Why we wrote Dancing with Madmen

The world of high finance seems far away and it is a mystery to most people, including many bankers. Yet it affects us all, especially when the system fails.

We wanted to show through our story that these failures are not huge accidents that no one can foresee. They are built into the faulty financial and political architecture that encourages bankers to overreach and politicians to let them get away with it.

The madmen who should have known better simply shrugged off thirty years of increasingly severe financial crises as temporary glitches, and the general public continued to trust the experts who were supposed to know what they were doing.

Debt remained in fashion and anyone sounding a note of caution was not welcome at the party. As the new millennium dawned, prosperity was balanced on a bubble. The politicians soon believed their own spin and declared the good times would keep right on rolling. The world’s most powerful central banker proclaimed a period of economic stability that he endorsed as “The Great Moderation.”

We portray the obsessive rivalry of those who profit from this flawed system. Our madmen and mad women dance towards a disaster of their own making, but they expect others to bear the cost.

One New York publisher memorably dismissed our story as “not very believable”. Another complimented our mastery of the subject but begged off because “this is just such a tough category to publish in.” No one wanted to challenge the seductive notion of perpetual plenty.

That myth has gone now. But the superrich are not out of pocket. Expecting to continue amassing huge wealth as before, they complain that they have been unfairly blamed. We set out to explore those inflated egos by puncturing them, and we hope you enjoy reading this story as much as we enjoyed writing “Dancing with Madmen.”

Why we wrote together

Our different experiences of bankers and politicians and the havoc they so often create helped us weave a richer tapestry than either of us could have created alone.

And what about the women in this overwhelmingly male elite? Are they any wiser than the men? Do the men take any notice of them? No one can answer that as effectively as a man and a woman working together.

Lawrence Malkin grew up in New York City, and after college and service in the combat infantry he started as a newspaperman in San Francisco. As a foreign correspondent for Time magazine and The Associated Press he covered wars in Afghanistan and Israel but mostly followed the money in Europe, Washington and on Wall Street, where he found good stories. His dispatches from London won a prize from The Overseas Press Club and a personal essay on the cost of health care for the elderly from the Greenwall Foundation.

His last book, “Krueger’s Men,” was translated into eight languages and inspired the Oscar-winning film “The Counterfeiters”.

During the 1980s he wrote “The National Debt,” foreseeing much of what has since come true.

When he turned to editing books, he specialized in financial and political memoirs. Among those with whom he collaborated were the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, the long-time Soviet ambassador to Washington, and East Germany’s Cold War masterspy.

He has lived with his family in London, Paris, New Delhi, and Spain and now is back in his hometown, where he covered Wall Street as New York Bureau Chief for the International Herald Tribune in his last job in journalism. A long career of observing businessmen, bankers and spies in the world’s financial capitals provided raw material for this novel.

Susan Traill began writing and art at a very early age. She wrote stories and poems, and designed fashions as well as doodling constantly. Her teenage friends refused to pay for her fashion designs, so she opted for journalism as a less precarious way of earning a living. She was arts editor of London University’s student newspaper Sennet while she studied at the London School of Economics. Then, based in Brussels and travelling elsewhere, she reported hard news for the Financial Times, the BBC, the Economist Intelligence Unit and other publications.

She switched to art in the hope of having the odd evening or weekend off.

In New York City she took up paint brush, pencil and camera, honing her skills at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan.

But in the 24 hour-a-day capital of commerce, evenings and weekends evaporated again. Her workaholic companions were other artists, photographers, fashion models and actors as well as Wall Street traders and analysts.

These aspiring people, as well as the businessmen, politicians and spies she met as a journalist, have contributed their ambitions, fears and rivalries to this story. Their haunts and abodes offered out-of-hours sights and sounds. And art has added contrasts, colours and perspectives to the scenes in which the drama takes place.