced by storytellers in general, rather than just crime writers. In terms of the crime genre, I am probably more familiar with the classic British novels and movies and TV shows than American or Australian ones, but I find inspiration in any great story, regardless of where it comes from.
The thing that distinguishes my novels is that they are so firmly anchored in a world that I know intimately. I grew up in Sydney at a time when there was plenty of crime and corruption to observe (extending to governments of every persuasion and various police forces around the country), and I have worked in the corporate world for almost my entire adult life. I have strong feelings about the rights and wrongs of what I have observed in my life and that colours my writing.