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A stream of inspiration

Hugh Arthur’s international career gave him the perfect settings for his crime thriller. He tells Peter Taylor-Whiffen how he went from accountant to author

Hugh Arthur has an incentive to meet the deadline for completing his latest book. “I was invited to a literary festival after I wrote the first one,” he says. “It was great fun – you read passages, sell a few copies, sign them. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’d love to do it again.” It’s not the only reason Arthur is currently writing the follow-up to his debut novel No More Water, a crime thriller about unscrupulous operators benefiting from state water shortages. “I love writing,” he says. “I always had ideas for books but it’s only since I’ve been retired I’ve been able to focus on it. I love the discipline and structure of writing novels – and the creativity.”

No More Water is set in Turkey and Spain, which Arthur knows well, having lived with his family in both countries during a long career at Kraft Foods (now Mondelez International). “I articled at Coopers & Lybrand and moved to commodities company Bunge, which included posts in Antwerp and Paris,” he says. “I would sit on the Paris trading floor watching big characters speak four different languages as they were hedging on top of hedging. I had to analyse whether there was a profit at the end of all this.

“But I wanted to learn how an American company worked, so I became Kraft’s UK treasurer based in Oxford, then worked in London as its Middle East finance director, visiting Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain before taking a posting in Istanbul.” Arthur, with wife Margaret and their three then very young children, lived in Turkey for four years, then moved back to London when he became financial planning director before a four-year stint in Madrid as shared services director.

“Living abroad is a great experience, especially growing up. It gives you such a rounded view of the world. Happily, Margaret was tremendously supportive.” After retirement in 2010 he continued travelling, helping local Save the Children workers to use new financial systems in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and the Philippines. His international experience informed No More Water, which is set in 2002 during a dambuilding initiative across Turkey and tells of schemes to exploit the country’s control of water downstream into Syria. “The idea came to me while I was in Istanbul,” he says.

“And people have been kind enough to say gratifying things about the book.” Arthur, 64, keeps fit by cycling and at the gym, and is a regular at nearby Cheltenham racecourse – “I’ve owned very minor shares in a few horses over the years”. He also loves most music and has a sizeable record collection: “You can’t beat the feel and sound of vinyl. It’s not a quick thing, putting a record on, but it’s worth it.” And he’s aiming to finish the new book by Christmas. “It’s sort of a sequel, although I’m told it’s a paraquel, as its events run simultaneously with the plot of the first book and involve some of the same characters.”

Originally published in Economia on 6 September 2019.