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Interview with the Author
Mike’s own life story could so easily be the subject of a book, but as a recently-published author he has chosen instead to write a work of fiction: The Pale Tiger. A Geopolitical thriller which takes us on a high-octane adventure around the world. It is also timely, set against the backdrop of a chilling escalation of tensions between America and China.
Mike Harrison was born in Hammersmith, London, but soon after his parents moved to Buckinghamshire and thence to rural Surrey.
When he was eight years-old he was sent away to boarding school, and achieved his O-Levels and A-Levels at Wellington College in Berkshire.
Mike enjoyed the boarding school life, though looked at from today’s standpoint, some of the post-war teaching methods would raise a few eyebrows.
“It was a very different time, and many people were carrying historic trauma from the war, which wasn’t all that far in the past. Several of my teachers had been prisoners of war, and had clearly been painfully scared by the experience. But they got on with it, as befits the generation that invented the slogan: ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’!”
Mike won a place at Jesus College, Cambridge to study law, and after a gap year of working and travelling headed to the historic institution.
Although Cambridge in the late ‘70’s saw itself (as now) as a centre of excellence, the pressures on students back then were less intense than today. Forty years ago, Cambridge and Oxford could bask in their reputation as the country’s finest centres of learning – but nowadays they have to fight year-by-year to earn their place amongst the global elites of higher education. And whilst Cambridge today is not just about excellence in academic achievement, the students of forty years ago undoubtedly had more time for sport and just having fun.
This was also a time of great social change for Cambridge, as Mike’s peers for the first time in Jesus College’s history included women.
After graduating in 1982 Mike became a chartered accountant, deciding not to go into law in favour of working in the city.
Once again Mike was at the forefront of another huge change. This was the ‘greed is good’ era and the profile of city banking was growing sharply. US and Continental banks were coming to London and advances in technology were driving change within financial markets at a rapid pace. “This heady world certainly attracted its share of extreme characters.” He recalls. “But every day seemed to throw something new at us and I found that appealing.”
Through his work Mike met his future wife Jenny, and they were married in 1989. The pair lived and worked across Europe in the ‘90s, with their first child born in Amsterdam, their second in Stockholm and their third on their return to London.
“Sadly, I didn’t see a great deal of my children in the working week in those days. But that was the industry and long hours were the norm, especially in my ‘30s and ‘40s. So by the time I’d hit my mid-fifties I was ready for a change of pace and in 2015 I found a reason to take up a new challenge.”
And that reason came from an unexpected quarter. News of the crisis in Ukraine and Crimea, and tensions with Russia.
This geopolitical drama really caught Mike’s attention. “At the time,” he recalls, “I had little understanding of where the Russians were coming from. But what was clear was that the Russians themselves felt that history was very much on their side, and I instinctively knew that we were being fed a very one-sided narrative by the Western media.”
So he made it his mission to find out more, and enrolled at the Russian Language Centre at Pushkin House in London. He wanted to make progress in the language as rapidly as possible, so the school developed a bespoke programme for him with lots of one-on-one tutorials. He also travelled to Russia a number of times to put his nascent Russian to the test.
“By beginning to know the language, the people and the history of Russia I began to get a real sense of why the Russian world view seems at times quite different from our own. Many in the West find these Russian attitudes puzzling and thorny.” He explained. “But when you look at these events through the prism of history, the Russian point of view suddenly looks very understandable.”
“Russia’s hosting of the World Cup in 2018 felt like a great opportunity to look at the country and the people in a more nuanced and positive way.” He recalls. “I was keen to make a series of documentaries looking at the different Russian host cities. But when I came to pitch the idea to organisations in London I met resistance because it was felt that such a series would not to be negative enough about the country!”
Despite such set-backs, Mike is undeterred, and is keen to find other opportunities going forward to show Russia in a more balanced light.
Around this time Mike also began to write down ideas for books.
Speaking about his writing journey he stressed that it did not come naturally at first: “Writing a novel is a very particular skill, and I really had to work hard to learn that.”
Mike wrote The Pale Tiger in 2019, choosing to set the plot within a different superpower stand-off: the rising tensions between America and China.
“The China USA relationship is centre stage in the book. Of course, The Pale Tiger is fiction, but the dangers of either America or China ‘getting it wrong’ and tipping towards war is a real threat. How the US manages or perhaps reconciles itself to the rise of China is the biggest challenge of our era.”
History, he points out, is not encouraging. “When a rising power comes up against a sitting power the outcome is almost always war. What historians have called ‘The Thucydides Trap’.”
“We have to be incredibly careful how we navigate this.”
As a reader Mike’s tastes are eclectic, ranging from James Elroy and David Foster Wallace, to Eastern European authors such as Joseph Roth, Miklos Banffy and Antal Szerb.
Mike is currently working with Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels producer Gareth Jones and director Niall Johnson to bring The Pale Tiger to the big screen.
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Interview with the Author
Bob Richards has led a life of service, both in his senior career in business, and as finance minister for his home country, Bermuda.
From growing up during segregation, to shepherding the economy in Bermuda to prosperity and growth, Bob has always loved the island nation and cared about its future.
And it was care for the history of his country which set Bob on his path as a writer and led him to the publication of spy thriller Triangle of Treason which is sure to be a bestseller.
Bob grew up in Bermuda, an idyllic island where everyone in his community knew each other and he could safely walk to school from a very young age.
But with such a close-knit community comes trouble for cheeky children, and there was nowhere to hide if there was any mischief, your parents would always found out!
Bob recalls that if he ever spoke about a friend to his parents, their first question would always be ‘who are their people?’ And especially in his teenage years when he was dating!
Surrounded by a loving family, his childhood was lived-out in a middle-class area with virtually no crime. Though Bermuda was still segregated at that time, US forces from the Island bases freely mingled with the locals, and there was a sense of economic optimism.
His parents took a great deal of interest in his education, and there was regular conflict with his father over how well he was doing at school.
When he was around seven years-old he brought home a bad report card, and soon after, on Christmas day, received rocks, instead of gifts, in his stocking, something which shocks and amuses his own children today.
But Bob credits some of these experiences with building resilience, in an environment which could have been very cosseted from the world at large. He was getting ready to thrive.
After high school Bob ‘got off the rock’ and set off for Canada, where he initially studied engineering, later switching to economics.
Neither however was his childhood dream of becoming a meteorologist which is probably a good thing as Bob jokes ‘no one in Bermuda knew what the hell that was’.
His sisters were also thriving and would become successful in their respective fields too. One as a writer and the other as a judge.
When Bob achieved his MBA he went to work for two banks in Toronto where he cut his teeth. But after a while he decided to share his skills with his home nation, returning to Bermuda to become a banking regulator, and subsequently making investments at the institutional level.
Bob then set up his own investment business helping people make the most of their assets at a time when there was no one else doing that in the country.
This was in the 1980s and the rise of the PC had just begun. Bob realised that he could use this new technology to manage millions of dollars’ worth of investments without employing an army of staff.
Politics had been calling since 1997 but it was not until 2007 he was elected as a member of Parliament. However, the party he represented lost the election and he had to function as a parliamentarian with no backroom staff. Because of this, Bob did not have the services of a speech writer, and found that when he turned his hand to the task he was really good at it.
He helped form a new party which was successful at its first election and Bob became Minister of Finance. ‘The civil servants loved not having to write speeches for me.’
But Bob had already explored different plans for his new-found writing ability and began documenting the history of the ferry service he experienced as a boy. At that time the old boats and ferrymen were being wound down, and Bob saw it as ‘the close of a long old-fashioned era, I felt that the stories were dying. The people who worked on the ferries were such characters.’
Researching the book became a hobby, and though put on ice during his time as Minister, he soon picked it up again when his term ended.
In the meantime, Bob’s book about the Bermuda economy and his time in office ‘Bermuda Back From The Brink’ had become a bestseller in the country, making him wonder whether he could combine political history into the book he had been working on for years.
The island is globally recognised as a strategic military and finance pivot, and a gateway to the US and Europe. Bob realised that his unique perspective from inside politics on the Island would add to the book which later became Triangle of Treason.
He said: “The first chapters just happened, all jumbled and out of sequence, but eventually I got organised and it was no longer a case of just tapping on the keyboard to see what came out!”
Inspired by the likes of Ken Follet who Bob describes as ‘my hero’ the book is more than just a spy thriller. It is embedded in geo-political history, making for a fascinating and entertaining read.