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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Novel thinking

You have recently published your second novel, Restitution, a story of love and betrayal set mainly in Germany in the Second World War. What was the inspiration behind the book?
As a teenager I spent summer holidays with a German family. The father had come from the east in 1945, pushing the family silver along in a handcart. At the time I found the story rather romantic. It was only when various accounts were later published (notably Anthony Beavor’s Berlin) that I understood the horror that had befallen millions of refugees from the east. The restitution inflicted on Germany by the Russians may be historically understandable, but it fell on the young and the weak as well as the war criminals.

Your book covers a time period that you never lived through. How easy is it to write about an era you have not experienced?
So much material is now available online, complementing what’s in print, that it’s easy to immerse yourself in a particular period. I found many first-hand accounts of the flight from the eastern parts of Germany; young boys press-ganged into the Wehrmacht and housewives scrabbling through rubble in search of food or wood. I read diaries and autobiographies written by people who’d lived through that period. I also visited the part of Poland that was German Pomerania to take photographs and make notes.

In addition to writing, you also work in marketing for Towers Perrin. How easy is it to combine a writing career with another job?
I now freelance at Towers Perrin, which means I can juggle writing with work. It’s good to have an income stream while I wait for royalties and advances. It’s also refreshing to switch off from writing fiction and use the other side of my brain to proofread on insurance legislation or pension trusteeship.

What inspired you to write a novel in the first place?
I knew someone who had just published a novel, and decided to try myself. That book was Restitution, although Playing with the Moon, my second novel, was published first.

Any plans to create an actuary character or set a novel in the fast-paced world of actuaries?
Actuaries would make good detectives because of their understanding of risk and analytical skills. I remember an actuary once describing some risk management work he was doing at an Irish stud farm and it sounded like good material for a Dick Francis-meets-John Grisham thriller.

Any advice to anyone interested in making a career change to take up writing?
Don’t give up the actuarial work! Most authors don’t earn vast amounts. Actuaries examining the risk/reward ratios wouldn’t be impressed! Anyone who wants to write has to be a greedy reader first and have a thick skin, as rejections tend to pile in at first. You also need resilience to persevere.

Eliza Graham has worked for Towers Perrin for fifteen years. Her first novel, Playing with the Moon, was published in 2007, followed by Restitution in 2008. Eliza lives near Wantage in Oxfordshire with her family and is currently working on a third novel in between Towers Perrin assignments.

Recommendation of the month

Restitution — Eliza Graham
Restitution is set mainly during the Second World War and follows Alix, an aristocratic young girl, on a journey of love and betrayal. It has all you would want in a good book — a gripping narrative and a pure escapist plot. It’s one of those novels you pick up and can’t put down.

Client entertaining

Fine dining at a reasonable price...
The press is full of stories of financial doom and gloom. Recession is upon us, unemployment is rising, and every banker now works for the government (if they work at all). However there are some positive things in these darkened times — you can now get bookings for some of the more exclusive restaurants where you never thought you could afford take clients. Go soon — before the restaurants either close down, the clients lose their jobs or the expense budget disappears...

...or pay what you want
Perhaps more restaurants will take their lead from the Little Bay chain. In February, Little Bay’s Farringdon outlet ran a crunch-busting promotion inviting customers to only pay what they thought their meal was worth. The restaurant was soon fully booked and, as it turned out, reported a 30% increase on their average customer takings during the course of the promotion. Owner Peter Ilic said that the lowest amount anyone paid was from two students who stumped up a penny each for their meals plus a £5 tip. As to whether these were actuarial students, we are none the wiser.